Preserving foods picked in season at peak ripeness seals in nutrition and flavor. Seasonally purchased produce is also cost effective, and you can cash in on that benefit by purchasing in bulk and preserving for later enjoyment.
Not just canning! Consider freezing your fruits and vegetables!
Fruits are commonly frozen packed in simple syrup or dry sugar as a means to preserve quality. Simple syrup is made by mixing sugar with water and then pouring the syrup over the fruit to fill airspace. Dry sugar packs are prepared by coating the prepared fruit in dry sugar. These storage techniques may be used for berries, cherries, apples, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and pears. To process fruit without sugar, you might freeze fruits individually on trays before bagging. This method works well for berries, cherries, and grapes. Further, apples may be frozen as applesauce (with or without sugar).
Vegetables are also easy to freeze. Some must be cooked or blanched prior to freezing to yield the best quality. Vegetables that should be blanched before freezing include asparagus, green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, okra, peas, and summer squash. Blanching destroys enzymes and that degrade vegetables, even at freezing temperatures. Winter squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes do not stand up well to blanching and best results are achieved by cooking prior to freezing. Onions and peppers usually do not require heat treatment prior to freezing.
Quality freezing depends on:
- Enzymes – Enzymes cause the chemical reactions that degrade food quality. Blanching is the process of briefly heating vegetables in water or steam to destroy these enzymes.
- Air exposure – Oxidation and enzyme reactions caused by exposure to air can decrease quality. Remove as much air as possible in packaging.
- Microorganisms – Freezing does not kill microorganisms, but it does stop growth in foods held below 0° Remember that once the food is thawed, organism growth resumes.
- Size of ice crystals – Small ice crystals give the most desirable texture when thawed, while large ice crystals damage cells and reduce quality of texture. Food must be frozen quickly and held at less than 0°F to ensure small ice crystal formation.
- Moisture retention – Loss of moisture results in the decreased quality of flavor, texture, and appearance commonly referred to as freezer burn. Use proper freezer storage containers to prevent moisture loss.
Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can make chewy or crunchy treats!
Apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricot, cantaloupe, strawberries, and blueberries are all fruits that can be preserved by dehydration. You may be surprised to know that some vegetables may also be dehydrated, including carrots, corn, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. Fruit or vegetable leathers can be made by pureeing the produce and dehydrating on sheets. Read more about dehydrating produce here.
Dehydrating may be done in an electric dehydrator appliance or an oven that can maintain temperatures from 140-150°F. If you are crafty, you might look into the idea of building a your own dehydrator or solar dehydrator.
Fermentation preserves food and takes care of your gut!
Sauerkraut may be stored in the refrigerator for months, or stored longer when frozen or canned. Consider fermenting other vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, radishes, garlic, or beets. Fermentation has the added benefit of producing microorganisms that aid in digestion and support your gut health!
Purdue Extension hosts classes from the county offices…
Contact your Purdue Extension County Extension Office to find the food preservation classes nearest you.
If you have a garden… grow a surplus of foods that you can preserve and enjoy year round. Perhaps set aside one day each month to process your excess produce via canning, freezing, and/or dehydration.
Here are some ideas to get you started…
- Pack in quantities that will be convenient to use, like single-meal or single-serving packs.
- Label all packages with not only name and date, but also any other ingredients and how it was prepared. This will help when deciding how to use your preserves in the future.
- Get the best price!
- Ask local farmers if they offer price breaks offered on bulk quantities of produce in season.
- U-Pick operations offer a cost effective way of acquiring bulk fruit.
- Produce auctions are yet another source of produce with bulk-pricing.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment a little. For example, if you aren’t sure if a fruit or vegetable will dehydrate well, try it and see!
- Have fun with it! Preserving foods can be an exciting experiment for the whole family!
Purdue Extension Publications for home food preservation