Here are five easy ways to preserve food this summer. These are things that anyone can do, with just a little extra time and none of them involve canning! Let’s dive in…
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Ahh summer! A time of bounty. There is no better time than summer to sit back and enjoy all the beauty that there is. There is also no better time than summer for trying to store some of those good things for later. I’m talking about food, people. FOOD!!
We all know that food tastes best when it is ripe. The best time to preserve it is now. But who wants to spend their summer days locked away in the kitchen over the stove, watching the canner to see if it has finally come to a boil. Let’s go over 6 easy ways of preserving the summer harvest without breaking out the canner!
By now most of us are probably very familiar with frozen foods. There are isles and isles at the grocery store dedicated solely to frozen food. But did you know you can make your own? Freezing your own fruits and vegetables has to be one the simplest methods of preserving food for your family. With a few basic steps you too can be stocking your freezer with summer fresh produce.
Freezing food also comes with a certain level of freedom. No need to spend all day in the kitchen, just a little bit of time up front prepping the food and then the freezer does the rest. There are also a lot less rules with your freezer. I still follow best practise when it comes to handling food safely, and I would recommend you do as well. The reality is that there are a lot more rules when it comes to safely processing food with your canner then with your freezer. I personally find a lot of freedom in that.
Blanching vs. Not
Thinking you need to blanch your produce before freezing might be one of the biggest road blocks for most people. So why do we blanch produce before freezing? All fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that cause them to deteriorate over time. Freezing will slow this process but not stop it completely. Most vegetables need to be blanched (heated) in order to deactivate this enzyme.
Fruit does not need to be blanched before it is frozen. On this homestead we typically freeze berries, peaches and cherries. Berries and cherries are left whole, while peaches (and other stone fruit) are cut into slices. Once they are frozen, we pack them into gallon freezer bags, to be enjoyed at a later date.
Personally, I don’t blanch all of my vegetables. My reasoning for this is two fold. One, all the vegetables I freeze will be used within the calendar year. Two, if they are going to be used in a dish (like soup), I don’t worry as much about their texture when reheated. Some of the vegetables I don’t blanch are onion, celery, and peppers. Some of the vegetables I do blanch are peas and green beans. I much prefer the texture of these if they have been blanched. I would encourage you to experiment with blanching vs. not blanching and see what you prefer. It is, after all, your freezer.
How to freeze produce
Freezing produce is easy and straightforward. First you will want to wash all of your produce so that is is clean. Next you want to make sure it is very dry. You can do this by laying out dishtowels on your counter (or a sheet pan) and putting the produce on the towels. Once the produce is dry cut it up to how you will need it for your cooking.
Berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and gooseberries, can be left whole. Strawberries can be left whole or sliced. Stone fruit freezes best sliced. If you are freezing vegetables think of how you will use them. I like to dice my onions and celery before freezing so they can be added directly to the pan. Pepper can be diced or sliced. Corn can be frozen whole, but I prefer to take it off the cob. Just think about how you would like to eat it and go from there.
Next you are going to line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lay the produce on it in a single layer. Put the sheet pan in the freeze until the produce is frozen, usually a couple of hours will do. Once frozen, transfer the produce to a freeze bag or you can vacuum seal it. Label and return to the freezer. That’s it!
Fermentation is a very old, traditional way of preserving food. It was used long before refrigeration to keep produce fresh over the winter. Most food fermented at home is done by facto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation is the process by which bacteria break down the sugars in food to form lactic acid and carbon dioxide. This creates and acid, low oxygen environment that encourages the growth of good bacteria and prevents the growth of bacteria that could make us sick.
There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests lacto-fermentation may increase the nutrient availability of foods, is anti-inflammatory, and can increase our immune functions. It’s also pretty darn tasty, which is reason enough for me.
So what are some fermented food? Think sauerkraut, kimchi, youghurt, kefir, sour pickles, and hot sauce.
One consideration with fermenting is that they are not shelf stable. They need to be refrigerated. So keep this in mind when planning your preserving project.
Drying, or dehydrating, food is one method of food preservation that removes enough moisture from the food so bacteria, yeast and molds cannot grow. Because of this it is important to never rush the drying process.
Dehydrating foods can be a time intensive project. It isn’t hard, but it does take time. So you need to make sure that you will be around for the time it takes for the food to be completely dry.
There are two main ways to dehydrate foods. One is in a dehydrator. They are multi tray appliances that circulate air in order to dry the food. Some of the more expensive options also have a heat source to speed drying time. They require electricity, but if you are feeling like a diy, there are plans for solar dehydrators on the internet.
The other drying option is a low oven. One downside to the oven is, that even at the lowest setting, the temperature is often higher than the dehydrator. This means you need to keep a close watch on whatever you are drying.
Just like freezing, you want to start out with clean, dry produce. Be sure to remove any blemishes from the produce as well. Cut the produce into even size pieces. Having all the pieces a similar size will ensure that all the piece are dry about the same time.
Lay all the pieces out on an even layer on the dehydrator tray. You want to make sure that there is no over lapping of the pieces. Place the trays in the dehydrator and turn it on. Start checking the produce around the 8 hour mark. It could take up to 12 hours, depending on the size and type of produce. If your produce feels soft, spongy or sticky, it’s not done. The food should be hard and crispy, but without turning into powder.
If you want an easy dehydrating project, check out our Easy Homemade Garlic Powder
4. Long Term Storage
A root cellar is any storage location that uses the natural cooling, insulating, and humidifying properties of the earth. You can stock it with your own homegrown produce, or the bounty from your local farmers market. It is a time honoured way to store produce long term.
In order to work properly, root cellars need to be able to hold the temperature between 0-4.5 C (32-40 F) and have a humidity of 85-95%. They work by slowing the release of ethylene gas and stopping the growth of microorganisms. The high humidity prevents moisture loss from the vegetables, keeping them fresh and tasty.
Don’t have an underground room in your house just waiting to be turned into a root cellar? Never fear, your refrigerator makes an excellent substitute.
Root vegetables are best suited for this kind of storage. But there are exceptions, apples are a great example of a fruit that can be stored long term. Some produce that is a good candidates for long term storage are potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, and cabbage.
5. Cook it
One of the best ways to make your future self happy is by cooking for them. And if you have extra produce ready and available why not turn it into your favourite meal?
Meal prep seems to be having a moment, and while I am not the best at it, I am always happy when I have taken the time to do it. Having extra meals, or meal starters, in your freezer ready to go can be a great time saver. Let’s look at some examples:
- Meal starters – have a dish that you love to cook. Why not get some of the prep work ready in advance? You could freeze soup packs that have chopped carrot, celery and onions that you can dump right into a pan. Have peppers and onions sliced for fajitas. Even having extra pesto frozen makes an easy pasta night
- Desserts – desserts are a fantastic way to make use of the delicious summer produce. Pie, crips, cobblers, hand pies, they all freeze well. Having them made and in the freeze can make entertaining a breeze.
- Pack your favourite herbs in to an ice cube tray and fill the tray with olive oil. Once frozen, remove from the tray and store in a freezer bag. These flavour bombs will be ready and waiting to jazz up your next dish.
Even though most of us automatically think of canning when we think of preserving food, there are lots of alternatives to be explored. With a little creativity, and maybe some research, you can find new and exciting ways of preserving the summer bounty. Tell me in the comments, what’s your favourite way to preserve food?
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