Preserving the Harvest
Food preservation is done using various processing methods to extend the life of the fresh produce.
You can make the most of home grown, or locally bought, seasonal fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat, and dairy. It is great way to use a glut or abundance, plus you know more about what you are eating. Preserving food at home is a satisfying, productive hobby that may also save you money, cater to allergies and food restrictions, and allow you to eat chemical-free, better tasting food. You can swap, share, and barter with your preserves too.
What is Food Preservation?
Food preservation are methods of processing produce which remove, and prevent the growth of food destroying micro-organisms (moulds, yeasts, bacteria) and enzymes, which break down and decay food. Correct techniques create conditions which allow for safe and nutritious storage of food, to be consumed at a later stage.
Commonly used methods of home food preservation include freezing, dehydrating, lacto-fermenting, Fowlers Vacola bottling, boiling water bottling, and pressure canning. People also make their own dairy goods, charcuterie, vinegars, plus liquored, smoked and cured items, as a way to preserve food. You can also store some fresh, unprocessed produce in ways that allows them to keep for long periods, such as root cellaring or in sandbags.
What is the history of Food Preservation?
Food preservation and storage are ancient practices that have evolved and advanced over the centuries. From ancient times, people learnt how to extend the life of their food. When agriculture was developed, communities used food preserving as a way to settle in place, and have food security through hard times. Various methods were developed, and are still used by many cultures around the world.
Modern food growing, processing, storage and distribution changed how food was preserved for many people. Today we are seeing a revival of traditional food preserving and storing methods, as more people return to growing their own produce, buying from farmers markets, sharing gluts and foraging for wild harvests.
How do I safely preserve food at home?
Incorrect food preserving & storage techniques, whether commercial or done at home, can lead to food borne illnesses/ food poisoning, which can harm your health, and even cause death. Home food preservers have a responsibility to those who will be consuming the product, including themselves, to follow correct procedures and methods. These methods destroy food spoilage microorganisms by creating conditions they cannot survive in, such as
- altering the pH (making items more acidic, such as pickling or lacto-fermenting)
- removal of moisture (dehydrating)
- heating sealed jars thoroughly to very high temperatures (boiling water bathing and pressure canning)
- creating a vacuum seal to avoid recontamination, and entry of oxygen (bottling)
- storing below -18 degrees Celsius (freezing)
Often a combination of these are needed for safe food preservation.
When bottling, the pH of fruit and vegetables determines the method required for processing your preserves. Anything which is high in acid (pH lower than 4.5, such as stone fruit, citrus fruit, apples, tomatoes and figs with added citric acid, vegetables pickled with vinegar, and condiments made with enough vinegar or lemon juice) can be either boiling water bathed or processed by the Fowlers Vacola method. If you want to preserve bottled produce which is not acidic (pH higher than 4.6, such as vegetables and meat, meals made with vegetables and meat), you must use a pressure canning unit to be able to reach the higher temperatures required.
Is it hard, time consuming or expensive to preserve my own food?
Learning the various methods to preserve food, does take time, and commitment to gain new skills and knowledge. You can start with dehydrating or boiling water bathing of high acid produce, which are easier to learn. When you feel confident, or have time, move on to learning another preserving method. Once you practice and get more efficient at each method, it won’t take as long each time you do a batch.
There are some initial expenses when investing in preserving gear and equipment. Some methods require less equipment, or you can use good quality second hand, or make your own, such as a solar dehydrator. If you buy cheap, in season produce, or use your own home grown, you can save money by preserving your own.
References & Further Reading
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, 2006, Robert Rose Inc.
Canning for a New Generation, Liana Krissoff, 2010, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Abrams Books
Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz, 2003, Chelsea Green Publishing Company
Pickled, Potted and Canned, Sue Shepard, 2006, Simon & Schuster
How to Store Your Garden Produce, Piers Warren, 2012, Green Books Ltd
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