Food preservation techniques stretch out flavors of summer
By Val Beerbower
Crisp breezes, dazzling treetop displays, migrating birds and the re-emergence of sweaters and hoodies from the closets all indicate autumn has arrived. For our local farmers, that means the fall harvest is upon us, and if you love local farm markets like the PNC 2nd Street Market, you’ve already got your reusable shopping bags prepped and ready for Saturday morning.
This time of year, you’ll find the last of summer’s veggies, such as cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, kale, collards, turnips, garlic, onions and radishes. Seasonal favorites like squash varieties (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, pattypan and the ever-popular star of October, pumpkin), sweet potatoes and apples also are making their vibrant debut.
Get the most out of your fall harvest by canning and freezing your take from the Market. Here are a few tips and techniques that will stretch the fresh fall flavors you love into the winter months.
Water Bath Canning
For the casual home chef, this canning method is the easiest technique to learn. All you need are jars and tight-sealing lids (found in most major supermarkets) and a large stockpot.
- Wash your jars and lids and keep them warm until you’re ready to use them. Quickly changing a glass container from cold to hot temperatures could result in the glass breaking.
- Fill the containers with the item of your choice. Preserving salsa is a great way to enjoy seasonal vegetables all year long.
- Use a spatula to move the food around (particularly if there is a lot of liquid) to remove air bubbles.
- Place the lid on top and screw the neck ring down over the lid and edge of jar to form a tight seal.
- Fill your stockpot with water so that the jars will be under an inch of water when submerged.
- Using tongs, lower the jars into your stockpot filled with simmering water. Make sure all the jars have about an inch of water above them. Cover with a lid and heat to a boil.
- Boil the jars between 30-40 minutes, depending on the type of food you’re preserving and the amount of liquid in the jar. (There are lots of great resources online that will help you find the perfect recipe for your preserving methods.)
- Remove from heat and let the jars stand about 5 minutes in the water before removing them (use your tongs) to a cooling rack for another 12 hours.
- Press the center of the lid; if it doesn’t give, you have canned your item properly. If not, no worries; just try again. Your preserved food should keep up to a year.
You don’t need to use a water bath or a pressure cooker to preserve vegetables when you pickle them. Some popular pickling choices include cauliflower, carrots, cabbage and – as the nursery rhyme goes – peppers. Create brine with vinegar, water and herbs, adding sugar or other ingredients as prescribed by your recipe. Pack your vegetables and other ingredients tightly into the container and pour the brine into the jar, then seal tightly. Once you get the knack, you can make relishes, slaws and other tart sides that you can bring out in the colder months to give you a taste of summer.
Frozen vegetables are easy to prepare at home. Take your favorite Market veggie and blanch it: Boil the vegetable for a few minutes then immediately halt the cooking process by immersing it in ice water. Dry the vegetable thoroughly and place it in a plastic bag. Be sure to remove all the air bubbles from the bag and seal the plastic bag.
You can try your hand at freezing other items, such as roasted squash. One fun tip is to chop your favorite combination of fresh herbs, then fill slots of an ice cube tray about half and half with water and herbs. Then freeze your “herb-cubes” and pop out as many cubes as you need to add a fresh burst of flavor to the final stages of your recipes.
Dehydrating your fruits and vegetables is another easy way to preserve the fall harvest. Remove any inedible parts of the vegetable or fruit, such as the pit, skin or core. Take your Market produce and blanch it as in the instructions for freezing. This quick cooking step will stop enzymes and other organisms from spoiling your food. Slice the blanched products thinly (about a quarter or an inch). If you’re drying a product that may discolor, like apples, consider spritzing them with a solution of ascorbic acid and water. Lemon juice diluted with water is a great option. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can use your oven. Place the produce slices on a rack or directly on a cookie sheet. Set your oven to its lowest temperature (140-170 degrees) and prop the door open slightly to allow the moisture to escape. You’ll need to leave the oven on at this low setting for up to several days, so save this technique for a weekend when you don’t need to leave the house.
With all these recipes, you’ll want to find a recipe that works best with your favorite produce and your family’s favorite meals. Preserving fresh fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be intimidating; there are plenty of helpful resources and how-to videos available online or at your local library. Ask the Market vendors for tips, too! Just be sure to follow the food preparation guidelines and be certain you’re preparing food for storing in a clean environment.
Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at ValerieBeerbower@DaytonCityPaper.com.