How to preserve vegetables?

Contents

How to store autumn’s bounty of vegetables and fruits

Two weeks ago, I visited several farmers’ markets in the area, as it was their last day of the season. I ended up buying black, red and yellow carrots, ones I’ve never grown.

It isn’t like I needed carrots. I grew and stored plenty in my garden, including Purple Dragon, which has a hint of juniper and rosemary flavor besides its beautiful purple flesh with an orange core.

I bought those additional carrots, along with winter squash, because I have places in which to store vegetables and fruit for months. And, I built a quick root cellar next to my garage.

Old-fashioned root cellars where gardeners stored vegetables over the winter 75 years ago have disappeared from modern homes. Instead of dirt-floor cellars, basements today have concrete floors and are partially heated by furnaces operating there.

The cellar I made was simple. Husband and I created it in less than 30 minutes, not counting the time to buy a new plastic trash can at the local big-box store.

How to build the root cellar

Before the ground freezes, dig a large, deep hole in a sheltered spot, preferably close to the house. We put ours just outside the back door to the garage.

Sink a 32-gallon heavy-duty plastic trash can into the hole, positioning it so the rim is about three inches above the soil line. That way melting snow and rain will not leak inside.

Line the bottom of the can with a two-inch layer of damp sand, add a layer of vegetables, top with an inch of damp sand and another layer of carrots, potatoes or whatever you are storing. Repeat the layers, ending up with sand on top.

Place lid on the can and top with a two-foot-high mound of straw or shredded autumn leaves. A sheet of plastic film over the mound top will keep everything in place and dry. Anchor theplastic with rocks or bricks.

Storage methods for specific fruits and vegetables

  • Apples. Store in root cellar or dark, cool basement or garage. Isolate them, because the ethylene gas they give off makes many vegetables sprout and rot. Most varieties store three to six months.
  • Asian pears. Place in sealed bags in the refrigerator to keep pears from dehydrating. Use within 60 days.
  • Beets. Cut tops off and store in a root cellar or cool, dark area in a single layer on dry sand or cat litter. Use within two months.
  • Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. Harvest mature heads, roots and all. Hang upside down in a humid basement, garage, or out-building where it doesn’t go below freezing. Will keep up to a month.
  • Carrots. Leave in garden. Cut off green foliage and cover carrots with a foot or more of shredded leaves or straw. Top with a tarp to keep soil from freezing. Harvest as needed.
  • Onions. Store in mesh bags or open baskets in an isolated cool, dry place.
  • Potatoes. Store in a cool (50 to 60 degrees F.; 10 to 15 C), dark place in paper bags with holes poked in them for ventilation. Don’t store near onions, which give off ethylene gas, causing potatoes to sprout. Will keep up to two months. Do not expose to light, which also triggers sprouting, and don’t store in the refrigerator. Cold destroys flavor.
  • Winter squash and pumpkins. Clean the squash with bleach and water to kill any fungi or bacteria on its rind. Store in any cool spot up to six months.

Doreen Howard, the Edible Explorer, blogs regularly at Diggin’ It. If it’s edible and unusual, she figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide. Her new book, “Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring the Rich Flavor of the Past,” will published in March 2011. To read more by Doreen,

Money Crashers

One of the things I love most about the summer is enjoying my backyard container garden. While I always introduce some new plants each year, a number of my staples never change – you can’t go wrong with lettuce greens, peppers, and certain herbs.

Not only do these plants produce well and provide enough food to last all year, some also produce seeds that help make for easy planting the next season. In fact, with a bit of careful planning, you can preserve many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs you grow to make your harvest last throughout the year.

Preserve the Harvest

Freezing, drying, pickling, and canning are all great ways to preserve the vegetables, fruits, and herbs you grow during the gardening season. The method you choose depends on what you hope to do with produce when it comes time to eat it.

For example, if you had some productive blueberry bushes and you love blueberry muffins, freezing the berries is a great idea. If you’d rather enjoy those blueberries as a jam throughout the winter, preparing and canning a jar or two is probably best.

1. Freezing

Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve a variety of vegetables and fruits. While it’s a pretty simple method, it does involve a bit more than just tossing a few vegetables into a zip-top bag and stashing them in the freezer. Before you freeze them, you should blanch (cook briefly in boiling water) many vegetables, such as beans, peas, corn, and tomatoes. And, the sooner you freeze vegetables or fruit after you harvest them, the better.

Blanching before freezing has several benefits, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. It preserves the color of the produce, reduces vitamin loss, and cleans the surface of the vegetables (you can skip the blanching if you’re freezing fruit).

Follow these steps so that you can enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruit throughout the winter:

  1. Prep Vegetables. Some vegetables need to be prepared before you blanch and freeze them. For example, shelling peas need to be removed from the pods first. Chop larger vegetables, such as broccoli, into smaller pieces before blanching. One exception is corn, which is easier to cook while still on the cob.
  2. Blanch Vegetables. Bring a pot of water to a boil, using one gallon of water for every pound of vegetables. Once the water is boiling, plunge the vegetables in and wait for the water to once again rise to a boil. How long you cook the veggies depends on their size and density. Peas need about a minute, while bigger, thicker vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, need around five. Home Food Safety provides a handy chart that lists blanching times for a variety of vegetables.
  3. Rinse, Cool, and Dry. Once the vegetables are blanched, turn your stove off and drain the hot water out of the pot. Cool the vegetables by pouring them into a bowl full of ice water or by running cold tap water over them for several minutes. Keep adding ice to the bowl of water to keep the temperature down. Cool the vegetables for as long as you cooked them, then drain and spread them out on a towel to dry. If you’re freezing fruits, simply give them a quick rinse and let them dry.
  4. Pack Vegetables and Fruit. You can package fruit and vegetables for the freezer once they’re dry. Plastic zip-top freezer bags are best – they tend to offer the most efficient use of freezer space, and you can use a variety of sizes. Smaller bags can be ideal if there are just a few people in your household, while larger bags work for bigger families or for larger vegetables, such as whole tomatoes. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it, then label each bag with the name of the produce and date, and stash them away in the freezer.

Keep in mind that some vegetables just don’t freeze well. For example, cucumbers, celery, and cabbage are likely to turn into waterlogged messes if you freeze them. Those that do freeze well can last for up to a year in a freezer that’s kept at zero degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Drying

Unlike freezing, drying changes the taste of the produce somewhat, as the removal of water concentrates the flavor. It also changes the texture, making fruit leathery and herbs crumbly.

How you dry your harvest depends on the type of food. You can dry hardy herbs such as sage or rosemary, as well as vegetables like peppers, by hanging them up in a cool, dry, and dark place – a closet, for example. Other herbs and vegetables benefit from a bit of heat when drying them out.

Here is a general list of steps for drying your produce:

  1. Prepare the Produce. Give the vegetables, herbs, or fruit you’re drying a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt or debris, then pat them dry with a towel. Once all excess moisture is gone, cut away any parts you don’t want to dry, such as the rind of winter squash, the stems of herbs, and the pods of beans or peas. Cut vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes into slices.
  2. Blanch It. Blanch the vegetables the same way you would if you were freezing them. Cool them with ice water, then drain and let them dry. Skip blanching for fruits and herbs (blanching fruit will change its taste).
  3. Dry It. If you have a working oven, you can dry produce at home. Turn the oven on at the lowest temperature setting – usually around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the vegetables, fruit, or herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet, then slide it into the oven and leave the door open slightly. Drying time can be anywhere from just a few hours for herbs to as long as 24 for tomatoes or peppers.
  4. Store It. Once dried, pack the vegetables, herbs, or fruit away into airtight containers. Glass mason jars or zip-top plastic bags are two solid storage options. Be sure to use containers about the same size as your portions to keep the produce as flavorful as possible for as long as possible.

Keep an eye on the produce as it dries, as it can burn or become too dry if you let it go for too long. Usually, herbs and leafy vegetables are finished when they are flaking or crumbly. Tomatoes and peppers are ready when they’re crispy. Peas and other vegetables are finished when they are wrinkled, shriveled, and tough looking. Dried produce can keep for up to a year, if stored at room temperature.

3. Pickling

Pickling isn’t just for cucumbers. If you grow carrots, beans, snap peas, or cabbage, you can try your hand at preserving them through pickling as well.

For simplicity’s sake, this section will focus on refrigerator pickles, instead of fermented pickles. You can enjoy this type of pickle quickly, usually within a few hours, whereas fermentation takes weeks. This recipe makes one quart’s worth of pickles, but you can alter it to make more.

  1. Sterilize Jars and Lids. Place the jars in a large saucepan, cover them with water, and put them on the stove. Turn the burner on and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat off and let the jars sit. Place the lids in a large bowl, cover them with boiling water, and let them sit, too.
  2. Chop Vegetables. Peel and cut a pound of vegetables (such as cucumbers, carrots, or radishes) into slices, sticks, or whatever shape you want. The important thing is that they’re relatively the same size. Use tongs to remove a jar from the hot water, then fill it with vegetables.
  3. Make Pickle Juice. Pour one cup of vinegar into a small saucepan and stir in one tablespoon of salt until it dissolves. Add one cup of water and remove from heat.
  4. Add Seasoning. Put seasoning in the jar with the vegetables – it can be whatever you enjoy, such as a tablespoon of fresh dill, a garlic clove, or a teaspoon of peppercorns. You can also purchase a jar of pickle seasoning and add a tablespoon of that.
  5. Pour and Store. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables in the jar, covering them completely. Let the pickle jar cool off fully, then put a clean lid on it and store it in the refrigerator.

Give the pickles a few hours in the refrigerator, then try one. It should taste like a true pickle at this point, but the flavor will continue to develop over the next few weeks. Refrigerator pickles usually keep for a couple of months.

4. Canning

Canning preserves foods by creating an environment that’s inhospitable to bacteria. A lot of things can be canned – from salsa made from homegrown tomatoes, to berry jam from homegrown blueberries. Out of all these food preservation options, however, it’s definitely the most complicated.

There are several important factors to keep in mind when canning. You should use vegetables and fruits at their peak ripeness, and use glass canning jars that are in good shape and aren’t chipped or cracked. And, no matter what you decide to can, be sure to follow the recipe instructions to the letter, since deviating from them can create a bacteria-friendly environment.

If you want to get into canning but aren’t sure what to start with, give one of these great options a try:

  • Tomato or pasta sauce
  • Cooked, diced tomatoes
  • Fruit jelly or jam
  • Pickles
  • Salsas
  • Pie fillings
  • Hot or chili sauces
  • Chutneys

No matter what you decide to can, test the jar to make sure it’s fully sealed before storing it. Tap on the lid with a teaspoon – a sealed can makes a sharp, ringing sound, not a dull one. Once you’ve confirmed that your cans are sealed, label them with the name of the food and date and store them at room temperature for up to a year.

Sustain Your Garden

The harvest from your garden isn’t the only thing you can preserve to save money. Depending on what you grow, you don’t have to keep buying seeds, plants, or even container soil year after year. Instead, find ways to save your seeds or reuse what you already have.

Save Seeds

If you find that a plant is particularly productive or delicious one year, you can try to save any seeds it produces and use them to grow it again the next season. You can’t save the seeds from every plant, though, as some won’t produce the same variety. Try looking for plant varieties labeled “open pollinated” or “OP,” instead of hybrid varieties.

You also should try to save seeds from plants that self-pollinate, such as peppers, since there’s no chance of cross-breeding. If you do save seeds from an insect-pollinated plant, such as squash or cucumber, make sure there aren’t any other varieties of the same plant growing within about a mile of your garden. Otherwise, you might end up with a weird variety if you plant the seeds you saved.

Other seeds to save include:

  • Leafy Greens. Most leafy green vegetables produce a flower stalk at the end of their growing season. That flower produces the seeds, which you can harvest and store. Enjoy the flowers when they are in bloom, then let them go to seed and dry. Only cut off the seed heads once fully dry, then gently break them apart and store any seeds you capture in a labeled envelope.
  • Peppers. Peppers are self-pollinating, so the seeds they produce give you the same plant next season. Wait to harvest the pepper until it’s fully ripe, otherwise the seeds won’t be completely matured. When you do harvest the peppers, scrape the seeds out and place them on a ceramic plate to dry. They’re ready for storage once they’re hard.
  • Cucumber, Summer Squash, and Eggplant. If you want to save the seeds from summer squash, cucumber, or eggplant, you need to sacrifice a few fruits by letting them stay on the plant until way past ripeness. The fruits change color, or in the case of squash, become hard. To get their seeds, cut open the fruit, scrape out the seeds, then rinse them to wash away any flesh that might cling to them. Spread them out on a flat surface, let them dry, and store in an envelope.
  • Winter Squash and Melons. To save the seeds from winter squash or melons, simply cut the ripe fruit in half. Scoop out the seeds and wash them to remove any stringy flesh or sugar. Let them dry before also storing them in an envelope.

You can plant any seeds you save during the next gardening season. Some might remain viable for several years after you save them. If you are going to save seeds for years though, try storing them in the freezer to keep them viable.

Clone Your Plants

Some plants, particularly herbs, can be easily propagated by means of a cutting instead of seed. You can clone herbs such as mint, rosemary, basil, and sage this way. And, the process is relatively simple.

Pick a plant that is healthy and in an active growth cycle. Fill a small, two-inch-deep container with potting mix. Snip a three-inch sprig from your herb of choice using a clean pair of scissors. Gently remove most of the leaves from the sprig, leaving just a few at the very top. Make a small hole in the potting mix and place the cutting into it so that just the top leaves remain above the soil.

Water the cutting and place it on a windowsill. Check on it regularly, watering when the potting mix dries out. After about a week or two, take a peek beneath the soil to see if it’s grown roots. Once roots are about a half-inch long, you can plant the cutting in your garden or a larger pot.

Reusing Container Soil

While gardening can help you save money on food, if you need to grow in pots – as I do – you’ve got to use container soil. It isn’t cheap though, especially if you want to use an organic, peat-free variety. Over the years, I’ve found that I can get at least two seasons, if not three, out of my container mix if I save it from year to year and add some more at the beginning of the season.

When you look at a bag of container mix, you might notice that it reads something along the lines of “feeds for four months!” That’s because container mix has fertilizer in it. Over the course of the season, your plants are going to eat up the fertilizer as they grow and produce fruits and vegetables for you. Since potting mix is pretty much depleted at the end of the gardening season, some people just toss it.

However, if you’re tossing container soil, you’re pretty much throwing away money. Instead, keep it until next year, and add some fertilizer to give it back its oomph – plants will want to live in it again. You can try adding one part commercial fertilizer to four parts reused potting mix. If you compost, you can use that instead of purchased fertilizer.

There is one caveat when it comes to reusing container soil. If your plants had any disease problems, you don’t want to take the risk of spreading them to your garden next year. Toss the soil that any sick plants grew in and start completely fresh next season.

Final Word

Whether you’re saving seeds, freezing your bounty, or recycling your container mix, good hygiene is essential. Do what you can to ensure your foods stay healthy, from wearing gloves to sterilizing any tools that come in contact with the plants or soil. This can reduce the chance of bacterial contamination or the spread of disease from plant to plant or from season to season. Treat your garden well and the bounty will be returned to you.

Have you tried preserving any homegrown produce? What method did you enjoy most?


Whichever method you use, the jars must be sterilized before being filled. You can do this either by using sterilizing tablets such as those used for babies’ bottles, or by placing the jars (and their lids) in an oven on a low temperature for half and hour or so in order to kill all the bacteria.
Salting
One of the oldest methods of preserving food, salting can be used for meat and fish, as well as sliced vegetables. There are two methods. The first uses a low salt to vegetable ratio (between two and five percent salt per weight of vegetables). This level of salting promotes the growth of the lactic acid bacteria, which in turn inhibits the growth of other bacterial forms that could spoil the food. It also serves to slightly pickle the vegetables. The second method uses a higher percentage of salt (between twenty and twenty-five percent), preserving the freshness of the produce but adding a salty flavour when used, even after the salt has been washed off. Whichever method of salting you use, you need to store the produce in the refrigerator.
Drying
Drying dehydrates the fruit or vegetables, removing all the water along with the bacteria, yeasts and mold that live in the moisture. Besides altering the texture of the food, drying also modifies the taste, typically concentrating it. Dried food has the added benefit of being safe to store as is on your pantry shelf – you don’t need special packaging to keep it in or to keep it in the refrigerator. In some countries solar drying of food is a part of life, and if you live in an area that receives high levels of consistent sunshine, you may be able to dry food that way. More likely however, is drying in an oven. The technique requires low temperature and good air circulation so use the lowest setting and prop the oven door open – this allows the air that the moisture has evaporated into to escape.
Freezing
Freezing fruit and vegetables soon after they are picked serves to ‘lock in’ the flavour and freshness of the produce. Freezing and then thawing a vegetable or fruit is the preserving method that will have an end product that most closely resembles the taste of fresh food. You effectively place the food in suspended animation in whatever condition it is in when you freeze it, so always freeze ripe produce, and avoid spoiled specimens. You can freeze the produce in wax-coated cardboard containers, in plastic boxes or jars made with very thick glass. It is recommended that you blanch vegetables you are going to freeze in boiling water for a minute or so beforehand – this limits the activity of enzymes that may spoil the produce if stored over a long time. You need a temperature below freezing point for effective long-term storage, so use the freezer compartment in your refrigerator for food that you will use within a month, as temperatures in these rarely get down to the requisite zero degrees. When thawing food, leave at room temperature until completely thawed, rather than trying to thaw in the oven.

How to Store Fruits and Veggies

How Do I Store My Fruits and Veggies So That They Last As Long As Possible?

Storing fruits and veggies is quick and easy! You can either freeze, refrigerate, or even keep them on the countertop depending on the fruit/veggie. We have included some storage tips and tricks below. Do you have a storage tip you’d like to share? Let us know via facebook or twitter.

In A Cool, Dry Place

Keep bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, lemons, and limes in a cool, dry area, not in the fridge.

Mushrooms can be kept in a cool, dry place and should only be washed just before use.

Eggplant should be stored in a cool area and used within a couple days of purchase.

Keep potatoes out of the fridge in a cool, dry place with plenty of ventilation.

In The Fridge

Store your apples in the fridge. They soften ten times faster at room temperature.

Most fruits and veggies can be stored in the refrigerator.

A crisper drawer will help protect your produce and keep the moisture in to maintain freshness for longer.

Asparagus should be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped with a moist paper towel or you can stand them up in a glass of cold water wrapped with a damp paper towel.

Store carrots in the fridge and peel them when you’re ready to use them.

Plastic bags with tiny vents help keep produce fresh longer by releasing moisture. They are great for grapes, blueberries, cherries or strawberries.

Store berries in the fridge and wash gently before eating or using.

Fresh heads of lettuce should be washed really well with water before refrigerating. Dry the leaves and store them in a clean plastic bag with a few paper towels.

Rhubarb should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge, but it also freezes well.

In The Freezer

Freezing fruits at home is a fast and convenient way to preserve produce at their peak maturity and nutritional quality.

Freezing most vegetables at home is a fast, convenient way to preserve produce at their peak maturity and nutritional quality. Freezing is not recommended for artichokes, Belgian endive, eggplant, lettuce greens, potatoes (other than mashed), radishes, sprouts and sweet potatoes.

Tips:

Peel and freeze your dark bananas in a clean plastic bag. Use them later in baking or for delicious fruit smoothies.

Freeze papaya slices or mangoes on a tray, then store in a clean plastic bag for tasty frozen snacks.

For more information download ourHome Freezing Guide

At Room Temperature

Garlic and onions should be kept at room temperature (or cooler) in a well-ventilated area.

Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature and washed just before using.

Mangoes, plums, peaches, and pears can be ripened at room temperature in a brown paper bag and should then be refrigerated for longer storage.

Store pineapple upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.

Keep whole melons at room temperature. Cantaloupe can be stored at room temperature, but it will ripen quickly.

For more information download our Home Storage Guide

Summer is a great time for lovers of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. The choices available in stores and local farm shops is simply staggering. Whether you like the tartness of a blackberry or the sweetness of a cherry, wonderful flavors are never hard to find.

Unless you’re willing to buy fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world, some of your favorites may be off the menu once summer ends. However, with a little know-how and preparation, you can make summer last all year in your kitchen. These seven ways to preserve summer fruits and vegetables are all effective – and can all be done in the comfort of your own home.

Drying

Drying fruits and vegetables requires removing the water content. As bacteria needs water to survive, the drying process ensures that food doesn’t go bad over time. However, unlike other preservation methods, drying completely changes both the texture and taste of the food. Once food has been successfully dried, it can be stored in ambient conditions.

The simplest way to dry summer fruits and vegetables for the winter is to use a dedicated dehydrator. Simply load the machine with your food, and select the appropriate setting. Most modern dehydrators have a range of settings for different sizes and textures. If your fruits or vegetables still feel sticky or spongy once the drying process is complete, they aren’t ready – and require further drying. Food generally needs to be 95% dehydrated before it can be stored safely.

If you don’t want to buy a dehydrator, you can dry fruits and vegetables using your existing oven – but the results can be a little hit or miss. Thinly slice your fruit or vegetable, and soak in a solution of lemon juice and water in equal parts. After 10 minutes, line a baking tray with parchment paper, and place the slices onto it. Put the tray in a preheated oven at a temperature of between 130 – 160 degrees. If you’re drying citrus fruit, the temperature should be at the lower end of this scale. Rotate the baking tray every hour, and continue cooking until the slices are pliable and have a leathery texture.

Canning

The term “canning” is a little misleading. If you’re canning at home, you’re probably using mason jars or something very similar. This relatively simple method of preservation involves sealing food in a sterile, airtight environment. Both cooked and raw food can be successfully canned using heat to sterilize and seal the jar.

To can your fruits and vegetables at home, you’ll need a pressure canner, along with canning jars, seals, rings, lids, a funnel and a large pot for blanching. The principle involves killing bacteria inside the jar with heat. Steam pressure is applied to the airtight container that leaves a sterile vacuum in which food can stay safe and relatively fresh for several months.

Pickling

Pickling fruits and vegetables creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria. Potentially dangerous pathogens simply can’t survive the acidity of vinegar, which means food can be kept safe and edible for years.

Pickling is one of the simpler methods of food preservation, but it drastically changes the flavor of most fruits and vegetables. The process involves creating a pickling solution of white vinegar, salt and sugar, which is brought to a boil in a pan. The fruits and vegetables are placed in an airtight jar, and the solution is poured on top until all of the food is submerged. The jar is then sealed and stored for several days – as many as seven, for particularly chunky summer vegetables such as zucchini.

Fermenting

The fermentation process involves converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids. To get the process going, you need to introduce salt, whey or a dedicated starter culture to water – creating the brine solution in which the food will ferment.

Fermenting summer fruits and vegetables is relatively easy, but it’s important to ensure that they’re cut into small and even chunks or slices. The food is put into an airtight container, and the brine is poured on top. It’s important to ensure that all of the food remains submerged in the brine until the fermentation process has finished. If you’re fermenting fruit, the process should take around 48 hours. However, because of their lower sugar content, vegetables tend to take a little longer.

Freezing

Freezing your summer fruits and vegetables is the easiest and quickest way to ensure they last throughout the winter. However, the process of freezing and thawing can damage softer fruits like strawberries – changing their texture completely. It’s also worth remembering that freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria; many become dormant until defrosted.

If you decide to freeze your fruits and vegetables, it’s usually best to freeze them first on a metal tray. Once they’re completely hard, transfer them to sterile, airtight freezer bags. If you’re freezing starchy vegetables such as potatoes, blanch them in iced water before placing them in the freezer. And if you’re storing fruits that can turn brown, such as apples, treat them with ascorbic acid first.

Oil Packing

The use of vegetable oils to preserve summer fruits and vegetables makes it harder for bacteria to develop — but it also adds a completely different dimension to the flavor. Ideal for preserving tomatoes, eggplants, herbs, onions and olives, oil packing creates anaerobic conditions (basically no air) with the addition of acid, usually vinegar. Most people use airtight mason jars to preserve fruits and vegetables these days, but sealable food bags can work just as well.

Salting

The hypertonic properties of salt make it very difficult for bacteria to survive. Organisms die or become deactivated through dehydration, which means food can be stored for long periods in ambient temperatures.

To salt your vegetables at home, place them in a large baking pan and submerge them in water. Add salt to the water until you notice it beginning to deposit on your vegetables – this is an indication that the saturation point has been reached. At this point, you should refrigerate the vegetables in the water for a week or so. Complete the process by draining the brine away and covering your vegetables with more salt, and store in a cool dry place until dried.

Don’t go without your favorite summer recipes during the cold winter months. Use these preservation methods to ensure your kitchen is well stocked with fruits and veggies throughout the year.

Best Ways to Preserve Vegetables and Fruits

BEANS, GREEN OR YELLOW

Can. Pick over, stem and string if needed. Pack whole into widemouthed pints or cut into 1/2-inch lengths and pack into quarts. Fill with water leaving 1-inch headroom. Steam-process for 30 minutes at 15 pounds.

BEANS, LIMA

Freeze. Boil-blanch for 3 minutes, chill for 5 minutes and press beans from pod with one end cut off. Box and freeze.

BERRIES

Wash, trim, dry, roll in sugar, bag and flash-freeze.

BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER

Freeze. Soak in saltwater to expose cabbage worms. Rinse well. Cut head into 1-inch florets. Peel stem and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Steam-blanch for 5 minutes. Chill 7 minutes. Dry, bag and flash-freeze.

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Hang. Top plant in early fall. After light frost remove leaves, pull plant and hang upside down in a cool but not freezing outdoor location. Twist off sprouts as needed.

CABBAGE

Store in pit or root cellar (but not under house; they can stink). Hold near freezing, moderately moist. Overhaul often, removing soft leaves and any visible spots of black or yellow mold.

CARROTS

Leave in ground under mulch. Or keep in clean, sharp, barely damp sand in dark root cellar. Hold near freezing. Overhaul monthly, use any with black rot on ends. Plant out sprouting roots in spring for carrot seed.

CELERY

Stalks will store in straw, but get bitter quickly. Dry leaves for winter seasoning. Save plant bases in sand in root cellar to replant in spring for seeds.

CORN

Can cream-style to get all the goodness. Cut kernels from ears; scrape ears with back of knife to harvest kernel hearts and milk. Bring to a boil, add water or mashed kernels if needed to cover well. Pack hot in widemouthed pints (only) with a full 1-inch of headroom. Pressure-process at 15 pounds for a full 90 minutes.

CORN ON COB

Freeze. To avoid cobby flavor from too-slow processing, before shucking, drill a 1/2-inch hole through cob. Trim or split cobs to 5-inch length. Insert a 6-inch steel spike with each end exposed and leave in through processing. Shuck, water-blanch for 10 minutes. Chill for 15 minutes. Remove spike, bag individually and flash-freeze, turning after a half hour. (Oil spikes with vegetable shortening to prevent rust till next crop.)

CHERRIES

Can as Aunt Birdie’s stewed cherries. Pick over, wash and pit red sour cherries. Cook till soft in equal parts sugar and water. Can in pints, leaving 1/2-inch headroom, for 30 minutes at 15 pounds. For a treat, cook and can with a few drops of almond oil, rind-on orange rounds, Cherry Heering or other fruit cordial (boiling removes alcohol).

GREENS

Freeze. Pick over and wash in saltwater to eliminate small wildlife. Rinse and dry. Cut in 1/2-inch-wide strips. Boil-blanch for 3 minutes, chill for 5 minutes. Pack loosely in a large bag and flash-freeze.

ONIONS

Sun/air dry. Braid fully dry tops. If not dry, freeze onions. Do not blanch. Skin under water, chop coarsely, conserving juice, and bag. Flash-freeze and take from bag as needed.

PEAS, SWEET AND SUGAR

Freeze. Steam-blanch peas or small-pod sugar peas for 2 minutes. Chill for 5 minutes. Dry, bag and flash-freeze.

PEACHES, PEARS, QUINCES

Can in sugar syrup. Pick firm, newly ripe fruit. To skin, scald in boiling water. Pit/core and cut in two-bite slices in a bowl to conserve juice. Poach for 3 minutes in medium syrup (one part sugar to two parts water, with a squeeze of lemon juice per cup). Pack hot into widemouthed pints and fill to 1/2-inch of top with hot syrup. Process in pressure cooker for 30 minutes at 15 lbs.

PEPPERS, HOT

Air/sun dry. Braid, string or pull whole plant and hang from the south, facing front porch ceiling or door to dry in the fall sun.

PEPPERS, SWEET

Freeze. Cut out stern and blemishes, quarter and seed. Cut in strips or dice. Steam-blanch for 4 minutes. Chill for 5 minutes. Dry, bag and flash-freeze.

POTATOES

Cold cellar, or else dice and dry. Keep loosely packed in dry straw or on trays at moderate humidity, at 35°’F to 40°F and in total dark. Overhaul biweekly. Remove and use any with soft spots. To dry, scrub or peel if you must dice and soak in ascorbic acid to retain the white color. Dry as rapidly as possibly. Bag and store in a cool, dry place (in nitrogen).

PUMPKIN, WINTER SQUASH

Pick when stem slips. Hold in dry, warm storage at 55°F (not touching, in clean straw in a dresser drawer under the bed in an unheated bedroom is traditional). When water spots threaten to soften into rot after several months, split seed and bake till soft. Scrape out pulp, add water in a pot and bring to a boil. Pack hot in one-pie pints or two-pie quarts, leaving 1-inch headroom. Pressure can at 15 pounds for 70 minutes in pints, 90 minutes for quarts.

RHUBARB

Pull stalks, discard leaves, trim bottom. Cut in 1-inch slices. Mix with 1/2 cup white sugar and a pinch of salt per cup of stalks. Steep for an hour to draw fluid. Bring to a boil and cook till sugar dissolves and stalks soften. Add slices of mouse-nibbled strawberries for color and flavor. Pack in pints, leaving 1/2-inch headroom. Pressure-cook for 20 minutes at 15 pounds.

RUTABEGA

Cold cellar at about 40°F. Cut off tops and roots, let dry and dip in melted paraffin for best keeping quality.

SUMMER SQUASH

Move fast to retain crispness. Live-stearn blanch small fruit cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices a few at a time for a scant minute. Chill for 5 minutes, dry and flash-freeze in bags. Try it with turnips and kohlrabi if you like either well enough to preserve some.

SWEET POTATOES

Cure under old vines in field or barn till cuts are healed and dry. Store semi-warm (55°F to 60°F) in moderately dry air same as winter squash. Overhaul often.

More on Preserving

For more information, see Home Canning and Storing Foods Safely, About Using Old Canning Jars, andVacuum Packing and Nitrogen Packing Foods.

Best food preservation methods for fresh vegetables

The best food preservation methods for fresh vegetables depends on their degree of ripeness. To preserve the best quality vegetables, it helps to understand the difference between maturity and ripeness. Maturity means the produce will ripen and become ready to eat after you pick it. Ripeness occurs when the color, flavor, and texture is fully developed. Once it is fully ripe, fresh produce begins the inevitable and declining spoilage process. Here’s a guideline:

  • Mature, slightly underripe produce is optimal for canning and pickling.
  • Ripe produce is best for fresh eating, drying, and freezing.
  • Overripe produce is suitable for cooking and freezing; cook vegetables into soup or stew.
  • Moldy or decaying produce belongs in the composter or worm bin!

To prepare fresh vegetables for preserving, always wash in plenty of running water, remove non-edible parts such as stems and seeds, peel or trim as desired, and cut into slices or cubes. Here are several vegetable preserving methods, from the easiest (and least expensive) to the most complicated.

Refrigerator pickles are the simplest way you can preserve fresh vegetables and extend their shelf life for a few days. Think of them as a type of salad, or simply crunchy, mouthwatering fast food. These easy refrigerator pickle recipes use several types of vegetables and even some fruits.

Salting is an easy and old-fashioned method for preserving vegetables such as salted cauliflower. Salting was promoted in the early twentieth century as an alternative to canning. Many people familiar with the technique consider salted vegetables to be far superior in taste and texture than canned or frozen ones. You must store salted vegetables in a refrigerator (<40°F) or cold cellar where temperatures never go above 50°F. Before using salted vegetables, you usually remove excess salt by soaking in cold water for 2 to 8 hours. You can prepare and serve salted vegetables in the same ways you would as if they were fresh, cold in salads, simmered in soups, or prepared as a hot vegetable side dish.

Fermenting with salt uses low salt concentration (2½% to 5% weight of the salt per weight of the food), to promote fermentation. Sauerkraut and kimchi are perhaps the most well-known examples. But the technique can be applied to almost any vegetable. This recipe for sour turnips is well known in eastern Europe as kisla repa or sauer ruben.

Drying vegetables is easy to do in your conventional gas or electric oven. Electric food dehydrator appliances offer more control than your oven. You can purchase a basic model for as little as $50. One of the best ways to use dried vegetables is this versatile recipe for bean and pasta soup.

Freezing vegetables for long term storage requires adequate packaging and a dedicated freezer appliance (known as a deep freeze) to chill foods to at least 0°F. True freezing is not possible in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator where the temperature typically hovers near 32°F. Treat your refrigerator-freezer like a checking account. Use it for short term freezing of food that you plan to use within one month. To use freezing as an effective food preservation method, routinely clean out your freezer by consuming the food.

Canning requires a modest investment in equipment and skills that are easy to learn and practice. The fundamental tasks include choosing the right canning method, taking precautions to prevent botulism poisoning, and preparing and processing canned foods correctly. There are two canning methods: boiling water–bath (BWB) canning and steam-pressure canning. Which method you use depends on whether the food you plan to can is high acid or low acid. High-acid foods include most fruits and fruit products. In addition, low acid vegetables can be canned using tested recipes for pickles, relish, and tomato products, which contain added acid, usually vinegar.

Pressure canning low-acid foods such as plain vegetables requires a pressure canner. A pressure canner reaches 240°F, which destroys heat-resistant organisms that can cause food poisoning, primarily botulism. Contrary to what some cooks believe, you cannot safely put any food in a jar and process in a canner. To make foods safely, such as canned soups and spaghetti sauce (with or without meat), be sure to use a tested recipe and prepare and process canned foods correctly. Free, tested canning recipes are found online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or by downloading the free booklet USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2009 revision.

For detailed information about these food preservation methods, including over 300 delicious recipes, get the book The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler.

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