This time of year for one reason or another we often find ourselves wondering what to do with all the fresh produce we have coming from our home gardens. The only downside to growing one's own vegetables is the potential for over-production. It can be difficult to determine exactly how many plants you're going to need, and, ultimately, what the yield is going to be. Now, this is a non-issue if you have friends, family or neighbors who appreciate fresh produce: you can simply give away whatever you or your family can't consume. However, if gifting your extra veggies is not a possibility, you have other options available to preserve the fruits of your labor...
Have an excess of vegetables or fruits? Canning is an option if you want to preserve them for use later. Canning involves quickly blanching your veggies in hot water, peeling them, and stuffing them into cans or jars, which are then covered and boiled in order to seal them.
The process takes some time, but doesn't require any special skills. You will, however, need to invest in some basic equipment in order to safely and properly can some kinds of foods:
Water Bath Canner - If you plan to can fruits, tomatoes and other high-acid foods, a water bath canner is the canner for the job. 21-quarts is the most common size, but you can also find larger versions. If you decide to buy one second-hand, make sure it still has its lid, and preferable its rack.
Pressure Canner/Cooker - If you plan to can vegetables, meats, seafood and other low-acid foods, you'll need to purchase a pressure canner. This type of canner is capable of reaching 240 degrees Farhenheit – the temperature required to kill bacteria.
Canning Rack - Most canners come with a rack to hold the jars, but if yours is missing or worn out, you can purchase one separately.
Jars - Glass jars with lids and rings are required for foods that will be stored at room temperature. Glass or plastic freezer jars can be used for foods that will be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Jar Lifter - Used to lift hot jars out of the canner.
Wide-neck Canning Funnel - For filling the jars.
All of the above items can often be purchased more cheaply if you go the Canning Kit route. Canning kits are great for beginners as they include everything you need to get started, and take a lot of the guess work out of setting up.
Here are step-by-step instructions for canning your own tomatoes, courtesy of food52: Grandma's Canned Tomatoes
Drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Drying preserves foods by removing enough moisture from food to prevent decay and spoilage.
When drying foods, the key is to remove moisture as quickly as possible at a temperature that does not seriously affect the flavor, texture and color of the food. If the temperature is too low in the beginning, microorganisms may survive and even grow before the food is adequately dried. If the temperature is too high and the humidity too low, the food may harden on the surface. This makes it more difficult for moisture to escape and the food does not dry properly.
If you'd like to give the drying method a try, here is a recipe for oven-drying tomatoes (pictures included!)
[Info courtesy of urbanfarmonline.com]
There are four general methods for pickling: quick, salt-brined, vinegar-brined and fermented. Within those basic pickling techniques, there exist many variations to pickle different vegetables and fruits and to make relishes and chutneys. Each pickling method has its own benefits, and some produce lends itself better to one method or another.
Quick-pickle method: Items that are pickled using the quick-pickle technique sometimes are called “fresh pickles.” The vegetables and/or fruits to be pickled are trimmed and/or chopped, sliced or left whole. In some cases, the produce is blanched (asparagus, for example) or cooked until tender (beets) and cooled. Then the produce is packed into canning jars, and a heated pickling liquid is poured over the jars’ contents. The liquid generally consists of vinegar and water, and it can include spices, herbs, sugar and salt flavor.
Salt-brined method: Some vegetables, such as cucumbers and zucchini, benefit from having some of their natural water removed before the pickling liquid is added. By adding salt – either on its own or in a salt-water brine – the water is drawn out of the vegetables’ cells. This allows the pickling liquid to penetrate into the cells more thoroughly, giving the pickling items more flavor, better texture and a longer shelf life. Vegetables usually are doused with salt for at least a few hours and up to an entire day. The excess salt then is rinsed off and the vegetables drained well and packed into canning jars, either cold or heated. Finally, a vinegar-based pickling liquid is added to create the proper acidic conditions and to add flavor.
Vinegar-brined method: These pickled items are a little more complex to make than the previous two methods. The vinegar-brined technique basically follows the same process for salt-brined pickles – drawing the water out of the vegetables’ or fruits’ cells to make room for the pickling liquid. In this method, the water is gradually drawn out in stages by soaking, draining and soaking again, using a vinegar solution, sometimes in combination with a salt-water brine and often with plenty of sugar.
Fermented method: This is a considerably different technique from the others, though it uses a salt-water brine. The vegetables are covered in a salt-water brine, weighed down to make sure the vegetables are immersed and left at a specific temperature – usually at room temperature – to ferment. During fermentation, the salt draws the liquid out of the cells, and naturally occurring microbes digest the sugars from the liquid and form lactic acid (among other substances). The lactic acid reduces the pH to a level that preserves the vegetables. There’s no need to add vinegar, sugar or citrus juices to fully fermented pickled items
Here is a simple pickling recipe, courtesy of foodnetwork.com: Refrigerator Pickles: Cauliflower, Carrots, Cukes...You name it!