It is that time of year where produce is coming in by the buckets full. What can you do with all of the extra produce from your garden? Many people may share with family members, but there is another option when you have an abundance of produce and that is food preservation.
Food preservation can take many forms; freezing, dehydrating or canning. However you choose to preserve your food, the Cooperative Extension just wants you to be educated and safe.
Freezing produce is fairly simple. When you freeze your produce, it is recommended to pick at the peak of harvest when the produce is ripe and freeze immediately to prevent spoilage and loss of nutrients. Due to enzymes in vegetables that cause the food to change color and other chemical reactions to take place, blanching the vegetables is necessary.
Blanching is done by adding the vegetables to boiling water then cooled in an ice bath immediately after to prevent cooking. Blanching deactivates those enzymes as well as destroys microorganisms that are on the surface of the produce. Once cooled, dry, pack, and seal in a freezer safe bag or container.
Blanching is not required when freezing fruit, however due to browning of fruit and loss of vitamin C it is encouraged to add ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the product before freezing. You can get ascorbic acid from grocery stores.
A less effective measure would be soaking the fruit in a dilute vinegar or coating the fruit with sugar and lemon juice. Either way make sure your fruits and vegetables have little contact with air when freezing.
Dehydrating is another way to preserve food. Dehydrating is removing moisture from your food product. Removing the moisture stops microorganisms from growing. Civilizations have been drying food since 12,000 B.C. There are five ways to dehydrate food; sun drying, solar drying, oven drying, vine drying or dehydrator drying.
Sun drying is for foods with a high sugar content, and acidic fruits. Must be done in hot weather, greater than 85 degrees, humidity less than 60 percent and breezy, put on wire racks and turned two or three times per day.
Solar drying is similar to sun drying except it needs increased air flow and the temperature needs to be increased by 20-30 degrees, which can be done using aluminum foil as a reflector.
Vine drying is the same as sun drying but is for bean and lentils. Beans stay on the vine until they rattle in the pod. Treatment (freezer or oven) is needed afterwards to kill bugs and their eggs.
Oven treatment can be used for most foods. Set oven at 140-150 degrees and arrange food in single layer on baking sheet. Leave oven slightly open (2-6 inches) and place a fan nearby for air movement. Rotate food occasionally and watch for scorching. Dehydrator drying is used for most foods except milk products and eggs. Dehydrators are made to work at the correct temperature and have the correct amount of air movement. Occasional turning of food and testing for dryness is needed.
Canning is a popular choice for food preservation. Canning is a fun and safe way to preserve food if done correctly. Always follow a tested recipe when canning. There are two ways to can your produce. Boiling water bath method is used for high acidic foods, such as most fruits and some vegetables. It is done by placing food in jars with water solution, placed in hot water bath and covered. Process for the time recommended on the tested recipe. The boiling water and air circulation pushes the air out of the cans and seals the lids to prevent spoilage.
Pressure canning is another way to can your items. Again, always use a tested recipe. This method is meant for low acid foods and uses a pressure canner that locks so the temperature of the items can increase to 250 degrees instead of staying at 212 degrees which is the temperature of boiling water. The temperature needs to get above a certain amount to kill pathogens that could contaminate your food product.
Keep in mind that Jackson County is at an elevation of greater than 2,000 feet so altitude adjustment is needed when pressure canning.
If you are using a dial gauge pressure canner and not sure if it is reading correctly, bring the gauge by the Extension Office to be tested before processing your produce this year.
For more information about food preservation, call the Extension Office at 586-4009 or e-mail Family and Consumer Science Agent Emily McClure at firstname.lastname@example.org.