Eat Healthy This Winter Without Spending a Fortune
It's getting to be fall. Can you smell it? I can't, but I know it's true because I see the fruits and vegetables in my grocery store changing. Slowly, the peaches, nectarines, and plums are getting more expensive and less tasty, and the winter staples like apples, pears, and potatoes are taking center stage. It always makes me sad, this transition from summer to fall, when I have to say goodbye, for a whole year, to some of my favorite foods. But the only other option is to pay exorbitant prices for food that tastes worse and that I know has been brought in from far away, and I'm just not willing to do that.
If you're like me, reveling in the fresh produce of summer and saddened when it departs in the fall, despair isn't your only option. There are good ways to preserve fruits and vegetables that allow you to enjoy them through fall and winter without paying a price that's too high, either for your pocketbook or for the planet.
The first thing you need when you think about storing food is space. Depending on where you live, this may be anything from a cabinet to a shed to a cellar. The space you have will determine not only how much food you can store, but which sorts of storing you can do, so do some research before you commit to anything.
You'll also want to have an abundance of supplies on hand for each type of storing you want to do. For instance, if you want to can, you'll need to make sure you have Mason jars with sealable lids. If you want to dehydrate, you'll need all sizes of bags and something to write on them all with. It's a good idea to get these items together beforehand, as you won't necessarily be able to run to the store in the middle of the process if you run out of something.
When it comes to storing fresh fruits and vegetables, water loss is the main culprit in making food taste bad, followed by the growth of bacteria and fungi that causes the food to spoil. But some fresh foods lose water more slowly than others. This includes winter squash, onions, and potatoes. If you store these items in a cool, dry place, they can last for several months before going bad. In addition, the cool temperature will help keep the bacteria and fungi away.
Most fruits and vegetables can be frozen for 8-12 months without a problem. However, each fruit or vegetable freezes best under different conditions. Before you begin, check out the University of Minnesota's site to see what you should do with each fruit or vegetable you want to freeze to maintain optimum conditions. In general, you will want to blanch your vegetables before freezing and you will freeze your fruit in a simple syrup that will help preserve its color and flavor.
The upside of preserving fresh food by freezing it is that you maintain much of the nutritional value. The downsides are that it takes up a lot of space (frozen food isn't any smaller than unfrozen food) and isn't immediately accessible for use (you have to thaw it first). For a more complete view of what it takes to freeze food long-term, check out the University of Minnesota.
There are several ways to dry fresh fruit and vegetables: sun drying, oven drying, and dehydrator drying. This works especially well for herbs and spices, but can also be used on just about any fruit or vegetable you can think of. If you're planning to dry a lot of produce, you'll probably want to invest in an electric dehydrator, so you don't lose the use of your oven for days at a time.
Like with freezing, individual fruits and vegetables should be dried according to specific instructions. Both FarmGal and Washington State University have all the information you'll need to get started.
Drying is great for herbs and certain fruits, and it's best when you have a limited amount of space. But it takes a lot longer to get the food to a storeable state when you're drying it, and many fruits and vegetables don't reconstitute especially well.
The most important thing to consider when you're thinking about canning is safety. Food canned at an improper acidity level can develop some particularly nasty kinds of bacteria, and you don't want anyone to die for a few vegetables. Luckily, there are instructions and recipes all over the internet for canning different foods in safe ways.
Some fruits and vegetables can be canned using a boiling pot of water on your stove. Others require a pressure canner to be safe. Whatever your recipe calls for, be sure that you know how to use it properly before you get started, to ensure the safety of all who eat your food.
That said, canned fruits and vegetables are some of the yummiest around. They retain nutritional value well, are easily accessible, and the food inside the can looks and tastes like the fresh item you put in there. However, canning can be labor intensive and overwhelming for beginners. The best way to learn is to work with someone who cans, instead of starting out on your own.
Freezing, drying, and canning are the Big 3 when it comes to methods of storing fruit and vegetables long-term. However, some items are also tasty when pickled and others make great jams and jellies. Luckily, there's more then enough information on the internet to get you started, whichever plan you choose. The important thing is that you don't have to miss out on your favorite summer fruits and veggies just because they're out of season, nor do you have to pay exhorbitant prices to eat them. The ability to store them long-term is right in front of you and is easy to pick up and begin to use.
This post was included in the Make It From Scratch Carnival.