Catching Summer in a Mason Jar

In the hit TV show, Game of Thrones, the phrase “winter is coming” is a warning and reminder to be vigilant. In the world of gardening and eating locally, it’s a prompt to assemble the mason jars.

Freezing, dehydrating and canning are just a few options to preserve in-season produce for the wintery months to come. A bit of work during the harvest season can save a lot of time and dollars in the long-run. It also allows you to control what goes into your food and cut down on packaging waste; mason jars and ziplock baggies are reusable.

If you do not have a garden with a surplus of produce, visit the farmers’ market or invest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). You could even ask a gardening neighbor or farmer for his/her unwanted produce.

Freezing

Out of the three methods listed above, freezing is perhaps one of the quickest ways to save produce for later. Simply wash, trim and cut up the fruit or vegetables to the desired size. To help prevent further ripening, drop the pieces into boiling water. Return to a boil, and after one to two minutes, remove the produce with a slotted spoon and plunge it into an ice bath.

Once the produce is completely chilled, remove it from the ice bath and allow it to dry; this process is called blanching. Store the produce in plastic ziplock bags or other containers in the freezer. Helpful hint: label it and include the date. Most frozen vegetables and fruit can be stored in the freezer for six to 12 months.

Dehydrating

Dehydrating is another relatively easy way to preserve food without taking up much space. Set the oven to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. After washing the produce and removing any seeds, stems or peels, thinly slice the fruit or vegetables and begin blanching (see in the above section).

Once the pieces are dry, spread them out on lined cooking pans and place in the oven for six or more hours, checking on them regularly. You can store the dehydrated food in a cupboard or on a shelf – no need to refrigerate or freeze. Add the dehydrated food to soups, oatmeal, pancakes . . . it’s also a great snack.

Canning

The process of canning – when done correctly – kills all of the microorganisms that could spoil the food and prevents new ones from getting in. Essentially, you fill a sanitized jar with prepared food, place a lid on top and secure it with a screw ring before placing it in boiling water for a specific amount of time. When you remove the jar, the heat escapes, creating a vacuum seal on the lid. Properly canned food can be stored up to a year.

It is important to follow a recipe specific to the produce you want to can.  For a beginner’s guide to canning, visit SeriousEats.

Checklist for food preservation:

  • Good music or NPR
  • A freezing/dehydrating/canning buddy
  • High-fives (to celebrate all of your work)

What’s your preferred method of food preservation? Share your tips and tricks!

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