Canning and Pickling. Food Preservation - Fresh Start Growers
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Canning and Pickling. Food Preservation

One of the most rewarding parts of planting your own vegetable garden is having fresh, organic produce. Nothing beats the taste of a tomato fresh from the vine. And I get really excited for those months when fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are just a quick walk out the front door. For someone who loves to cook (and eat!), produce from the store can’t compete with the flavor and diversity of the ingredients straight from the garden.

But every year I find myself with an ever-growing pile of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, beans, and beets taking over my kitchen counter. Most things will last a few weeks in the refrigerator if properly stored, but we still find ourselves pawning off excess to friends and family. And as a last resort, the compost pile or the chickens (who love any treats they can get!)

We typically resolCanning, Pickling, Freezing, Dryingve ourselves to saving things like onions, potatoes, garlic, and beans – they dry easily and hold up well when given proper air circulation and stored in a cool, dark place.  But recently we started extending the life of our garden into the winter months – and extending the amount of delicious, organic produce from the garden going from the stovetop to our stomachs. I have been amazed at the variety of food preservation recipes and techniques. Even more amazing is the simplicity.

I had written off canning and preserving as too time consuming and too daunting, but it is an easy, inexpensive way to keep your garden going all year long. Plus you decide the amount of salt, kind of herbs, and types of additives in your recipes not Del Monte or Chef Boyardee.

We started the great experiment with tomatoes. I love sun-dried tomatoes, but I hate the cost of that ridiculously small jar from the grocery store. So with a colander full of cherry tomatoes we set about making our own using the oven. We cut the tomatoes in half, tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary (also from the garden!) and layered them cut-side up on a baking sheet. They roasted in the oven at 250 F for about 5 hours. What we ended up with was a beautiful spread of perfectly dried, caramelized tomatoes. The results can then be frozen, or packed in olive oil and put in the refrigerator.

Next we supplemented our harvest – the drought did a number on our tomatoes this year. We bought 15 lbs. of tomatoes and canned six pint jars of whole, peeled tomatoes for use in soups, stews, sauces, and salsas. It was easily accomplished using the hot-water boiling method. We blanched the tomatoes in boiling water to remove the skins, cored them, and then packed them into jars, leaving about a half inch space at the top, with 2 tbs. of lemon juice and some salt. We then put the filled jars in a hot-water bath for 80 minutes at a rolling boil, removed them, and set them on the counter to cool.

Our first experiment was so successful, and easy, we were ready to take on the rest of the garden, namely pickling cucumbers, zucchini, and beans. We removed the ends of the cucumbers (there’s a leftover blossom endCanning, Pickling, Freezing, Drying. A Guide to Food Preservation that can contaminate the pickles) and cut them into spears. We then layered them in a large, shallow bowl, sprinkled them with salt, and covered them with ice.  This seems like an unnecessary extra, but it really helps remove excess moisture and keep your pickles crunchy. The next step was to  make a pickling solution, which meant combining vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, peppercorns, and salt in a sauce pot and bringing to a boil.  We then drained the cucumbers packed them into jars and covered with the solution, taking care to remove any excess air.  We processed them using the boiling method for 10 minutes.  We removed the jars and set aside to cool.  This allowed a seal to form, after 24 hours the lids on the mason jars had pulled down and the seal was formed.

For any beginners I would recommend reading more blogs and books.  Put Em’ Up is a comprehensive guide to home preserving, has  interesting recipes sorted by vegetable (or fruit), and covers freezing, drying, canning, and pickling techniques in detail.  Many sauces, relishes, and salsas you already make can be canned.  It is immensely rewarding to open a pantry filled with canned tomatoes, pickles, and beans from your garden or farm market, in addition to the supply of peppers, onions, garlic, and potatoes.  And I can look forward to making spaghetti in December with canned tomato sauce from our garden.  It was fun, and more important for me – being a penny pincher – it was cost effective.  A pint of organic whole canned tomatoes cost about $1.80. Try beating that at Whole Foods!


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