When the garden gives in abundance is it better to can or freeze?
Posted: August 21, 2012
Aug. 19, 2012
The Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster, PA via Pennlive.com
Whether you freeze or can a given vegetable or fruit depends on a lot of factors according to area cooking teachers canners and food–safety experts.You may prefer the texture of beans that have been canned — processed at high heat in sealed glass jars — or the crunch of lightly blanched beans after they've emerged from a freezer bag.You may not have the time for canning or room in your freezer for storing lots of frosty fruits and veggies.
"It depends on where you have space" said Betsey Sterenfeld who teaches classes in canning and other cooking techniques through the Lancaster–based Essen cooking school. "Do you have a nice cool dark space for your jars if you do canning or do you have freezer space?" Sterenfeld said. "Some of it's going to be the products" Sterenfeld said. "Something like potatoes they don't take well to freezing."Sterenfeld said she likes to freeze peach halves treating them with "a little bit of sugar. Sugar as a preservative helps maintain the texture and the flavor of a peach" she said. "I seal up the bags really well and stack them in my freezer. You basically have peaches in a nice light syrup. And they're just delicious" she said. "The texture is intact. "She also freezes a lot of blueberries raspberries and black raspberries. "They're much more affordable when you're buying them locally in season" Sterenfeld said." Because I have freezer space I like to freeze all the vegetables — broccoli green beans corn" said Kendra Musser of Mohnton. Sometimes family members dictate whether produce is frozen or canned."My kids really like frozen cherries and frozen blueberries" said Musser who teaches canning classes at Weaver's Orchard Farm Market in Morgantown. "I also freeze applesauce" she said because her children like their applesauce a little icy and slushy."You can also freeze peaches" Musser said "but I prefer to can them. I can peaches and pears and a lot of tomato things — juice salsa pizza sauce."
"As far as the beans peas corn whether they're canned or frozen it's a matter of preference a matter of taste" said Martha Zepp food–preservation safety consultant with the Penn State Extension's Lancaster office. "My preference I'd rather have frozen green beans although I can them because I don't have freezer space" Zepp said. She noted the canning procedure from food and jar preparation to the high–heat processing time generally takes a lot longer than freezing. Zepp believes food safety should be paramount as home cooks decide whether to freeze food or to can it in either a boiling–water–bath canner or pressure canner.The villain in canning Zepp noted is a nasty little bacterium called Clostridium botulinum which can multiply on low–acid foods like meat and most vegetables if they aren't canned properly. The bacteria causes botulism which though rare can be fatal."The bacterial spores produce a toxin in the absence of oxygen" Zepp says. "In a jar you have the absence of oxygen at room temperature and in low–acid foods which are your vegetables meats soups. "That's why Zepp said the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Penn State Extension service recommend that all low–acid vegetables —and that's most of the vegetables we eat such as carrots peas beans corn and peppers — be pressure–canned rather than water–bath canned. Pressure canners kill the offending bacteria by boiling the mason jars of produce at higher pressure and therefore at a higher temperature than water–bath canners.
Vegetables such as summer squash and eggplant shouldn't be canned Zepp said. "They would have to be pressure canned and if they were pressure canned they'd be pulverized" she said. "But we can add vinegar and we can pickle them. "Low–acid vegetables should be canned in a water–bath canner only if they're being pickled in plenty of vinegar. And tomatoes must be "acidified" by adding lemon juice for example before they can be put in a water–bath canner.If tomatoes are to be frozen Zepp said they should be cooked first."If you freeze the tomato raw the natural enzymes keep working in a raw tomato and so they tend to get sort of dried out and tough. … By cooking it I've destroyed that enzyme. "Enzymes which promote the normal ripening process can cause changes in taste or texture in foods that are past their ideal maturity. You should blanch most vegetables — cook them for a few minutes in boiling water and then plunge them into cold water — before freezing them Zepp noted to stop that enzyme reaction that causes toughness and bitterness.
"In the case of fruit you stop the enzyme reaction by adding sugar" Zepp said. "Chopped onions and peppers do not have to be blanched" before they're frozen Zepp said. "If you are freezing a whole pepper to make a stuffed pepper you have to blanch it because it's larger. "Items such as pesto should be frozen rather than canned Zepp said if they contain oil." We don't use oil in canning … because the oil is a great medium for bacteria to grow in. "You can freeze anything safely" Zepp added. "But not every frozen vegetable will result in quality."
"I find that vegetables for the most part are better frozen and fruits are better canned" Philadelphia food writer Marisa McClellan said. "If you want a vegetable that has a good texture that isn't pickled freeze it."McClellan who recently published her first canning cookbook "Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round" also teaches canning classes and writes the blog "Food in Jars.""Most of the fruits can be done with a water–bath canner" McClellan said. "If you suddenly decide in January you want a peach cobbler you can pop open a jar you canned in August and you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes. "I always have slow–roasted tomatoes in my freezer" she noted. "I also make and freeze zucchini butter" by cooking down zucchini into spreadable form with butter olive oil and rosemary.
David Gelatt of Lancaster learned to can from watching the women in his family putting up produce when he was young. He said his family lived in an upstate New York town so small that the nearest grocery store was a half–hour away. Preserving summer food was a necessity.Every summer the water–bath canner at Gelatt's home is bubbling for weeks on end. He cans dozens of pints of everything from pickles to ketchup mustard barbecue sauce and salsa and from pear butter and grape jam to spaghetti sauce.As long as you have the cupboard space to store the jars and are organized Gelatt said canning can save home cooks a lot of money. "I store everything in there as I'm canning" he said "At the end of the season we start putting everything away and labeling everything. "When preparing to can or freeze food for the first time McClellan cautioned "go easy." Enthusiastic home cooks sometimes "buy 25 pounds of something and it quickly becomes overwhelming and it's not something you know you want to eat. "I'm a big advocate for smaller batches and determining what you like and don't like" McClellan said "before you invest time money and energy" in canning.
Sterenfeld agrees. "Start small. Don't try to do it all. Just think of those one or two things that you like to have" she said. For her family it's tomato sauce salsa and applesauce. As long as she can get those items canned each summer "we're good" she said. Canning is "super easy to learn" Gelatt said. "You get hooked." For all his work he noted he's rewarded each winter when "you open your cupboard and you have all this wonderful stuff" from the summer before.
Martha Zepp is available in Penn State Extension's Lancaster office 1383 Arcadia Road from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Wednesday to answer questions about food preservation and safety. Call 394–6851 or visit extension.psu.edulancaster. The Extension office also offers a variety of free recipes for canning and freezing; brochures about food safety and a food–preservation newsletter.
For more information on home food preservation visit the Penn State Food Preservation web site at http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety/food-preservation