It’s that time of year when the fruits of your labor may be getting a little out of hand as ripened zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and more wait to be picked. Even if you don’t grow your own food, you can take advantage of a wide variety of high quality produce at local farmers’ markets and roadside stands. By preserving the produce in abundance now you can enjoy delicious, locally grown fruits and vegetables throughout the year. The three main methods of preserving food are freezing, dehydrating and canning.
By Edie McSherry
Colorado State University Extension Food Safety and Nutrition Agent in Larimer County
Freezing is an excellent way to preserve the freshness, flavor, texture and nutrients of fruits and vegetables. Freezing slows down enzyme activity and retards growth of microorganisms. Most vegetables will need to be blanched, or briefly cooked before freezing, to prevent loss of color, flavor and nutrients.
The key to successful freezing is to always use airtight containers to prevent freezer burn. Freezing works well for fruits, some vegetables and herbs.
Dehydrating or drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Drying preserves foods by removing moisture so that microorganisms can’t grow and spoil the food. Since most of the moisture is removed, dehydrated foods take less storage space than frozen or canned foods and their flavors become much more concentrated. Drying food is simple and easy to do. Foods can be dried in an oven or in a food dehydrator where there is control of warm temperature, humidity and air circulation. Dried foods are versatile – just think of the possibilities.
Cherries, grapes, pears, and apples make flavorful snacks. Celery leaves, onions and parsley season soups and stews. Thinly sliced and seasoned zucchini make tasty chips. You can dehydrate corn and sweet peppers and even make your own fruit leather and jerky.
Canning is the process where foods are placed in jars and heated to a temperature that destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes. This heating and later cooling forms a vacuum seal which prevents further spoilage during storage. The first step in canning is to know which of the two safe processing methods you should use, and that depends on the acidity of the food. High acid foods such as fruits, jams, jellies, relishes, most tomatoes and anything pickled in a vinegar solution can be processed in a boiling water canner. Low acid foods such as vegetables are processed in a pressure canner. Following a tested recipe and making adjustments for altitude is necessary for safety. Botulism can occur when safe canning methods are not used.
You can learn more about preserving food in the upcoming workshops offered by CSU Extension’s Larimer County Office:
• Water Bath Canning – Wednesday, September 10
• Pressure Canning – Thursday, September 11
• Dehydrating Foods – Thursday, September 18
• Fermenting Vegetables, Wednesday, September 24
To register for workshops, resources, fact sheets and answers to your food preservation questions contact CSU Larimer County Extension at www.larimer.org/ext or call 970-498-6008.
Preserving food at home means having a delicious supply of a variety of food when fresh produce isn’t available, having specialties like raspberry-jalapeno jam or green tomato salsa that can’t always be purchased, and the satisfaction of actually preserving foods yourself!