After a summer that was somewhat bleak in terms of produce in many parts of the country, this fall seems to be making up for it with loads of bountiful, satisfying, and delicious produce. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of the surplus of produce and stock up, now is the perfect time to gather in the harvest and transform fresh into a variety of options that will last you well into the winter, providing you with that extra vegetable side dish for a winter dinner or that tantalizing taste of sweetness for an after dinner dessert. If you aren’t sure how to start or what your options even are, here are some of the top methods for preserving and why you might want to choose one over another (in order of easiest to most difficult!).
If you aren’t interested in canning, then I highly suggest you consider going with freezing, it’s about the easiest thing you can possibly do to preserve your produce. The only downside is that as water expands when frozen, the cell walls in fruits and vegetables will typically break during the freezing process, hence leading to a soft or potentially “mushy” texture upon thawing. Also, you’ll want to keep in mind that though freezing does halt the growth of bacteria, mold or yeast once frozen, as soon as the food is thawed out, these will begin to grow again.
Fortunately there’s really no expert knowledge needed when freezing! It’s less involved than canning but allows you to prepare much of the same types of foods (sauces, jams, fillings, etc.).
When freezing whole fruit as is, you can cut it up into any shapes and sizes you like. Often fruits are frozen in a water/lemon juice mixture to eliminate the usual “darkening” that occurs when cut. Adding sugar to the fruit before freezing can also help to intensify taste and keep color vibrant. Both are optional.
When freezing vegetables, all you will need to do is quickly blanch (submerge in boiling water) your vegetable of choice. Blanching will kill any enzymes that would age with your vegetables and keep them tasting fresher longer. You can easily find online charts that will tell you the proper blanching times for each vegetable type. For a comprehensive chart, see the Iowa State University freezing guide.
Dehydrating is probably nearly tied with freezing in terms of how easy it is, although it will take slightly more of your attention in the beginning as you monitor the drying. And, depending upon your method, you may need to invest time in turning the produce from one side to the next.
Dehydrating is an extremely green version of preserving foods because it doesn’t require keeping a freezer running, nor using any power to accomplish the drying if you’re using the sun’s natural energy. You can slice and dry whole pieces of both fruits and vegetables like sun-dried tomatoes or dried apple slices and you can make more involved snack types of foods like fruit “leather,” and pumpkin seeds. Drying vegetables like corn and peas will make for delicious and fat easy-to-throw-together soups mid-winter!
And of course, if you don’t have the space or time for sun drying, you can also use your oven or a standard commercial dehydrator.
When it comes to canning, your options are nearly endless. You can obviously can fruits and vegetables plain, in their natural state. But you can also get creative and stash away a pantry full of delicious things like homemade berry pie filling, jams, jellies and enticing applesauce. Depending upon where you live, the smartest, greenest method to look at canning is to use whatever is growing locally in abundance and can that. Stock up and have fun with making as many varieties as you can with the produce that’s near to you. If you’re surrounded by cherries, then your options might look like canning cherries whole, making cherry syrup, cherry jelly and cherry pie filling. But, if you’re loaded in green beans, then you’ll get to go a whole new direction and could do things like canning zesty garlic green beans or a three bean salad option
Whatever method you choose, remember that local and organic for starters is always best. Canning mangoes shipped in from another country would more or less defeat your goal of going green because of the carbon impact connected to that journey they took. But if you can get yourself through the winter with your cravings for fruits and vegetables quenched with locally preserved goods and escape the pressure to buy produce that’s not in season nor local, you will increase your green standards greatly. Plus, it can be great fun. There’s nothing quite like a jamming party with your best friends!
Freelancer Jocelyn grew up with a mom who inspired her to preserve and go green every fall. Now, when not writing green food related pieces, you’ll find her writing about greening up energy use with a small house heater instead of a central heating system.