Preserving fresh fruits, vegetables need not be difficult
Investing time and energy in preserving this summer's fresh fruits and vegetables can add variety and nutrition and health benefits to fall and winter meals.
Doing so also can trim grocery bills, said Karen Blakeslee, K-State Research and Extension food scientist, who explained that seasonal produce is typically less expensive when at its peak production and supplies are more available.
Many people are learning more about fruits and vegetables by growing them in backyard and community gardens, Blakeslee said. Shopping at farmers and other local fruit and vegetable markets and in supermarkets that offer fresh seasonal foods also can yield savings.
And, while some may recall images of their mothers or grandmothers in the kitchen with more tomatoes than they know what to do with, Blakeslee said newer, time-saving equipment and tested recipes can make it easy for first-time food preservationists to achieve safe, high-quality food products.
Following directions provided with food preservation equipment, and reading, understanding and following a tested recipe exactly are key ingredients in successful food preservation, said Blakeslee. She also noted that summer produce can be preserved by canning, freezing or dehydrating.
Several factors--time, experience, equipment, appliances, and available food storage space--will need to be considered, Blakeslee said.
For example, folks who have a newer range with a smooth glass top will want to read their appliance manual. If the manufacturers recommend not using canning equipment, freezing or drying will be a better choice. Some brands of canning equipment are not recommended for use on a smooth glass top range.
Freezing typically requires minimal equipment--a freezer or freezer space available in a refrigerator, blanching equipment such as a small strainer to briefly immerse food in boiling water then transfer to ice cold water to stop the cooking process, freezer bags, boxes or jars, and recipe ingredients.
Dehydrating can be accomplished by placing foods sliced or cut in similar sizes on a tray in a newer oven (equipped with a fan) and set at a low temperature for a specific period of time, or by using a food dehydrator, which typically has shelves, a fan circulating air to speed drying and a timer.
Because of high humidity, Blakeslee said drying foods in the sun is not an efficient drying method in Kansas.
A pressure canner is similar to a pressure cooker but larger and necessary for processing low-acid foods such as meats, vegetables, seafood, soups and other mixtures. These foods need to reach temperatures of 240 degrees F to kill bacteria that may be present on meats and vegetables.
A water-bath canner can be used to process acidic foods, such as fruits, pickles, jams and jellies, in a boiling water bath (212 degrees F).
While many people consider Kansas a flat landscape, it is not, said Blakeslee, who explained that altitude must be considered in canning as much as it is in baking.
Those at higher altitudes must add processing time for water-bath processing or pressure for pressure canning, said Blakeslee, who advised reading and following tested recipe directions.
Improper processing at higher altitudes can lead to spoilage because of underprocessing, she said.
For all canning, jars should be in good conditions and free from scratches, cracks or chips. Lids, or flats, should be new. Sealing rings can be reused if free from rust or other damage.
Once food is processed in the canner, the lids will be concave and produce a ping-like popping sound as they cool to signal successful processing and a vacuum seal to protect preserved foods.
All preserved foods should be labeled and dated after processing and before being moved to a pantry or other cool dry place for storage (according to recipe directions) and used within one year.
If considering food preservation for the first time, Blakeslee advised choosing a simple project, such as freezing tomatoes or making fruit jam or jelly.
To learn more, Blakeslee recommended checking with K-State Research and Extension county and district offices to see if classes on home food preservation are offered, and reading about food preservation.
More information is available on the K-State Research and Extension Rapid Response website, www.rrc.ksu.edu. Food preservation guides for apples, cherries, cucumbers, green beans, peaches, peppers, strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, and vegetables can be downloaded from the K-State Research and Extension Bookstore/Library (www.ksre.ksu.edu/library). The "Complete Guide to Canning," a 196-page book with recipes from Purdue University (MF2904) is available from the Bookstore/ Library for $20.10.
More information also is available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a USDA website based at the University of Georgia, at www.uga.edu/nchfp.