Preserving The Harvest, by N.T.M. in Nevada

After you have spent the summer growing all of that fresh produce, it always seems like everything ripens all at the same time.  There are many ways that you can preserve those fruits and vegetables for the winter; canning, dehydrating, freezing, and root cellar.  I do not have a root cellar, so I rely completely on canning, freezing, and dehydrating. 

To dehydrate your produce you will need a food dehydrator or you can simply use the sun and sundry them.  Some items such as apples, potatoes, pears, et cetera need to be pre-treated to prevent browning.  You have the choice of buying a product called fresh fruit or use lemon juice.  Fill a large bowl with water and one tablespoon of your produce protector and after you peel and slice your items, soak them for a few minutes and then place them in a single layer on your dehydrator racks and dry.  If you are sun drying, bring your trays in at night and then in the morning place them back out in the sun until done.  If you are using a commercial dehydrator, all you have to do is set it to the appreciate temperature and plug it in.  I always check on them every couple of hours to make sure everything is going good.  Once they are done, place whatever you dried into a glass jar and screw on the lid after about an hour so that the remaining moisture can redistribute evenly then place in a sunny window seal for a couple of hours, make sure to place it lid side down.  When you go back to check on it, if you notice moisture on the top (bottom part) of the jar, then you need to dehydrate longer as there is too much moisture remaining, if there is no moisture, then it is safe to package and put up.  Make sure to label everything with what it is and the date that you packaged it as to help with rotation.

Canning is a little more complicated and time consuming.  I did peaches two weeks ago and have an order in for 80 lbs of tomatoes and 38 lbs of pears that I will be picking up this weekend on top of what is coming out of my garden this weekend.  When I did the peaches, I made and canned a peach pie filling, peach butter, peach jam, and sliced peaches.  Since I have already done the peaches that is what I will be talking about.  When you do sliced peaches, make a light to medium syrup, I used a medium which is 5 1/14 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar.  Place in a pot and stir until the sugar has dissolved and then bring to a boil.  Fill your water bath canner with water and get that started heating up.  Wash your jars and keep them hot.  Get your lids soaking in warm water.  Peel, slice, and pit your peaches and treat them to prevent browning.  You can peel them by placing them into a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes and then place them into another pot or bowl of ice water.  The skin will peel right off.  Pack your peaches into your hot jars and then cover with your syrup leaving a ½ in headspace (the amount of space between the top of the jar to the top of your peaches and syrup).  Make sure to remove any air bubbles and add more syrup if needed.  Wipe off your rims and cover with your two piece lid and screw band and place in your canner.  For my altitude I process mine for 20 minutes for pints and 25 for quarts.  Check your altitude before you start your timing as this will affect the amount of time needed for processing.  When you are canning anything, you are heating your product up to a high enough temperature to kill and molds and bacteria that cause spoilage while pushing the remaining air out causing a vacuum seal.  Once you remove your jars, leave them alone until completely cooled or overnight.  Remove your screw band and press on the center of the lid, if you do not feel it give then you have a good seal.  I always then just to make sure, try to pull off the lid and if it doesn’t then I am positive that I have a good seal.  Label the lid with what is in the jar as well as the date and store in a cool dark place.  The higher the temperature, the less amount of time your canned goods with last.  As the temperature goes up, the nutrients go down. 

Some items have to be processed in a pressure canner.  I did corn a couple weeks ago and they are a perfect example of one.  Husk and wash your corn and then blanch it.  Blanching your corn stops the enzymes that corn naturally has that makes them go bad.  Cut your corn off of the cob and pack in you jars (this is cold packing).  That or you can cut the corn off of the cob and then boil it for several minutes and then pack them in your jars (this is hot packing).  Just like with a boiling water bath canner, you want everything ready when you get started.  For pint jars add 1/2 teaspoon of salt on top of each jar and quarts add 1 teaspoon.  Wipe the rim clean and adjust your two piece lid.  Place in your pressure canner and add the lid.  Corn needs to be under 10 pounds of pressure so place your pressure rings on.  Once your vent pops up then begin your timing.  For my elevation, I process corn for 90 minutes for quart jars.  [JWR Adds: Consult a standard home canning reference book such as Ball Blue Book of Preserving for details for you elevation.] When processing is over turn off the heat and allow all of the pressure to escape before opening you canner.  Do not remove the weights to speed up the process as your jars or entire canner can explode.  Once you can safely open your canner, the process is the same as with a water bath canning, place the jars on the counter and allow to completely cool and then check your seals.

When you are ready to use a jar of something that you have canned, first look at it, check for mold or discoloration, or cloudy liquids.  If any of those is present don’t eat it, throw it away.  Once you open your jar, smell it, if it has a bad odor, and again don’t eat it.  If all is good, enjoy.  Preserving your own harvest is a very rewarding thing to do.  You get to dictate what goes into your food and therefore what you and your family are eating.  You know the quality of the food that you are canning/dehydrating and therefore know you are eating the best most nutritious foods.

When it comes to freezing, some things need to be blanched prior to freezing.  I just did some corn on the cob and this is something that has to be blanched first.  Get a big pot of water boiling, husk your corn, when the water is boiling add your corn on the cob.  Allow to return to a boil and boil for 1 minute.  Remove from the water and allow to cool and dry.  Package in your freezer bag, label with the date, and freeze.

For preserving the harvest, freezing has to be the easiest to do and the less time consuming, however if the power were to go out and not come back on for awhile or not at all, this method is the least effective since everything would defrost and you would have to either process again by either canning or dehydrating or eat it all before it goes bad.  Canning and dehydrating are the most effective for food storage as they do not need refrigeration or a freezer to maintain their freshness.  Yes, these methods are more time consuming, however, if there is no power, there is nothing else that you have to do with them and you are not process the same products twice, they are already done. 

With my garden I plant only heirloom seeds that way I can save the seeds from what I grow to use the next year.  I always save more then what I need to plant next year so as to have some for barter should TEOTWAWKI happens prior to the next summer coming.  It doesn’t cost me anything to save some extra seeds and it doesn’t take any more time to clean and dry the extra.  I don’t have the money to be able to stock up on extra food for bartering with, however, I can save seeds to barter with and then someone else will be able to grow their own food as well.

The last thing that I am going to touch on is what to do with all of the peels and pieces of the fruits and vegetables that you do not keep.  If you have animals, feed these parts to them.  We have chickens and they eat most of the scraps that I have left that I don’t use.  What I don’t feed to them, I put in my compost bin to use in the garden next year.  Nothing should go to waste.