If you had visited my home in the past several evenings, you would have found my family sitting around the den (a big front porch and rocking chairs would have been nice) with bowls in our laps, diligently breaking beans and cutting okra. We were getting the vegetables ready to be "put up."
Freezing is my preferred food preservation method; it’s simple and convenient and doesn’t require a lot of specialized equipment. However, freezing vegetables does require blanching.
Blanching is placing the vegetables in boiling water for a brief time to inactivate enzymes which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. After removing the vegetables from the boiling water, they must then be rapidly cooled in ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching times are very specific and vary with the vegetable. Enzymes in fruits can cause browning and loss of vitamin C. The most common way to inactivate enzymes in fruit is to add ascorbic acid to the fruit before freezing. When packing, allow a headspace between the food and the closure to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes, and don’t forget to label the package with the name of the food and the packaging date. Remember to use containers or bags designed for freezing.
Possibly you prefer canning? If so, make sure that you have the proper equipment and supplies and check to make sure that all are in good condition.
Never tried canning before? One point to consider when deciding if you want to try home canning is that home canned products have very little added salt or sugar.
Home canning can be done safely if you follow the preparation and processing procedures as written. Grandma’s hand written canning directions may be a little outdated so look for current tested canning recipes. "So Easy to Preserve" is a 375-page book with over 185 tested recipes, along with step by step instructions and in depth information for the new or experienced food preserver available through the Cooperative Extension.
Before you begin, gather or purchase canning utensils that can make home canning helpful. This list can include jar lifter, filler or funnel, bubble remover, lid wand, clean cloths, knives in good condition, timer, clean towels, hot pads and a new cutting board if your old one is scarred.
Mason-type jars are specifically designed for home canning. Jars come in regular and wide mouth styles. The most common sizes used are pint and quart jars. Canning jars should be inspected every year for nicks, cracks or chips. Pay careful attention to the condition of the sealing edge. If properly used and cared for, jars may be reused indefinitely.
The flat lid component of the two-piece lid MUST be replaced every canning season and the used ones should be discarded; the screw bands can be reused as long as they are not bent, dented or rusted.
A boiling water canner is used for high acid foods like fruits, pickles, jellies and jams. Be sure the canner is deep enough to hold enough water to boil over the tops of jars by at least one to two inches.
The canning of low acid foods like vegetables requires the use of a pressure canner. There are two types of pressure canners: a dial gauge and a weighted gauge. Dial gauges show the pressure inside the canner and need to be tested for accuracy before each canning season. Call the Extension office (770-278-7373) to have your dial gauge tested. Don’t forget to check the rubber gasket; make sure it is flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Also, check the openings on any small pipes or vent ports to be sure they are clean and clear of any debris. Follow the manufacturer’s direction for cleaning the sealing edges for the canner.
Both types of canners should have a rack to keep the jars off the bottoms of the canner. Check the canner racks for cleanliness and good condition.
So gather together family members — you may even have that big porch and rockers — your favorite fruits and vegetables and try your hand at home freezing or canning.
Cindee Sweda is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent. She can be reached at (770) 278-7373.