My dad was the son of a farmer. His dad died when he was just thirteen, and he took over much of the farming as the eldest brother. He learned the value of hard work and developed a love for the harvest. When he became an adult he was called to ministry and became a preacher. But once a farmer’s son, always a farmer’s son.
Whenever Dad could, he had an enormous garden. From the time I was seven until I left home, we lived on 2.5 acres and Dad had a 1.5 acre garden that spanned the bottom of our property and that of our neighbor’s. It was pretty incredible! In fact, he purchased a tractor to till the garden. And in addition to that he grew blackberries, grapes, and apple trees. He still has a (smaller) garden today and gives his grandkids rides on the tractor or lets the older ones help till.
I grew up eating fresh garden produce all summer long and enjoying the flavors of preserved produce all winter. My parents worked hard all during the harvest to preserve the food we grew. Even though I despised helping dig up potatoes, shuck corn, snap beans, help with the canner, and everything gardening growing up, as an adult I have developed a deep love for the harvest. That magical moment when you get to pick and eat the fruits of your labor. So much so that over time I have developed a small passion for gardening.
Just one small problem: my husband is Active Duty military and we move around often to homes with Home Owners’ Associations, urban settings, and small yards. And each new climate comes with new challenges to figure out. I am super fortunate where we are right now – I have a prime spot for seven tomato plants, two cabbage plants, one zucchini plant, one cucumber plant, and a whole bunch of basil. I even had two extra “volunteer” tomatoes come up this year.
I’m enjoying my little harvest, and each year I add a little more to the amount I grow – whether in the ground or in containers. And with more produce comes a greater need to preserve the harvest bounty.
Preserving and storing food is not practiced as much any more. I know my parents still spend a good part of each summer freezing corn and blackberries and canning green beans. Last summer, my mother-in-law helped me can about 18 quarts of applesauce. I’d love to do more food preservation. But for the most part when I talk about canning applesauce my friends’ eyes glaze over.
I always get in the mood to do some preserving at this time of year though.
When you come across a great deal at the grocery store or the farmers market – the natural next step is to figure out how to preserve that food. If you know how to preserve it, you can put it up and use it throughout the year at great savings. Some things (like fresh fruit) are super easy to preserve, so it is worth taking the time to learn the methods of food preservation before you find a bushel of apples at an awesome price. Know your options.
Freezing Food to Preserve the Harvest
A great place to start is by freezing food. This is one method of food preservation I will actually practice all year long. If our grapes get a little mushy, I toss them in the freezer. Frozen grapes are a treat! If you find great deals on chicken or produce, you can actually create meals to freeze ahead. The freezer method is also a great way to store fruits like berries and peaches that don’t last long once they are ripe. Almost any vegetable can be washed, diced, and frozen. In some cases, you will want to quickly blanch the vegetable to remove bacteria. The only disadvantage to freezing food is that you’re limited by the amount of room you have in your freezer.
TIP: Label your frozen food with a date and description so you know what it is and how long it’s been sitting in the freezer before you pull it out to thaw.
Canning for Food Preservation
I can remember being in the kitchen to make an afternoon snack and hearing “pop.” “pop.” “pop” over and over as the jars of green beans and strawberry jelly sealed. It’s a comforting sound for families who preserve by canning. It means the seal “took” and the jar can go into the storage pantry instead of the refrigerator.
Canning is one of the most versatile ways to preserve food. You can make and can anything from jelly and pie filling to chili and green beans. When you grow your own food (or find an awesome deal at a farmer’s market), canning is cheaper and healthier than buying from a regular store. My canned applesauce last year was made from apples purchased at an orchard and ended up being about the same cost as store bought applesauce – but I knew exactly what was in each jar.
Canning has the added advantage of not taking up any space in your fridge and freezer. You can store your canned goods in the pantry, on a shelf in the kitchen, or anywhere in the basement. Properly canned food also stores a lot longer than any other method.
Dehydration for Food Preservation
If you don’t have a lot of space, consider dehydrating food. I grow herbs in my garden, and fresh dried herbs are so much better than what you can buy at the grocery. I also grow my herbs organically which is a big plus. This year I am only growing basil, but I have grown rosemary, thyme, and chives in the past. We use so much cilantro, next year I am planning to have a bumper crop of that herb.
If you do not have a dehydrator, you can use your oven on the lowest setting. Try dehydrating some apple slices, or any type of fruit, to use in baking and cereal throughout the year. Then explore further and come up with fun snacks like kale chips, banana chips, and even dried veggies that you can use in soup.
Pickling Food for Preservation
My grandma always had a crock of pickles in the summer waiting to be canned and even though I’m not a fan of pickles, I have fond memories of helping her can pickles and pickle relish. I like to keep a jar of my mom’s pickle relish to add to tuna salad and egg salad.
A favorite old-fashioned way to preserve food is to pickle it. Pickling involves submerging the produce in a brine made of salt, sugar, water, and various pickling spices. The most common pickled item is of course cucumbers and it’s a great place to start. But don’t stop there. You can pickle peppers, okra, cauliflower and a wide variety of other veggies and even fruits. Play with it and see what you like. Pickled veggies make a great addition to sandwiches and salads throughout the year and pickle juice is great for seasoning!
Cold Storage Food Preservation
Last but not least, let’s talk about the simplest way to store food – the most old fashioned way known to man. Things like root vegetables, apples, and cabbages store well in a dry, cool, and dark place. This is why older houses have a root cellar. My dad actually built a pantry in the darkest corner of our basement for the purpose of storing potatoes, onions, and our canned goods. Even in summer this room stayed cool and comfortable.
Canned goods in cold storage keep longer too! Today your pantry might be a good place to store this type of food. I’m lucky to have a little pantry closet that was built onto an extension of our home and has no air ducts, so in the winter it stays nice and cold and is perfect for food preservation. I make sure to throw my potatoes and onions back there during the winter! If you have a basement, think about putting a shelf or two on the inside wall corner (where at least two walls are sitting against dirt if you have a walk in basement) and use it for keeping root veggies and home canned food.