Posted: July 11, 2012
While methods have varied over the years, food preservation is a summer time tradition for many families. In fact, food preservation in one form or another has permeated every culture at nearly every moment in time. In reading about the history of food preservation, its importance was not only to provide sustenance, but was a central part of the culture of families and communities.
When I think back to my own childhood, I remember my father’s large garden and working together to harvest the foods and then can or freeze the tomatoes, green beans and beets that were staple foods in our cupboard. This was always the time of year my Aunt came from the “city” to help us with this task, so it ended up a family affair like it is for many families today. Certainly as a child it was not one of my favorite things to do, but as an adult, you come to appreciate the hard work and effort that goes in to preserving foods. Of course, the reward is always having those wonderful preserved foods throughout the year.
So, whether you preserve foods by canning and/or freezing now is the time to get your supplies in order, so that you will be ready when those fresh foods start coming in from the garden.
If you mainly freeze food, think about cleaning out and rearranging your freezer in order to accommodate new items. The general recommendation is to use frozen foods within a year for best quality. As long as they have been properly handled and kept frozen, from a food safety perspective, they are still safe to eat. Be aware that the quality, taste and texture of the product will continue to decline.
Freezing is one of the easiest, most convenient and least time consuming methods of food preservation. It is important to remember though that freezing does not sterilize foods; the cold temperatures only slow the growth of microorganisms and chemical changes that affect food quality. One of the keys to quality is to inactive the enzymes in fruits and vegetables that cause color and flavor changes as well as nutrient loss.
For vegetables, blanching is a critical step for top quality frozen vegetables. By exposing the vegetables to boiling water for a short amount of time, you destroy microorganisms on the surface, make the vegetable more compact for storage, and help to maintain color of the product. The enzymes in fruits are controlled by using chemical compounds, such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or other commercial products, such as Fruit Fresh to prevent browning.
If you prefer to can foods, it is very important that you can or process your foods using the correct method. Processing means heating filled jars for a specified time at a specified temperature, either in a boiling water bath canner or a pressure canner, for the purpose of destroying microorganisms. This process allows enough time to heat the air and food in the jar, causing it to expand and build up pressure in the jar. This results in air being driven out of the jar so that a strong vacuum seal is created.
The only two recommended methods of canning are boiling water canning or pressure canning. The boiling water method can be used for canning fruits, tomatoes and pickles, jams, jellies and other preserves. Pressure canning is the only safe method of canning vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. These foods are considered low acid and must reach a temperature of 240°F to destroy Clostridium botulinum spores that could be present, and this temperature can only be reached under pressure. Be sure to follow directions that specify how long foods are to be processed; and for pressure canning at what pressure to process for a safe product. If you have a recipe from the internet or an old family recipe that does not have processing times and pressures, then it is best to freeze that food. For reliable canning information, I would recommend the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, the University of Georgia So Easy to Preserve book, The Ball Blue Book or you can contact the Somerset Extension office for the Let’s Preserve materials.