After all that work tilling, fertilizing, seeding, watering and keeping pests at bay, your garden is finally bearing fruits, vegetables and maybe even flowers. How do you deal with all this food? Home preservation.
Canning is essentially cooking a closed vessel, killing off any bacteria while sealing away the food from outside contaminants.
High acidity foods like tomatoes, pickles and some fruits can be canned using the water bath method. This is the easiest way to get into canning since all that’s required is a large pot and a rack, although a jar lifter will make the job much easier.
Low acidity foods need to be brought up to 240ºF (115ºC) to sterilize them. Since water boils at 212ºF (100ºC) under normal atmospheric pressure, a pressure cooker is required to heat the water and jars to the necessary temperature.
With either method, it’s extremely important to eliminate any chance of bacterial growth. Jars, lids and seals should be free of chips, nicks or other damage and everything should be cleaned thoroughly. Only tested recipes should be used to ensure the food has the correct acidity and has reached the correct temperature for preservation. For details on specific foods, contact your local extension office.
Enzymatic reactions will continue in fruits and vegetables even when frozen, degrading their look, texture and flavor, but this can be halted by blanching the food while freezing. Although it may be tempting to throw food into the microwave, the food won’t be heat evenly enough to take care of the enzymes unless performed in very small batches: boiling or steaming is more thorough and less time consuming.
To blanch with boiling water, use one gallon of water per pound of food and start timing once the water has returned to a boil after the blancher has been put in the pot. Steam blanching works the same as regular steaming, just with shorter cooking times.
Timing can vary greatly depending on the type of food being blanched and the size of the pieces. As with canning, your best resource for information is your local extension office.
Preservation using this method comes down to applying hot, dry air to the food fast enough to draw away moisture before mold and bacteria can grow without applying enough heat to cook the food prematurely.
Sun drying requires humidity below 60% and temperatures above 85ºF (30ºC,) which makes it unfeasible in most of the U.S. Likewise, air conditioned homes may have dry air, but temperatures are usually too low to properly dry food.
Oven drying works well if your oven can maintain a temperature between 140-150ºF (60-65ºC,) but it pays to check the temperature with a thermometer since most ranges struggle with low temperatures. When heating, the door should be cracked open to let moisture escape. Have a convection oven? Turn the fan on to move air around the food for faster drying.
Food dehydrators work no matter where you are. Commercial dehydrators work much like the oven method, but they’re designed to hold a steady temperature and have plenty of airflow for reliable results. Most D.I.Y. solutions use air only, making them easy to build.
Some foods, including root vegetables and some fruits do just fine being stored with little preparation, so long as they’re kept in a dark, dry area. Ideally, these foods should be stored with minimum contact between themselves and their container. Green tomatoes can be stored and ripened at the same time: by wrapping them in newspaper or placing them in a closed paper bag, the ethylene naturally released by these vegetables will be trapped, speeding up the ripening process.
Where to Buy Gardening Supplies and Outdoor Power Equipment parts
Ready to start your own garden? Need to add some equipment to your arsenal? Stop by Shank’s Lawn Equipment at 4900 Molly Pitcher Highway (Hwy 11) in Chambersburg, PA. To get there from Interstate 81, take Exit 10 to Marion. Not in the Mid-Atlantic Tri-State area? Order online at www.shankslawn.com. They can ship parts to anywhere in the U.S.A.
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