Preserve it and enjoy all year long

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pick it … and the splendor will last a moment.

Preserve it … and the splendor of a fresh harvest is yours all year round.

Gardeners throughout time have relished the fruits of their labor.

Kneeling in dirt and picking through weeds is well worth a bite of your own luscious ruby red tomato or crispy cucumber. So, why enjoy the splendor of your garden for only a few months?

Preserving is a great way to get the home gardener through the winter months until next years planting. Not only is it rewarding to open a jar of your own home–grown produce but the economical and nutritional benefits are obvious.

Every culture has utilized one or more methods to maintain fresh food. Often the methods used were dictated by the climate and conditions in which people lived.

As a result, many innovative techniques and advancements in food preservation were made during these extremely lean times. It’s no coincidence however that we are facing some tough economic times and to save money on food dollars the lost art of preserving is being rediscovered.

Not only can preserving foods yourself save money, it can be incredibly rewarding to place food on the table which you have grown and preserved yourself. And knowing exactly what goes in –– or more importantly –– what is not going into our preserved goods gives an added measure of control. This way you are deciding what you and your family will eat.

How does preserving work?

Fresh food is perishable for several reasons. Because of its high water content –– an increased growth of undesirable microorganisms, an increased activity of food enzymes, increased reactions with oxygen, and adverse effects from moisture loss all result in the breakdown and spoilage of food.

The process of preserving slows down or stops the activity of microorganisms and enzymes and which keeps food fresh and safe to consume.

Each method of preserving comes with its own set of benefits. Dabble in the different types –– canning, drying, freezing, pickling, salting, or fermenting –– to discover which works best for you.

Equipment for preserving food can cost almost nothing or can cost as much as you’re willing to spend. However pressure canners and waterbath canners will probably only need to be purchased one time.

You need to have your dial gauge pressure canner checked once a year for accuracy by the Extension Service to make sure it is registering the correct amount of weight to preserve safely.

Safety is essential when undergoing any preserving endeavor. Preserving methods have strict guidelines that must be followed and require that you follow instructions exactly or dangerous results can occur.

Be sure to check with your local county Extension office for recipes. It is very important to follow these recipes because a deadly bacteria called botulism can be lurking if vegetables are not canned properly.

Always choose food of the highest quality when preserving. Choose food that is free of bruises, discoloration and defects. Preserve as quickly as possible after harvesting –– preferably within 12 hours.

When storing preserved foods, be sure to clearly label the foods you have preserved both with contents and date preserved.

Preserved food will not last forever. It is important to know when your products shelf life has expired and when foods should be discarded. You can find this out from your local County Extension Office. Labeling also helps to keep current when rotating your preserved food supply.

If you would like to learn more about preserving your own foods at home, the Shelby County Extension Office will be giving a Home Food Preservation Program on May 28 from 1–3 p.m. at the Shelby County Extension Office. Please call Angela Treadaway at 410–3696 to register.