Savoring the Sun - Three Ways to Preserve Summer’s Goodness
“Being a locavore is fabulous if you live somewhere like California,” says Audra Wolfe, a co-founder of Canvolution and an expert food preservationist. “But if you live in the Northeast, unless you learn food preservation, you could be eating local turnips and kale all winter,” she notes with a chuckle.
The mounting desire to eat locally grown food, know what’s in our food and reduce our carbon footprint, as well as shrinking household budgets, are contributing to what The New York Times recently cited as a renaissance in home food preservation. “In a time of high food prices, job losses and food safety scares, home canning is booming,” agrees June Taylor, a Berkeley, California, food preservationist. According to Jarden Home Brands, makers of Kerr and Ball brands of glass canning jars, sales of canning equipment were up 30 percent in 2009.
The simplest methods for “putting by” food are freezing, refrigerator canning or multi-step water bath canning. Pressure canning, dehydrating and fermenting require special equipment (pressure cookers, dehydrators and large crocks), as well as more advanced knowledge. For most of us, a large pot and some pint-size glass canning jars with lids and metal sealing rings comprise the basic equipment we need to get started.
Freezing can be as easy as rinsing berries in very cold water, patting them dry, and then placing them on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen solid. Such quick-frozen berries can then be placed in freezer storage containers and will keep for up to six months.
Some foods, like vegetables, need to be blanched first—plunged into boiling water for a minute or two, then shocked in an ice water bath—then allowed to cool before being placed in freezer storage containers. Cooked sauces, salsas and chutneys can simply cool before being frozen and will also taste best when eaten within six months.
Because most vegetables have low acid content, which can invite bacteria growth, canning them also involves pickling—adding a vinegary brine to increase the acid level. Refrigerator-pickled cucumbers, Swiss chard stems, green tomatoes, beets and green beans will keep for up to six months if kept covered in pickling brine in the refrigerator.
Hot Water Bath Canning
Traditional hot water bath canning creates a vacuum within the jar that works to preserve foods. Basically, the food is packed into clean, hot jars that are filled almost up to the top (the amount of headspace between the food and the lid is indicated in the recipe). Then, the filled and sealed jars are processed in a hot water bath for a specified amount of time. When they’re removed from the bath, the lids will pop into place as they cool to complete each jar’s vacuum seal. Food canned this way can be stored on kitchen shelves for up to one year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Today, with more cooks, gardeners and food lovers collectively committed to the revival of the lost art of putting by food, the movement is picking up steam. Canvolution aficionados say that almost half of U.S. canners are now younger than 40.
Judith Fertig is a freelance food writer in Overland Park, KS; for more information visit AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com.