If you have a garden, right about now your countertop is overflowing with tomatoes in various stages of ripeness. Aside from eating as many fresh tomatoes as you can every day, it’s time to figure out how to preserve them for the winter.
Freezing and dehydrating are easier than canning and a great way to preserve your favorite summer foods. Pickling and fermenting are also methods you can use for putting food by. With a little know-how and practice, you can soon have a cupboard and/or freezer full of beautiful, ready-to-go food for the cold months ahead.
Thoughts to Consider for Food Preservation
- For long-term freezing, the temperature of your freezer should be zero degrees.
- Thoroughly cool cooked soups or sauces before freezing.
- Steam or blanch vegetables in boiling water, then dip into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain well before freezing.
- If preserving greens such as collards or kale, chop first, cook briefly, cool, and pack into freezer bags.
- Make the food into its end product before freezing. Make tomato sauce instead of freezing whole tomatoes. Bake zucchini bread instead of freezing shredded zucchini.
- Make fruit sauce by simmering cut up fruit in a pot until thick. Add a little sweetener if desired and purée or leave chunky. Cool completely before freezing.
- Spread washed/dried berries or sliced fruit in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer, then pour into a container after frozen.
- Commercial dehydrators, solar dehydrators, or your oven can be used for drying. Oven temperature should be 120° F to dry but not cook the food. Read this article in Mother Earth News comparing food dehydrators.
- Dried vegetables should be brittle, fruits should be pliable but not sticky. If they’re not completely dry, store in the refrigerator.
Pickling is achieved by preserving prepared ingredients in a hot spiced vinegar solution. You should follow a recipe carefully for best results. (See below for resources.) You can pickle a variety of foods besides cucumbers: cantaloupe, apples, pears, beets, beans, peppers, or watermelon rinds.
Quick Pickling – You can make quick pickles with a variety of vegetables by simply marinating and storing your veggies in a vinegar brine. They are not processed with heat so need to be kept refrigerated. Here’s a recipe for quick pickled beets.
Make flavored vinegars. Infuse white wine or balsamic vinegar with fruit or herbs.