With our garden in full swing we are starting to become more and more aware of our need to learn proper food preservation techniques. We have been planning to learn how to can our own foods for quite a while now, but none of the books that I have read have made me feel entirely confident on the subject. Luckily enough I found out that the UT Extension Office in Williamson County was offering some free food preservation workshops this month! If you live in Middle Tennessee as well and would like to attend one of the workshops, click this link and get registered. They have two more classes scheduled before the end of the month and I would HIGHLY recommend taking one now before the current instructor retires at the end of the month. She does a really great job (and even offered to hook us up with a kombucha start)!
During our two hour course we covered the basics of four modes of food preservation… canning, drying, freezing, and fermenting. I’ll cover some of the info that she gave us on each here, but I do highly suggest reading in depth about each mode before you start preserving!
Canning: There are two types of canning, water bath and pressure canning. Water bath canning is suited for foods that have high acidity such as pickles and relishes while pressure canning is necessary for low acid foods such as beans, beets and tomatoes. Tomatoes actually used to be much more acidic but today many varieties have a low acid content so they should only be processed in a water bath canner if there is vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid in the recipe (your recipes will generally tell you which method of canning is best anyways, so no need to worry). If you just plan to can stewed or plain tomatoes you should utilize a pressure canner to eliminate the possibility of botulism growing in the food. We bought a pressure canner off of amazon.com but you can often find them used at garage sales and goodwill. The trick is to make sure that if you are buying an old canner that the rubber gasket in the lid is in good condition and that the lid seals tightly onto the base. Sometimes the canners can warp or get dented over time making it difficult to seal. And if you purchase a used canner with a dial pressure gauge you will want to look up your local extension office’s phone number and call them to find out about having it calibrated. Most offer this service for free and if you are using a pressure canner with a dial gauge you should do this every year to make sure it is still accurate.
Drying: Our instructor briefly discussed drying foods with us as well. Apparently sun drying foods in Tennessee is difficult due to the relatively high humidity but in other areas of the country you can often leave fruits and veggies outside to dry naturally on their own. For the rest of us, she suggests buying a dehydrator.
Freezing: While not all foods are well suited for freezing it is a quick and easy preservation option for those that are. Take your garden fresh veggies, blanch them, dry them and then put the veggies into labeled freezer bags to go into the freezer. In general, you should try to use your frozen foods within one year. Our instructor also pointed out that nothing will ever be quite as good as when you had it fresh so always try to preserve the best of your garden harvest. If you do not have access to a garden, consider preserving local fruits and veggies purchased from farmer’s markets in your town.
Fermenting: Although I am aware of the many health benefits of fermented foods, the actual process of fermenting has seemed a bit of a mystery to me. Thankfully, our instructor gave us some good resources to get started. There are some fantastic books available on the subject (including Wild Fermentation) and there is also a website called Perfect Pickler that sells little fermentation kits that will ferment your veggies in just four days! We were lucky enough to win one of the kits so I will post more in depth about the product and the process as soon as we start our first batch. I think we are going to make sauerkraut… Yummmmmm.