By: Candice Keast
If you're growing food this year, you've probably already started to reap the benefits of having a garden, and as we approach fall, harvests will become more plentiful. With this abundance of fresh crops, you might not be able to eat it all before it goes bad. One sure way to avoid food spoilage is to practice traditional food preservation methods. Aside from sharing your harvest with your friends, family and neighbours, you can preserve your food and enjoy it throughout the winter months.
This blog post will cover several preservation options to consider. The following food preservation techniques have been practiced throughout history and are a valuable way to avoid food waste:
The canning method kills bacteria by boiling food in a canning jar then sealing it to stop new bacteria from entering. The two methods of canning you can do at home are water bath canning which requires a short period and low temperatures, and pressure canning which requires a longer period and higher temperatures. Water bath canning is ideal for high-acid fruits and vegetables, often used in jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, and relishes, while pressure canning is suitable for low-acid foods often used in stocks, soups, and stews. If the thought of canning seems too overwhelming, start with freezer jam recipes or refrigerator pickles.
Dehydration is one of the oldest techniques of food preservation and a simple way to save your harvest. By removing the moisture content from your food, mould, yeast, and bacteria growth are inhibited. There are several ways to dry your food: air drying, solar drying, oven drying, electric dehydration, and microwave dehydration. You can dry fruits like peaches, apricots, and blueberries to enjoy as snacks in granola, dry vegetables like carrots, onion, peas, and tomatoes to add to soups and stews, and dry herbs to use in baking, cooking, and teas. A simple way to dry herbs is to bunch freshly cut herbs together and hang them in a dry, well-ventilated, dark space. Once dried, you can remove the leaves from the stems then store them in a jar.
Fermentation is a natural preservation method that uses bacteria or yeast to convert carbohydrates to alcohol under anaerobic conditions. Additionally, there's a process within fermentation called lacto-fermentation, wherein sugars are converted into lactic acid. This reaction inhibits harmful bacteria, increases enzyme and vitamin levels and the digestibility of the fermented foods. Just about any vegetable can be fermented. Common foods have been created using fermentation, such as cheese, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread. New to fermenting? Try for an extra special boost to your cooking.
Pickling is different from fermentation in that when pickling, the sour flavour is achieved by soaking foods in an acidic liquid, like vinegar. In contrast, fermentation acquires the sour taste by the chemical reaction between the naturally present bacteria and the food's sugars – no added acid is necessary.
Freezing is a great way to preserve the nutritional quality of food. Freezing temperatures halt the growth of harmful microorganisms and drastically slow down nutrient loss. Freezing is a great and easy way to preserve your harvest. Chop and freeze fruits and veg from your garden at the peak of their ripeness and use them in dishes throughout the winter months. Some vegetables like beans, carrots, and peas will require blanching before going into the freezer. Blanching is the process of briefly immersing the vegetable in boiling water. This process stops enzymes from changing the flavour, texture, and colour. Be sure to label what you freeze and include the date.
Hack: Preserve and freeze fresh herbs in oil to prevent freezer burn and browning.
If food preservation is something you want to try out this year, bookmark the following resources:
- The Centre for Preserving Food - includes guides on all the preservation techniques above and more.
- The National Centre for Home Food Preservation - includes an extensive list on how to preserve an array of foods (broken down by preservation method then by food).
Share your food preservation hacks in the comment section below or to social media, use the hashtag #GetGrowing and tag us @LiveGreenTO.
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