The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers a comprehensive, online guide for safe home food preservation and provides expert and clear instruction for successfully getting the most out of the local fruits and veggies that will only remain available for the next several weeks.
If shopping for fresh produce during winter months causes a longing for that which is typically sourced in a homegrown garden, or from your favorite local farmer, perhaps home food preservation is the path to fulfillment.
Why preserve food at home? Answers from the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station include:
To save on food cost and minimize food waste.
To support a sustainable lifestyle of growing your own food.
To manage personal nutrition.
To have food storage options, i.e. storing perishable goods at room temperature.
There is great personal reward in preserving the goodness of one’s own carefully selected foods.
Quite simply, food preservation is a matter of enzymes and microorganisms and three of the best methods for safely managing their adverse effects are drying, canning and freezing.
Freezing is a great method for beginners because the process is simple, relatively quick, and everything required is in most kitchens right now. Many kinds of food can be frozen, and conveniently portioned for intended use in the future. Imagine shopping from your freezer for farm to table meals all winter long.
The combination of blanching and freezing makes for good retention of natural color, flavor and nutritive value.
Freezing stops the growth of microorganisms, which do not like cold temperatures.
Blanching is crucial to the freezing process. Boiling times vary according to vegetables and size. While Under Blanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching, over Blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals so be sure to reference, and follow recommended blanching times listed by the NCHFP. Using these guidelines, frozen vegetables will maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months at zero degrees F or lower.
Canning methods drive out air as the heat processing step creates a vacuum seal so canned goods can store at room temperature. The canning method involves heating to a temperature that destroys microorganisms (212-240* F.) Heat also inactivates enzymes that can cause changes in color, flavor, and texture.
The following are essential for canning: Food must be properly prepared and processed correctly. It is also crucial to use an approved glass jar and maintain high sanitary standards. Be sure to follow directions from a reputable source but most sources seem to recognize the NCHFP as the authority.
Drying and dehydrating removes water which is what microorganisms need to grow. By taking out water, the growth of enzymes slows down a bit. Microorganisms (yeast, mold, bacteria) need water to grow so removing moisture prevents spoilage from these microorganisms. With drying, Enzyme action is slowed (though not stopped) which means that color, texture, and quality do not degrade as rapidly once food is dried. Dried foods increase storage options in that they also do not require refrigeration. Think of all the dried herbs this can be applied to and then ground into powders.
Applying these methods over the next few weeks can ensure a supply of locally grown, organic vegetables to enjoy into next year’s growing season when fresh veg becomes available again.
Research for this brief came from State agricultural Extension agencies in GA, ME, NJ and all defer to the National Center for Home Food Preservation as the authority.