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Sometimes, our gardens bless us. Sometimes, our neighbours have extra or we’ve travelled somewhere typically Australian in the bush and found some market stalls selling organic fruit and veg. I know that every trip to Stanthorpe we ever made we’d spend $20 and get a boot load of fruit and vegetable from one of the old school Italian farmers. It always gave me such joy to eat their beautiful foods and to support them.
Anyone who has ever grown their own food knows this problem: One day you have hardly any fruit or vegetables, and the next day all the plants are ready to harvest and you have more than you can possibly eat.
When the glut of fruit or veggies comes in, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Of course the easiest way to use up the produce is to eat it while it is fresh, but sometimes that is just not possible. So here are some other ways you can make the most of your fresh food glut.
Preserving food has been an important practice throughout history, especially during times of scarcity. With the advancements in technology and transportation, we now have access to food from all around the world, but preserving food is still a useful skill to have.
Many homesteaders still practice food preservation for a number of reasons. The primary reason is related to food security, but also includes:
- It helps reduce food waste by allowing us to store excess food for later use.
- Preserved foods can be a healthier option as they often contain fewer additives and preservatives than store-bought processed foods.
- It can be a cost-effective way to enjoy seasonal produce year-round.
- Preserving food can be a fun and rewarding hobby, allowing you to experiment with different flavors and techniques.
From pickling and canning to freezing and dehydrating, there are many different methods of food preservation to explore. Whether you’re looking to reduce food waste, save money, or simply enjoy the taste of homemade preserved foods, there are many reasons to give food preservation a try.
Methods of food preservation
Canning is a popular method of preserving food, especially fruits and vegetables, for long periods of time.
The process of canning involves sterilizing jars and lids, filling them with the food, and then heating them to kill any bacteria or microorganisms that could cause spoilage.
There are two home canning methods used often on homesteads: water bath canning and pressure canning, and both serve different processes for different types of food you may be looking to preserve.
Water Bath Canning: This is a lower temperature process that is ideal for high acid foods and recipes that incorporate the correct measure of acid. The combination of temperature and time destroys mould, yeast and enymes that cause food spoilage while creating a vacuum seal. This process is recommended for produce like fruit and fruit juices, jams, salsas, tomatoes, pickles and relishes, vinegars, and condiments.
Pressure Canning: This method uses much higher temperatures (115c) needed to safely preserve lower acid foods. This process preserves foods like meat, poultry, salsas, vegetables, chilli and seafood.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to have jars that are appropriate for what you are canning. Most of these jar companies offer wide mouth opening so larger vegetables and meats have space to be preserved in an easier fashion.
Canned food can be stored at room temperature for several months, making it a convenient option for those who want to stock up on food. It is also a tasty and nutritious addition to your pantry, allowing you to cook with ingredients that may be out of season.
Pickling is a popular preservation method that has been used for centuries to keep food fresh for longer periods. In addition to preventing bacterial growth, pickling also adds flavor to the food and can enhance its nutritional value.
Pickling is not only useful for preserving food but it also has cultural significance. Different regions of the world have their own unique pickling methods and ingredients. For example, in Korea, kimchi is a popular pickled vegetable dish that is a staple in their cuisine. In India, pickling is done with a variety of fruits and vegetables using different spices and oils.
My family has been pickling cucumbers, mixed vegetables and cabbage for years. In Eastern Europe, it does snow and so my family had a cold room on their property where they would store canned foods for the winter. It is also part of our cuisine to eat these pickled foods regularly.
In addition to adding flavor and cultural diversity, pickling has also been found to have health benefits. The fermentation process involved in pickling produces probiotics which can improve gut health and boost the immune system. Pickling also helps to retain the nutrients in the food, making it a great option for those who are health-conscious.
Different types of vinegar can be used for pickling, including apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and rice vinegar. The acidity level of the pickling solution can be adjusted by adding salt, sugar, or other ingredients.
Pickling is not just limited to vegetables. Meats, fish, and eggs can also be pickled.
Pickled foods can be enjoyed as a snack or used as an ingredient in various dishes, such as sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries.
While pickling can extend the shelf life of food, it’s important to store pickled items properly to avoid spoilage. Refrigeration is recommended for most pickled foods.
Overall, pickling is a versatile and beneficial preservation method that has stood the test of time. Whether you are looking to preserve food or add some flavor and nutritional value to your meals, pickling is definitely worth exploring.
Freezing and freeze drying
When it comes to food preservation, freezing is one of the most popular and effective methods. Not only does freezing food help to prevent spoilage, but it also helps to maintain the nutritional value of the food.
Freezing can help to extend the shelf life of many foods, including meats, fruits, and vegetables. Some foods, like soups and stews, can be frozen in portion-sized containers for easy reheating later on.
When freezing food, it’s important to ensure that it’s stored in airtight containers or freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. It’s also important to label the containers with the date that the food was frozen, as well as the type of food, to help keep track of what’s in the freezer.
While freezing is a great way to preserve food, it’s important to note that some foods, like lettuce and cucumbers, do not freeze well and may become mushy when thawed.
Freezing can be done at home using a freezer, or with commercial equipment for larger quantities. We purchased our freeze dryer from Harvest Right via Oz Farmer in early 2022 and it arrived around November. We’ve so far done some fruit only because we decided to move to our other property at the end of 2022 and are not setup for freeze drying here yet.
Some foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can be frozen without any prior treatment. Others, such as meat, may need to be blanched before freezing to preserve their quality.
While freezing can prevent the growth of microorganisms, it does not kill them. This means that when the food is thawed, any bacteria present before freezing can become active again if the food is not handled and stored properly.
To ensure the best quality and safety of frozen foods, it’s important to follow recommended storage times and temperatures. In general, frozen foods should not be kept for more than a few months, and should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave rather than at room temperature.
Some fruits can be easily frozen whole. At the moment I have a bag of plums, sour cherries, and mulberries in the freezer, all waiting for me to get to them. The plums and sour cherries are actually easier to stone once they have been frozen (and defrosted), and the mulberries will probably be pulled out a little at a time to serve on French Toast, or pancakes.
Other fruit such stonefruit, apples, and pears, can be stewed up quickly before being put into containers (I use takeaway containers) and frozen in portions. These are perfect to pull out of the freezer in winter and make into a pie or crumble, or even just heat up and serve with some custard as a warming treat.
I also sometimes par cook and freeze certain vegetables so they don’t spoil but can be easily re-used in stews or soups.
We freeze corn (cut off the cob first), beans and peas, brocolli, carrots, and cauliflower. These vegetables are best cut into portions (we cut the carrots into rounds), and then blanch them.
Blanching is plunging the vegetable into boiling water for 30 seconds and then popping it straight into cold water to stop them cooking anymore. Blanching stops the vegetables deteriorating while they are in the freezer. Once the vegetables have cooled down, drain them well and pop into snap lock bags until you need them.
Drying and dehydrating
Drying is a common method of food preservation that has been used for centuries.
In fact, drying food is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and has been used by different cultures. Evidence shows that drying food was practiced in ancient Egypt around 4,000 years ago. In some parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, drying is still widely used as a method of food preservation, especially for fruits and vegetables.
Drying food is a great way to extend its shelf life, as it removes moisture that can cause spoilage and bacterial growth. While drying is an effective method of food preservation, it can also result in some loss of nutrients. However, dried fruits and vegetables can still be a good source of vitamins and minerals.
Sun drying is one of the oldest and simplest methods of drying food. It involves laying the food out in the sun until it is completely dry. Oven drying is a more modern method that involves using an oven or dehydrator to dry the food at a low temperature.
Dehydrating food is another age-old method of preserving it for later use. In addition to inhibiting bacterial growth, dehydrating also helps to retain most of the food’s nutrients.
- Dehydrated food takes up less space, making it easier to store for longer periods of time.
- It can also be a more affordable alternative to buying pre-packaged, dehydrated foods from the store.
- Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be a healthy and delicious snack option.
- Meat can be dehydrated to make jerky, which is a high-protein snack that can be taken on-the-go.
- You can even dehydrate herbs to use in cooking or for making homemade tea blends.
Dried foods can be stored for much longer periods of time than fresh foods, making them a great option for emergency food supplies or for backpacking and camping trips. Dried foods are lightweight and easy to store, making them ideal for camping trips, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Drying can also enhance the flavor of some foods, such as beef jerky and dried fruit, by concentrating their natural sugars.
While drying is an effective method of food preservation, it is important to note that not all foods are suitable for drying. Some foods, such as dairy products and most vegetables, require specialized equipment and techniques to dry properly.
My family has been smoking food for many, many years. My dad continues to smoke hock, speck, pork neck, sausages, ribs and other meats each year for our immediate family which we use daily in our cooking. Smoked food is very much part of Balkan cuisine.
Smoking is a traditional method that has been used by various cultures for centuries to preserve food. However, beyond preservation, smoking also adds a unique flavor and aroma to the food which makes it more enjoyable. It is worth noting that smoking should not be considered as a way to replace proper food handling and storage practices. It’s a complementary method to preserve the food and make it more delicious.
The type of wood used for smoking is an essential factor that determines the food’s flavor. Different types of woods can be used for smoking, such as hickory, applewood, mesquite, oak, and others. For instance, hickory wood is commonly used for smoking meats, while applewood is often used for smoking fish.
There are various types of smoking equipment available such as smokers, grills, and stovetops. My dad uses a small dark shed with vents. He lights a small fire and puts it out and places the meat indirectly in the smoked room. He does this over a period of days and when its finished, he then moves it into another well ventilated room inside a cage so it can continue to dry out.
In my opinion, my dad’s meat is the safest and tastiest. He only uses a salt brine before the smoke to season the meat and uses no other preservatives or chemicals.
Fermenting is a traditional food preservation method that has been used for centuries. It is still widely used today, and has gained popularity in recent years due to the health benefits associated with consuming fermented foods.
Fermenting involves the use of beneficial bacteria that break down sugars and convert them into lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative. This process not only extends the shelf life of food, but it also enhances its flavor and texture. Additionally, fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are beneficial for gut health and digestion.
Some popular fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. Not only are these foods delicious, but they also have potential health benefits such as boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation. With the rise of interest in gut health and natural food preservation methods, it’s no surprise that fermenting has become a popular practice in many households.
If you are interested in trying out fermenting at home, here are some tips to get started:
- Choose your fermenting vessel carefully. Glass jars with an airtight seal work well, as do ceramic crocks.
- Use fresh, high-quality ingredients. The quality of your ingredients will impact the final flavor and texture of your fermented food.
- Make sure your equipment is clean and sanitized before you begin.
- Keep your fermenting food at the right temperature. Most ferments do well at room temperature, but some may require a cooler or warmer environment.
- Taste your ferment regularly to check on its progress. You’ll know it’s done when it has the right balance of sourness and flavor.
Fermenting is a fun and rewarding process that can help you preserve food and boost your gut health. Give it a try and see what delicious creations you can come up with!
Salting is a preservation method that involves adding salt to food, which draws out the moisture and creates an environment that inhibits the growth of bacteria.
Salting is a common method used in food preservation, especially for meats and fish. In addition to inhibiting bacteria growth, salting also enhances flavor and can even tenderize tougher cuts of meat.
It’s important to note that while salting can be an effective preservation method, it’s not foolproof. My dad often salt brines the meat he is going to smoke for a short period before smoking. This assists with preserving the meat and also reduces the amount of water in left available in the meat. Having excess water in the meat could lead to rancidity and spoilage, so adding salting to your food preservation steps is very important if it warrants it.
There are different types of salts that can be used for salting, including kosher salt, sea salt, and table salt. Each has its own unique characteristics and can affect the flavor and texture of the final product.
Some foods, like vegetables, can also benefit from salting before cooking. This can help to draw out excess moisture and improve texture.
BONUS – storing food methodologies to extend your stockpile
Vacuum sealing is a popular food preservation technique that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. This method is highly effective in removing air from the food packaging, which can help prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life of your food.
- Vacuum sealing is an ideal way to preserve food freshness and flavor, as it allows you to store food for a longer period without compromising on its quality.
- In addition to preventing spoilage, vacuum sealing can also help prevent freezer burn, which is a common problem when storing food in the freezer for an extended period.
- This method is not limited to just food preservation. You can also use vacuum sealing to store non-food items such as clothing, bedding, and other household items to protect them from moisture, dust, and pests.
- With the rise in popularity of Sous Vide cooking, vacuum sealing has become a popular method of cooking as well. By vacuum sealing food items before cooking, you can ensure even cooking and better flavor infusion.
Vacuum sealing is a simple yet effective way to preserve food and non-food items for an extended period, while also retaining their freshness and flavor.
Root cellaring – this involves storing certain types of produce in a cool, dark, and humid environment to extend their shelf life.
If you’re interested in trying out root cellaring, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Choose the right produce: Not all produce is suitable for root cellaring. Root vegetables like carrots, beets, and potatoes are good candidates, as are certain fruits like apples and pears.
- Find the right location: Your root cellar should be cool (around 0-4°C), dark, and humid (around 90% humidity). A basement or crawl space can work well, but you can also build your own root cellar if you have the space and resources.
- Use the right containers: You can store your produce in plastic bins, wooden crates, or even old metal trash cans. Just make sure the containers have some ventilation to allow for air flow.
- Check your produce regularly: Check your stored produce regularly for signs of spoilage or rot. Remove any affected items immediately to prevent further damage.
- Enjoy your extended harvest: With proper root cellaring techniques, you can enjoy fresh produce well into the winter months!
What fruits and veg do you often have too much of? How do you use up extra fruit and veg?
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