Preserving In-Season Foods for Off-Season Feasts

by Ashley Marcin on 3 September 2013 1 comment

We've got a lot of summer still to go, but at this time of year, my mind trains on fall. It's my favorite season for a variety of reasons, foremost of which is all the delicious food. Autumn is when the slow cooker gets its dedicated spot on our kitchen counter and when warm, hearty meals replace simple salads at dinnertime. (See also: 8 Good Reasons to Learn Canning Now)

It also happens to be when our CSA share is at its peak; our farmer friends send us home each Saturday with literally barrels of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, apples, and all sorts of other natural goodies. I consider myself quite a voracious home chef and even I can't seem to find use for all the diverse fruits and vegetables that come my way. And I don't want them to go to waste.

I'm on a personal quest this year to learn more about the art of food preservation. In my search, I've come across some useful texts on the subject, as well as some budget-friendly tools of the trade. Here is a brief description of the most popular preserving methods, as well as my favorite books about each (and all).

Canning

Canning is a method for preserving food in which items are heat treated and then sealed in containers (glass jars are a popular example). Most anything can be canned, including jams, sauces, and other creations — as well as whole foods to be enjoyed at later dates. Canning gives food a shelf life of anywhere from one to five years, sometimes more.

  • Few know better than Ball (as in the jars), so this #1 bestselling book is definitely on my reading list: Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. Along with all the methods and how-tos, this text comes complete with over 400 recipes to preserve fruits and veggies at their freshest, ultimately locking in optimum nutrition.
     
  • Marisa McClellan's Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round takes a seasonal approach. McClellan's blog, of the same name, is a two-time Best Food Blog Awards finalist. Each section breaks down the numerous and seemingly overwhelming steps of canning (with lots of lovely photos), so even a novice can feel confident during the process.

Freezing

Freezing foods is an easy solution if there's enough the space for storage. Foods are prepared, then placed in airtight containers and — that's right — frozen. The cool, dry environment of a freezer helps eliminate the bacteria that would ultimately lead to spoilage. This method typically gives a shelf life of anywhere from three months to a year. (See also: Freeze Foods That "Don't Freeze Well")

  • Jessica Fisher is onto something with Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. It seems other preservation methods focus on individual ingredients or separate components of a meal. The freezer allows for some crafty think-ahead feasts — minus all the excess sodium and additives in most store-bought varieties.

Pickling

Pickling preserves food in brine (in other words, salt water), creating an acidic environment which kills bacteria and produces a delicious sour taste. Foods are placed in the salt solution for a specified amount of time, after which they can be stored in airtight containers — usually refrigerated — for several more weeks before going bad. (See also: Gadzukes! 10 Ways to Use Up Your Zucchini Bounty)

  • Moving way beyond the typical dill, The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich is bursting with 250 "flavor-packed recipes" from the most common to the more unique seasonal produce. While the practice of pickling was one originated out of necessity, the tangy flavors of salt, vinegar, and other spices infuse these recipes with flavors that are now the main draw.
     
  • The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman has 150 pickling recipes using ingredients from apples to zucchini. The book features relishes, chutneys, and many more related recipes.

Dehydrating

Dehydrating can be performed by cracking the oven door a bit and baking at low temperatures. More recently, cooks have used dedicated dehydrating machines. It's actually one of the oldest and easiest methods of food preservation and works by removing moisture from foods. Since bacteria and other spoilers need wet environments to thrive, it preserves well — when items are properly stored — for up to a year. (See also: 9 Money Saving Reasons to Buy a Food Dehydrator)

General Food Preservation

There are also several good books with a little of everything.

  • Put 'em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton is self-described as "a comprehensive home preserving guide for the creative cook." It's short and sweet, yet covers all the main preservation methods (canning, drying, freezing, and pickling). In addition, Vinton provides some tasty recipes for classics like grape jam and pesto to more adventurous treats like spiced pear vodka.
     
  • In Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, author Liana Krissoff offers clear, easy-to-follow directions to accompany Rinne Allen's gorgeous photography. The focus is on less traditional fare and recipes not just for canning, but also using the canned items later.
     
  • Kevin West's Saving the Season: A Cook's Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving is far more than just a cookbook. The stories woven into the text make this one great for curling up and truly savoring (perhaps while also enjoying some corn relish). West shows readers how careful and intentional preservation of food can transcend desire for culinary pleasure — it's a way of life.
     
  • And the fun doesn't stop with these four basic methods alone. In Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, author Deborah Madison describes "traditional techniques using salt, oil, sugar, alcohol, vinegar, drying, cold storage, and lactic fermentation." My head is spinning with all the tasty possibilities.

Once you've made your way through the reading, it's time to get started. In my next post in this series, I'll hunt down deals for the basic items you'll need as you embark on your own adventure to a fridge, freezer, and pantry full of healthy, self-preserved foods.

What are your favorite food preservation resources?

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My favorite is freezing foods to preserve them, especially fruits like bananas and strawberries since they get back SO quickly! These make great soothies later and it much more frugal than throwing them away.