Preserving Tips and Tricks – Preservation Methods

After giving it some thought, I decided to do a couple of posts on the topic of preserving in general. When people find out that I’ve canned before, they either already know how to do it themselves or know nothing at all about it. So, if you’re a beginner and interested in learning how to preserve, here are the basic preservation methods:

  • Freezing
  • Water-bath canning
  • Pressure canning
  • Fermentation
  • Dehydrating
  • Drying
  • Smoking

I’ve had experience freezing, water bath canning, drying, and dehydrating. I’m hoping that this year will be the year that I get some more experience in the other methods (pressure canning and fermenting in particular), and so hopefully I’ll have more insight on those methods as the harvest progresses.

A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of preserving at home – what if something goes terribly wrong and you end up getting sick? Here is one things I’ve learned in the past few years of preserving: you know when something is off. I would be lying if I said that every single thing I’ve ever preserved lasted or stayed fresh. We’ve had a few jars of salsa get really discolored and could tell as soon as we popped the lid off that something was amiss. We’ve opened up jam jars and seen a skim of mold at the top. We’ve certainly had to toss some frozen goods because they got really freezer burnt. But I’ve grown up eating preserved foods, and never once have I gotten sick from eating something that I thought was safe and turned out not to be. When in doubt, give it a sniff. Take a tiny spoonful and taste it. Inspect the texture. It’s pretty easy to see if something is amiss, so don’t worry too much about accidentally ingesting spoiled food.

Preservation maintains only some of the taste and texture of the original product. A jar of tomato sauce will not taste or feel the exact same as a fresh tomato, so if you’re hoping to enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes all winter, you’ll be wasting your time. However, sometimes the difference in taste and texture is equal or even an improvement of the original product. Dehydrating cherry tomatoes produces the sweetest little nuggets to add to pizzas and pastas (or eat straight out of the bag, hehe). Pickling fresh green beans gives you a tart, crunchy treat that’s wonderful to crack open in the middle of winter and eat as a snack.

Another piece of advice that I’ve learned over the years: preserve what you will eat. One year, Jason and I made several jars of plum salsa using plums we got from a tree in my parent’s yard.

Don’t get me wrong, it was good…but the flavor was sort of unique and only went well as a sauce for a handful of dishes. It was a lot of time and effort for something that was really more of a specialty item and therefore it didn’t get used up. Last year, I had a bumper crop of banana peppers and ended up canning quite a bit of them. Now, I love banana peppers on my sandwiches and in salads, but two people can only eat maybe one jar of banana peppers in any given week.

I gave some away to friends and that helped deplete the stash. Still, we have a few unused jars in our cupboard that we’ll need to be more conscientious about eating.

My final piece of basic advice about preservation is this: Don’t feel bad if you can’t preserve it all. Preservation requires time and effort, and your finished product should be worth what you put into it either in quality, personal satisfaction, or cost. Like I said, some things just don’t taste good preserved and should be enjoyed fresh for the season that they’re growing. If you’re composting, add your excess fruits and vegetables to your compost pile and use them to regenerate the soil they grew from. Give them away to neighbors. See if a local food pantry is accepting donations of fresh food. There are a lot of things you can do to avoid feeling like you’ve wasted all of your hard work that you put into growing your food, so don’t feel guilty if you’re not able to can every single tomato you grow!

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2 Comments to “Preserving Tips and Tricks – Preservation Methods”

  1. My biggest problem is with preserving the crunchiness of pickled cucumbers and beans. There’s nothing worse than opening a jar of dilly beans and discovering that they’re mush-sticks. Any suggestions?
    Also, here’s a recipe for corn relish that I’ve been using the past few years, and absolutely love it. Give it a shot, if you like. http://fieldnotesfromfatherhood.com/2012/09/12/kick-ass-corn-relish-recipe/

    • With dilly beans, I’ve noticed that a quick steam and then immediately putting the beans in ice water does a great job of maintaining crunchiness. Also, I don’t know the logic behind this, but I found that everything I canned with apple cider vinegar vs. regular white vinegar was crunchier. Perhaps the apple cider vinegar doesn’t break down the veggies as much?

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