Food Preservation Quick Start Guide

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So you love to garden but haven’t had much practice putting things away? Perhaps you are daunted by images of pressure cookers exploding, freezers overflowing, and a full root cellar (which you clearly do not have in your 21st century home.) Or maybe your garden just hasn’t been that successful… until now!

Where do you start? First off, preserving food does not have to take a ton of time, a ton of space, or all kinds of fancy gadgets. You won’t need to get a new freezer, check on your life insurance policy or start digging! The grocery stores may have spoiled us, but we can learn the ancient skill of food preservation.

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Start Small

Don’t start with a giant crock of sauerkraut or bushels of tomatoes. You will learn faster and avoid burnout if you start with small batches of things. I once froze an entire full garbage bag of kale. It took forever, I had a minor melt-down in the middle of it, and we didn’t even end up using it all! Start with a small batch, and if you use it all and love it, you can do more next year.

Start Fresh

Begin with the freshest produce at its peak. Don’t try to preserve tough, overgrown, bitter produce you picked 2 weeks ago. It’s not going to improve, and you’re probably not going to like it. As soon as you pick your produce it starts breaking down (like all dead things), so the sooner you can preserve it, the sweeter and better it will taste.

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Start Easy

Have you steamed vegetables before? Then you can freeze vegetables. Steam them just until they are barely cooked through (3-5 minutes, use a timer) then throw them into some ice water to keep them from becoming overcooked. Dry it well, put it in a zippered bag, push out all the air, and label. Put it in the freezer. Right away.

Start Drying

If you don’t own a food dehydrator, they are awesome. I picked mine up at the thrift store for $15 but I’ve also seem them recently brand new in the store for $20. They are great for drying your own fresh herbs (vastly superior to stale grocery store ones), dried apple slices, and a million other things. You can stick a batch in there before bed and take it out in the morning. It’s also an easy and fun project for kids to help with!

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Start Fermenting

I know it seems intimidating, but people have been fermenting for centuries and you can too! You don’t need any special starter culture for vegetables, they come with the right bacteria already on them! Just stick them in a wide mouth mason jar, add non-iodized salt, or brine (1 tablespoon in a pint of un-chlorinated water should do) and wait 2 weeks. Make sure the veggies are submerged in the water to prevent mold. A lid or a bag of water works well for this. When your veggies are done, stick them in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.

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I challenge you to put away at least 3 things this year. When you pull out your garden goodness in the middle of a dark winter day, you will be reminded of the glory of summer. You will taste the freshness and smell the dirt in your garden. And you will be super happy you took the time to put sunshine in a bag (or a jar).

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