Simple ways to preserve all those fruits and vegetables
It’s the season of fresh produce! Delectable fresh fruits and vegetables are available from your garden, farmers’ markets, and local farms in abundance. It’s tempting to buy all the enticing summer produce in bulk—and, when you grow your own, there’s often a surplus.
Luckily, food preservation is an easy, economical way to savour the goodness of summer long after the harvest is gone. The four most common ways to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs are canning, drying, freezing, and pickling. The chosen method depends on how you’ll want to eat all that produce, and you should start when foods are at their peak freshness—within six to 12 hours of picking (for most varieties).
Canning fruits and vegetables
Canning is a great method for preserving fruits and vegetables with a high-water content—like tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, and peaches.
The two primary methods of canning are: hot water bathing and pressure canning. Whichever method you choose, be sure to follow all guidelines and use jars with lids made specifically for the technique being used. Reusable glass canning jars come in a variety of sizes, but don’t use jars that are larger than specified to avoid canning an unsafe product.
Start by following the directions listed in your preferred recipe for jam, jelly, or sauce. Prepare the fruits or vegetables according to the recipe and fill the sterilized jars with the final product. Fasten and tighten lids according to the method you are using, and follow the steps accordingly.
The method of hot water bathing is used for foods that are acidic with a pH below 4.6—like fruit butters, jams, jellies, marmalade, pickles, and sauerkraut. Pressure canning is required for foods that are low in acid with a pH above 4.6 because such foods aren’t acidic enough to prevent the growth of bacteria.
If you’ve never canned food before, find an experienced friend or family member to walk you through your first time.
Drying fruits and vegetables
Dehydration removes water from food. Since dried food—like fruits, herbs, meat jerky, and seeds—lacks moisture, mold and bacteria can’t grow on it. Dehydrated foods will last between four to 12 months.
Hardy herbs—like sage or rosemary—and vegetables like peppers can be dried by hanging them in a cool, dry, and dark place. Other herbs and vegetables benefit from heat when drying them out.
The simplest, most effective way of drying food is to put a commercially made dehydrator to use. Dehydrators have several levels of stacking trays that allow air to circulate in and around the food. The temperature is set right—just high enough to dehydrate but low enough not to cook it. It can take several hours—or days—to dry foods completely. Once dried, store the food in tightly sealed zip-top bags or containers in a cool, dark place to further it’s longevity. Don’t forget to clearly label and date the container.
Food preservation and raw food cookbooks may contain detailed instructions on how to use your conventional oven to dehydrate food, by setting the oven at a low temperature with the door cracked. This is a great option for those not ready to purchase a dehydrator.
Freezing fruits and vegetables
Freezing is quick and requires very little effort and equipment. Many fruits and vegetables keep well in the freezer, but they won’t last as long as canned foods. It’s a great method for fruits you want to add to smoothies and baked goods—fruits like bananas, berries, and cherries.
Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, and peas freeze well. Most frozen fruits and vegetables can last anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks, and retain their nutrients, colour, texture, and flavour.
To freeze fruit, start by washing, coring, and skinning (if necessary). Cut into slices or chunks, pat dry, and place in single layers on parchment lined baking sheets. Place baking sheets in the freezer for several hours, then remove and put frozen fruit in zip-top bags that are clearly labeled and dated.
If you’re worried about discolouration, fruit can be soaked in water with a splash of lemon juice before freezing. Be sure to pat dry to avoid unnecessary ice crystals from forming.
Most vegetables require a short blanching before freezing. Beyond that, the method of freezing and storing is the same as fruit. Keep in mind that both fruits and vegetables should be frozen immediately after packaging. Vegetables like cucumber, celery, and cabbage don’t freeze well and are likely to turn into a waterlogged mess when frozen.
All fresh herbs can be frozen or dried, however some herbs freeze better than other. Freezing works well for basil, chives, oregano, lemon balm, mint, and tarragon.
Frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh herbs, but they will be limp when defrosted and are best used in recipes. Fresh herbs can be flash frozen, frozen in measured amounts of water, as well as frozen in oil, and can last up to 12 months.
After harvest, clean your herbs by rinsing them in clear water. Then spin them dry in a salad spinner or roll them up in a tea towel to blot them dry, being sure not to crush them.
The easiest way to freeze fresh herbs is individually. Simply strip the leaves off the stems, spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place leaves in a zip-top bag, and then label and date the bag.
Freezing herbs in water is also an easy task. Take an ice cube tray filled halfway with water and place 1 Tablespoon of clean, chopped herbs in each section of the tray. The herbs may float, but that’s okay. Once you get them under the water as much as possible, place the tray in the freezer. When frozen, remove the tray and top off each cube with water and put back in the freezer to freeze completely. Then, pop out each herb cube and store in a labeled and dated zip-top bag. Herb cubes are excellent for soups, stews, and sauces.
Oil cubes can be used the same as water-based herb cubes. Simply melt the oil cube in your pan or saucepan, and the herbs are set to flavour your meal. To prepare oil cubes, simply follow the water-based steps above but sub your favourite oil (olive and avocado work well) by pouring over the herbs in the ice cube tray, cover with plastic wrap, and place in freezer. The herbs won’t float in the oil and don’t need to be topped up after frozen. Approximately 1 Tablespoon of oil is needed in each section. You could also mix 1/3 cup of oil with 2 cups of herbs and evenly distribute between sections in the tray.
Just like the water-based herb cubes, remove tray from freezer when solid, store in labeled and dated zip-top bags and put back in freezer to use as needed.
Pickling fruits and vegetables
Picking is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Sweet pickled cucumbers and relishes often come to mind, but many vegetables and fruits—yes fruits—can be preserved this way. Perhaps it’s time to give peppers, cauliflower, apples, and pears a try!
Pickled foods will last anywhere from three to 12 months, and most recipes include brining for several hours or days. Even in vinegar, spoilage can happen so it’s always a good idea to follow a tested recipe. Using the method of hot water canning method will further stop the risk of spoilage.