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The days are getting shorter as the nights grow longer, but this doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the fruits, vegetables, legumes, and meats you’ve gathered and grown over the warmer spring, summer, and fall months. This post will give you some basic ideas of four methods you can use to preserve some of that food for the winter season ahead.
- Canning: When you can foods, you place them in heat-safe containers and then boil until they have reached the desired bacteria-eliminating temperature. For foods like fruits, preserves, and jams, jellies, and tomatoes, use a basic method of heating the containers by covering them with boiling water. For foods with low acidity like meats, seafoods, poultry, dairy products, or vegetables, you will need to use slightly different materials and a slightly different method. To prevent bacterial spores from growing, you will need to place jars of food into a pressure cooker filled with about three inches of water, and heat to at least 240˚F (even more at higher altitudes).
- Freezing: Be sure to get leak proof and water vapor resistant containers that won’t break or crack under low temperatures. Think about how you want to label your containers too – this is an important step that can save you a lot of headache later. Use caution when freezing: only load as much into a freezer that will reasonably be able to freeze within 24 hours, and be sure that the temperature is below 0 ˚F.
- Drying: Drying fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats are a great way to store foods for the winter. You will need to purchase a food dehydrator, so do some research online to find one that best fits your purposes and your budget. Whatever you choose, be sure that you can get good air flow, as this is important in drying foods. You’ll want to pick fruits that are fully ripened, as those yield the best dried product. UGA recommends dipping fruits into citric acid for ten minutes before drying and pretreaingt vegetables by blanching them to stop enzyme production. Keep in mind that you will also need to condition your dried fruit: store for seven to ten days loosely packaged in glass containers. To make jerky, first partially freeze the meat and then slice about ¼” thick. Marinade the meat for extra flavor, and then arrange onto a dehydrator tray (pieces can be close, but be sure that they don’t overlap) and dry until pieces are brittle enough to crack (about 10-24 hours). Heat in the oven for about 10 minutes at 275˚F as an extra safety precaution against bacteria. Once you are finished, be sure to store all dried foods in containers that will close tightly to keep out moisture.
- Pickling: Does sauerkraut make you say yum? Then pickling is for you. For this project, you’ll want fruits and vegetables that are extra firm and fresh. You’ll want to use a canning or pickling salt, as well as a vinegar of around 5% acidity (white vinegar is usually a good choice). You’ll want to browse through some recipes in cookbooks or online so that you get just the right flavors. One of the fastest methods of pickling is to boil the vegetable in vinegar, then store in a jar with some of the leftover (still hot) vinegar solution and seal tightly.
If this is your first experience with preserving foods, be sure to start slowly so you don’t get overwhelmed. Pick a method, do some research, and most importantly, try to have fun learning new skills that will stay with you throughout the years and seasons. Hungry for even more? Visit the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation site for extra tips, altitude maps, and info.
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