It was a cold, rainy day and my mom asked me to go downstairs to our storage cellar to get a jar of green beans. I was probably twelve or thirteen. I clattered down the stairs to the tiny room in a corner of our basement. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. I was probably singing or reading a book. My dad never did add a doorknob to that door into the food cellar. So where the doorknob should have been was a round, empty hole.
On this particular day, I stuck my hand into that hole without looking. And screamed. There was a mouse sitting where the doorknob should have been! I’m lucky I didn’t get bitten! Thank goodness all the food in that room was sealed in jars and processed in a canner. Otherwise I probably would never have eaten from our food stock again!
When it comes to preserving fresh produce and meat, you can choose from five different methods to protect your food from bacteria, mold, decomposition, and rodents so that you and your family can enjoy it months after you bring it in from the garden or farmer’s market. Which preservation method you choose will depend on a variety of different factors.
What food will you preserve?
You usually have options when choosing a food preservation method for a particular food. Meats can always be thrown in the freezer, but some meats can also be canned or dehydrated. (Think beef jerky.) Or you can make the meats into soups or stews and then can those. Grapes can be thrown in the freezer when they are turning mushy and used later for a snack or in smoothies. Onions or garlic can be stored in a cool, dry room.
My dad used to keep some of our potatoes in our cellar for a few months, but they can also be canned for use in soups or stews. Mashed potatoes can even be frozen. Beans are wonderful for the freezer or canner, but don’t particularly lend themselves to dehydrating. Bananas are perfect for dehydrating and they freeze well, but you don’t really can them because of discoloration and mushiness.
Apples dehydrate well, but have to be turned into applesauce or pie filling before you can or freeze them. Applesauce is delicious so that’s a great option! Berries are delicious frozen, dehydrated, or turned into jam and frozen. You can also turn them into jelly and can them! Spend a little time doing your research if you’re not familiar with the preservation methods that lend themselves to a particular fruit or vegetable. Here’s a very general guide:
Jellies, jams, and pie fillings can be canned or frozen. Most unprocessed fruits can be dehydrated or frozen.
Pickled veggies, sauces, and veggies in general can usually be canned or frozen. For dehydration, choose vegetables with a high moisture content, large surface area, and flavor that will intensify.
How would you like to use these foods later?
Once you know what you can do with a particular food, think about how you want to use it later. If you love to add dried fruits to your trail mix or oatmeal, it makes sense to dehydrate berries. If you enjoy a good smoothie, freeze your berries.
For each vegetable you plan to save, think about how you will use it down the road. If you love pickled cauliflower as a quick veggie side or on a sandwich, it makes sense to pickle and can. If you prefer it steamed or use it to make soup or mock mashed potatoes, freezing it makes more sense.
Where will you keep the food you preserve?
Each of these preservation methods has different requirements. The first place you’ll likely run out of room is the freezer. If you think this may become an issue, keep that in mind as you try to decide if you should freeze or dehydrate or can something.
For example, if you have a bumper green bean crop, and find it quickest and easiest to freeze them, you may want to consider canning a batch or two at the top of harvest time to make sure you have room left in the freezer for some other things. If you don’t plan ahead, you may end up with a freezer full of green beans.
What supplies will you need?
With canning, your main restriction will be the amount of jars you have. Thankfully canning jars are fairly inexpensive and you can add a pack each year as needed. Of course you also need a cool, dark place to store the finished jars full of canned goods. When you run out of room in the pantry, get creative. If you have a basement, you should have plenty of extra room. If you don’t, consider storing the jars in a closet, or even under the bed. While those may not be ideal locations, they work in a pinch.
Dried or dehydrated food will take up the least amount of room. It’s also by far the lightest. This makes it a great option when you’re starting to run out of room. Just remember that you need a plan for consuming all this dehydrated food down the road. You can store the dry food in airtight bags, plastic containers, or glass jars.
Frozen foods will need to be stored in “freezer” quality air tight bags or vacuum sealed bags. I recommend a Food Saver for the longest lasting and most well-preserved frozen fruits, vegetables, sauces, jellies, and even meals.