Canning and freezing are popular ways to preserve foods, especially summer's bounty. A glut in the garden or from your local farmer’s stand can be taken advantage of when prices and freshness are at their peak. Canning and freezing are both quick and easy methods of preserving food safely for several months or more without too much expense.
They're both ways to prevent waste and save money. But things can go wrong, and sometimes your efforts to can and freeze don't turn out too well. Here are some tips for successful canning and freezing.
For the best bet at success, preserve local foods in season. They are fresher, since they can be harvested at their peak, they are probably more nutritious. Seasonal foods, grown in your own garden, gives you the choice to have pesticide or GMO free food. Other fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown locally are also less likely to be sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals to protect them during long shipment.
Choose young tender, but ripe, fruits and vegetables. Peas, corn and lima beans should be slightly under ripe or immature. Keep all well chilled until you are ready to start the freezing process.
If you are freezing fresh vegetables, blanching the food before freezing is necessary. It preserves color, texture, and flavor. Enzymes in vegetables are still active after harvesting, leading to deterioration. Blanching vegetables is essential to stop these changes so you have the best quality before freezing.
To blanch foods, place them in a metal blanching basket and dip them into a large pot of rapidly boiling water for a few minutes, (each vegetable may have a different time), measure time according to blanching charts when boiling resumes, then remove them quickly and plunge them into ice cold water to stop the cooking process.
You can also blanch by steaming before the ice water bath. Either way you blanch your food, make sure you have plenty of ice cold water prepared and waiting before you start. If you expect to be doing a lot of blanching, make lots of ice cubes in the days before you start your freezing. Better to have too many than not enough.
For blanching, the pot of water needs to be as hot as possible so it returns to a boil as rapidly as it can after you dip the food in. Also, you want the food to chill right through as quickly as possible. Hot food, even the small quantity you will be blanching at one time warms the water quickly so having lots of ice cubes at hand is important for your success.
For greatest success, prepare only about 1 pound of vegetables at a time. Drain in the basket or a colander then dry on a clean kitchen towel. You may need quite a few before you have finished.
The importance of cleanliness in canning and freezing - especially canning - cannot be overemphasized. It's vital that you follow your canning recipe closely and that you update it. For instance, old recipes may call for a hot water bath when pressure canning is really the only way to be sure the germs are killed.
Make sure you use sterilized jars, jar tops, funnel, and tongs. Jars do not necessarily need to be boiled. But, if they are to be used in open kettle canning then the jars must be sterilized by boiling them for 15 minutes in water deep enough to cover them.
All food to be preserved must be handled with care and caution but canned foods require a much greater level of concern. Follow all instructions about sterilizing exactly. Mistakes can have deadly results.
Getting the air out of preserved foods is essential. In canned goods, you must run a long thin knife or spatula down the sides of the jar to release air bubbles. Slightly shift the packed food until the air is gone. Wipe the top of the jar with a hot clean cloth before placing the lids on.
Draw the air out of plastic zip top bags with a straw. Some foods in bags may be laid flat and the air pressed out. This is what I do for all fresh meats. Remember though to leave head room in container to allow for expansion of frozen foods.
Pack in appropriate containers, in meal size packages, if possible to prevent waste. Label and date. Don’t waste all your efforts canning and freezing, only to have food dry out, spill out, or go bad.
If there is a sale on produce or meat at your local market or grocery store, canning and freezing are excellent ways to keep that wonderful money-saver from going to waste. You may also have a local farmer or generous neighbor who will sell their surplus at a good price. If you have plenty of garden fresh produce, perhaps you can find someone with a surplus to make trades with.
When we raised beef and chicken, we traded with our fisherman friends for seafood. Our orchard always had surplus, too, and our rhubarb patch, we were able to give away or trade, too.
If you have someone elderly in your neighborhood who needs
garden work done, trade your effort for a share of the crop. You save money and do a good deed.
For freezing foods, the colder the temperature, the better. This means that you may need to invest in a case freezer rather than using your refrigerator's freezer. Case freezers keep the temperature lower than the average fridge freezer, and the colder the temperature, the longer the food can be kept. Sources say it's a myth that very cold temperatures cause freezer burn. Freezer burn actually happens when the food dries out partially.
Success is more likely if you do a small batch at a time. Food also has less time to harbor bacteria if you're working with small amounts. For freezing vegetables, work with about 1 pound at a time for blanching and chilling. For canning, prepare enough produce for the number of jars that will fit in your pressure canner or water bath canner at one time. Have all your container for canning or freezing ready to hand and the right size, too.
It's frustrating when you're in the middle of a canning or freezing project and you find you need a piece of equipment. And then you may not be able to find it! Gather all your necessary equipment together before starting.
That includes your canners, jars, lids, and rings, tongs and jar lifters (a necessity), oven mitts, rubber gloves if you use them, and any bags and containers for frozen foods. Plus anything else you may need like vegetable peelers, knives and corn cutters. This is a good time to wear an apron even if you never do any other time!
Check all your jars to make sure there aren’t any chips in the top or cracks (bursting jars are no fun). Check to make sure your rings and lids are in perfect sealable shape also.
Note: You can't tell if the bottom of a jar has broken. To prevent getting scalded and badly burnt, lift each jar out of the canner slowly – with your secure grip lifter - until you are sure everything is intact. In many years of canning and freezing foods, I’ve only ever had that happen once or twice. You need to be careful not to knock jars against anything anyway, so future cracks won’t happen.
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