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Food Preservation

There are a number of methods for preserving ones harvest. For the sake of this particular article I am going write about those that I have had involvement in in one regard or another. This of course does not mean that these are the only methods worth pursuing. For example I will not be speaking about a root cellar in this article but it would only make sense to do so if the opportunity is available to you. Personally my basement is far too damp to successfully store any item, let alone food.
My Great-grandfather, like many from his generation, was a very thrifty man. I remember as a youth going to his house to pick up peppers that had been stored in half-gallon milk containers in the freezer. Fruit was frozen in old bread bags. I like to think of him when I stock the shelves and though I hardly match his output hope that he would proud.
One of the first methods of food storage that my wife and I attempted was dehydrating our food. We ended up dehydrating everything from tomatoes to zucchini. For those of you interested you can dry anything from fruit to meat. There are a number of benefits to this method. The first benefit is the cost. If done properly it can be an inexpensive venture. One can use the sun, an oven or a commercial dehydrator to regulate temperature. Another benefit is that dried food takes up far less space than food that is canned or frozen. In regards to nutrition you lose very little in the way of health benefits. There is some vitamin C lost in the process but overall the food keeps rather well. Another benefit of dehydrating is that it is much safer as far as risk of botulism is concerned.

The only real draw back that I have found at this point is that it takes a very long time for the process to take place and if the food is not properly dehydrated you can run into spoilage via mold.  
Another method that we have used is freezing our garden produce. This is a quick and easy method that tends to work really for certain fruits and veggies. Most years we harvest far more carrots than we can eat so we freeze them to put in winter stews. The catch with freezing is that you need to blanch your vegetables before putting them in the freezer. Blanching is very easy. Boil water; submerge your veggies for about three minutes. Drain in ice cold water, dry, place in an air tight bag and put it in the freezer. Other items are even easier than that. Take blueberries for example. Wash them, set them on a cookie tray in the freezer, once frozen remove the tray, empty them into a bag and there you go. I would of course recommend dating your bags. One last note on freezing. Aside from your own garden produce if you find seasonal fruits and vegetables that are in abundance at your local farmers market pick a little extra up and freeze it. It is a nice way to have farm fresh produce in the middle of winter.  The only real con I can see with this method, aside from freezer burn, is space in the freezer itself. You would be surprised what you can freeze, everything from eggs to herbs.
We also have canned and pickled a number of food items. Initially we used the water bath method. Items such as tomatoes and cucumbers are safely canned in a water bath. With that said we prefer to pressure can our items now-a-days, even the tomatoes. The main difference between the two is temperature and their ability to kill bacteria. Pressure canners can reach nearly 240 degrees, unfortunately my wife found out the hard way, while water baths boil at about 212 Fahrenheit.

There are pros and cons to these methods. To begin with it seems a little intimidating the first time you are canning. You are trying to get the temperature correct and worrying whether or not the jars are properly sealed. The initial investment can be rather expensive. A pressure canner is not cheap and then you need the jars and so on. Also unless you grow enough produce to make it worthwhile it can be a little steep on that end as well. Here is the catch though once you have made that investment it eventually pays for itself. Jars can be reused. You can prepare any number of food items from meat to produce and jams and jellies. The food is healthier and really delicious and they make great gifts. If it comes from your own garden you know it is food you can trust. Personally our family enjoys the time spent together and it never hurts to be skilled in what is sadly a forgotten art.
There are a number of excellent books on the subject. I have yet to be in a library that did not have a few books on it. Plus you have the internet as well everything from sustainability websites to youtube contain useful info on the subject.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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