Along with gardening, one of the things that has really captured my interest lately has been preserving food for later. In summer, there are so many great vegetable and fruits available fresh and locally for cheap there has to be a way to keep that bounty around into the winter, right? Compound this shopping bounty with a garden plot filled with vegetables, and you have a recipe for food coma. In an effort to thwart food coma, and to avoid the appearance that I am trying to “fatten up” my family for a long harsh winter, I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks experimenting with ways to preserve food, some have worked better than others. Here are 5 things that can be done with extra food and how they worked out for us:
1) Donate to local food banks and shelters. Really now, I know I spend a lot of time being frugal, talking about being frugal, and not spending money in general– but it is good to remember that there are many people who really need the excesses in my life. If you need to find a food bank in your area think about check out the Feeding America food bank locator.
2) Freeze it. This works well with vegetables like squash (or giant squash), and it doesn’t require specialized equipment. Most vegetables require blanching before freezing. This sounds like a super scary process, one that might involve a member of the golden girls, but it is not. So far my experiments with this process have been both positive, and an “eh” (to translate, “eh” means not good, but not really bad either). Fresh, small sized squash and zucchini cut into medallions seem to blanch and freeze well, mine have lasted about a month with no problems. Grated zucchini as I discovered last night is more of a challenge, because it is difficult to get rid of excess water before freezing. We have also frozen store bought strawberries, without a problem (you don’t even need to blanch them!). If you would like more information about freezing vegetables check out The National Center for Food Preservation, and a handy step by step guide (with pictures!) from pickyourown.org.
3) Dry it. We received a food dehydrator as a wedding gift last year. It has become a bit of an inside joke between my husband and I since it was his addition to the registry, and the model he selected was labeled a “food dehydrator and jerky maker“, seeing as we don’t eat jerky– why did we need this gadget? However the model we were given (NOT the jerky maker) has proven its worth many times over in helping to preserve foods, making snacks, we even used it to make Christmas gifts last year. So far this summer, we have only used the food dehydrator to dry garden herbs things like basil, oregano, rosemary and stevia. The results have been mixed, with the stevia having the best results, and basil being the most challenging and time consuming.
4) Turn it into jam. Last month I acquired a collection of about 10lbs of strawberries, they weren’t fancy or even organic– but what do you do with 10lbs of strawberries besides freeze them, or eat them right out of the carton while strawberry juice drips down your chin and hands? Well make jam- duh! While looking on the interwebs I found that there are many many different strawberry jam recipes; they all involve some mixture of strawberries, pectin, and sweetener (usually sugar). We ended up using two recipes that came from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is essentially the bible of canning (or at least the New Testament, the Old Testament being the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning). All in all this was a surprisingly easy kitchen task once I realized that the key to successful canning, and jam making in particular, is an obsessive attention to measuring out the recipe exactly. This is especially true in jam making since the combination of pectin, fruit and sugar is what makes the jam “gel”.
Just a quick note on jar size, when canning the size of the jar is important in calculating the correct processing time for the jam, it just so happened that the recipe we used had the same processing time for both pint and half pint jars so we went ahead an used both, ordinarily this is a huge canning no-no
5) Pickle it. I know that both pickling and jam making are considered “canning”, but I think that they are different enough processes that they should be broken apart. You see jam making is all about the sugar and pectin, and pickling is about salt and vinegar. I am going to say that again– vinegar and salt. It was at this point in my research on pickling that I discovered that the salt required was called “pickling salt” and it is not actually sold anywhere on the east coast, or at least not anywhere I was willing to get in the car and drive to just to buy a box of salt. We discovered on our recent vacation, that other parts of the country do not live in pickling salt deprivation (yes, there was an odd couple hanging out in the canning aisle of a small town KMart acting just a little too excited about clearance canning items a few weeks ago). If worse comes to worse and you can’t find the things you need you can always order equipment and ingredients online. If you decide to be a rebel, you can also check out recommendations online for alternatives to pickling salt, such as kosher salt. So far we have pickled cucumber slices using the Dill Sandwich Slices recipe and jalepeno peppers using the Pickled Peppers recipe both from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The cucumbers turned out great with an interesting unique flavor. The pickled peppers are an ok way to preserve a bounty that you would be unlikely to eat all at once (25 Jalepeno’s in one sitting–eep!), the flavor wasn’t exactly up to par with our expectations but they kept their heat, we will be trying a different recipe next time we have the chance.
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Note: This entry includes referral links to products that I have used, and enjoyed in the past.