Whether your harvest comes from your own garden or urban farm, the farmer’s market, a CSA or the supermarket, this time of year is full of fresh produce. In my house, it’s preserving season! We’ve got mounds of fresh peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers…giant zucchini and yellow squash, heads of cabbage, and piles of sweet onions. Pears are in season, peaches are just finishing up, and apples are right around the corner. This winter, it will be hard to find fresh produce…so even though it means busy days for me, I want to preserve as much of nature’s bounty as I possibly can while it’s still fresh. If you’re just getting started with food preservation, it can be overwhelming. This Monday and next, I’ll share with you some different methods of preserving food…the basics of how it works, some pros and cons, and some helpful links to get you started.
Fermenting or culturing food is basically preserving the food in a brine, often cultured with a strain of lactobacillius. The food is left at room temperature for several days to a week, and the “good” natural bacteria kill off harmful germs. The end result is a tangy, salty and crisp preserve that keeps the food’s nutrients, many of which are actually increased by the fermentation process. Once the original fermentation is complete, the preserves can be kept at a cool temperature and used for up to a year.
Foods that work well with fermentation are: Pickles (dill, cucumber, hot peppers and vegetables of all types), sauerkraut, kimchi, salsas, and condiments such as ketchup, mustard and horseradish. Fruit ferments faster than vegetables, and does not preserve as well. (Read more about the benefits of fermented foods.)
Pros of Fermentation:
- Fermented foods are easier to digest, as the process breaks down fibers in the food.
- Fermented foods do not require heat processing or cooking, and raw food keeps much more of its nutritional value (not to mention flavor).
- Not only do fermented foods not lose their nutrients, they often have higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals than raw foods!
- Fermentation kills some types of bacteria found on vegetables that can be harmful…for example, ecoli.
- The wonderful probiotics found in lactofermented foods are very good for your health! Eating fermented foods every day can help with certain digestive disorders, boost your immune system, and may even improve your mood.
Cons of Fermentation:
- Some people are just not comfortable with the process…it can take a while to get used to leaving food out on the counter!
- Fermented food has a distinctive, sour and tangy flavor. Not all foods go well with this flavor.
- You do need to keep fermented food in the fridge or a very cool place once the initial fermentation is over. Otherwise, the food will continue to ferment and may actually become alcoholic.
- Fermented foods that are prepared in brine may have a higher salt content than you’d like.
Here are some helpful resources if you’d like to try fermenting foods.
- Nourishing Days
- Cultures for Health
- The Nourishing Gourmet
- When Food Goes Bad But Stays Good (NPR)
- Fermentation for Beginners (book)
- Thank Your Body (articles and recipes on this website)
Do you have another good fermentation resource? Post a link in the comments!
Home canning is a process by which foods are preserved and vacuum sealed in canning jars, and capped with metal lids. High acid fruits and vegetables (for example, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, and peppers) can be canned in a water-bath canner. This process involves heating the food to a high temperature, and then boiling it for 15-40 minutes. Once removed from the boiling water, a vacuum seal forms and the jars of food can be kept for years. Low acid foods (such as green beans, legumes, meats, etc.) must be canned under high pressure in a pressure canner.
Jams, jellies, preserved fruit in syrup or juice like peaches, pears, and applesauce are all great foods to can. Homemade jams, jellies and pie filling can be made and preserved with honey, other natural sweeteners, or no sweetener at all. The original flavor of the produce is preserved, and home canned foods can be kept at room temperature for very long periods of time. Because they do not require refrigeration (until after the jars are opened), canned foods are a great way to stock your pantry.
Pros of Home Canning:
- Works well for jam, jelly, and sweet foods like applesauce that don’t taste right with the sour/tangy flavor of ferments.
- Requires no refrigeration, easy to store in the pantry.
- A great way to preserve fruit slices in juice, syrup or water!
- With canning, you maintain the original flavor of the food.
- Home canning allows you to preserve your food without worries about pesticides, preservatives, BPA’s or other chemicals that are found in most commercial canned products.
- Canned food will last a very long time, although it should be eaten within a year because nutrients in the food will start to degrade.
Cons of Home Canning:
- There is an initial investment for the supplies…waterbath canner, jar grabbers, jars etc. When considered over the long haul, however, it’s not a huge investment. You can get started for under $75.00.
- The process of home canning takes a while and can be somewhat exhausting, as it involves sterilizing jars, boiling large amounts of water, as well as the preparation of the food.
- Because the food has to be heated and then boiled for up to 40 minutes, the food will lose some of its nutritional value and the texture may change.
- If the jars and food are not prepared correctly, it’s possible that botulism bacteria can grow and contaminate the contents of the jars. This is a very serious type of bacteria, and although it’s rare to get sick from home canned foods you do want to be sure to carefully follow the instructions on the USDA’s website.
Here are some helpful resources if you’d like to try home canning food:
- USDA’s complete website on home canning
- Ball Canning website
- The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally grown, sustainably-produced, and fair trade foods (book…a must-have for conscientious cooks)
- Preserving Summer’s Bounty (web article with lots of links)
- Thank Your Body (articles and recipes on this website)
Do you have any home canning hints or links to add? Comment below!
Next Week, Dehydrating and Freezing
I hope this basic overview helps get you started. It may seem overwhelming at first, but preserving food through fermentation or home canning is a skill you can learn easily, and you’ll love being able to enjoy healthy, additive-free food that you prepared and preserved yourself. I find that it’s a wonderful activity to do as a family, and makes memories that will be enjoyed together and relived every time you pop open a jar! Next week, we’ll explore two more ways to preserve the harvest: Dehydrating and freezing food.
Have you tried fermenting or home canning? What’s your favorite method?