“You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance”—Psalm 65:11 (ESV)
Growing your own food is one of life’s great pleasures, but the joy does not need to stop with the garden. Preserving your harvest not only ensures healthy food throughout the year, it teaches your children valuable life skills and impresses upon them the importance of making the most of every resource.
As with any cooking project, cleanliness is extremely important when preserving food. Sterilize all equipment before using and check for any chips in your jars. You can reuse canning jar rings, but you must use new lids for each project.
There are only two canning techniques approved by the USDA. The first one, water-bath canning, is the one most people are familiar with. It is a simple process which submerges filled jars in boiling water and processes them to an internal temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit for the prescribed amount of time. Only high-acid foods such as fruits, pickles, and tomatoes can be safely processed this way.
Pressure canning is the second approved method of canning food. To pressure can you need a pressure canner, not a pressure cooker. Pressure canners come with manufacturer-specific instructions which must be followed for food safety. Pressure canning is the technique used for low-acid foods such as vegetables, beans, soup stocks, meat, and poultry. The acidity level in these foods is too low to prevent spoilage and must be processed at 240 degrees Fahrenheit, which can only be done with a pressure canner.
Pickling is a two-part process that begins by covering produce with a cooked mixture of vinegar, spices, and sugar, then processing the jars in a water-bath. For pickled vegetables, the food may be brined before adding the pickling liquid. Pickling results in vegetables with a firm, crisp texture and a tart flavor. For the best flavor, allow pickles to stand several weeks before opening.
Vegetables are not the only option for pickling. Simply simmer whole or sliced fruit in a spicy, sweet-tart syrup and then process in a water-bath for shelf-stable fruit pickles that are delicious served alongside pork or beef.
When you are drying food, you are exposing it to a temperature that is high enough to remove the moisture but low enough that the food does not cook. Successfully preserving food by this method requires a consistent temperature, low humidity, and good air circulation.
Electric dehydrators are the most efficient method of drying food, as they are calibrated to produce the conditions necessary for success. The areas of the country that have very low humidity levels can experience success with solar dehydrators. If you live in an area where solar drying is not possible, you can use your oven to dry small batches of food at a time.
Once the food is thoroughly dried, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark area for up to a year.
Although almost anything can be preserved in this manner, not everything is frozen the same way. Fruit should be sliced, sprinkled with lemon juice, and laid out on a baking sheet to be frozen. Once frozen through, place it in a freezer bag and label. Berries should also be frozen in a single layer before putting them in a freezer bag.
If you find yourself with an abundance of greens, blanch them before freezing. Vegetables, including mushrooms, retain a better texture and flavor if lightly sautéed before freezing. All vegetables are easier to use if frozen in individual portions.
These are just a few of the techniques you can use to stretch your surplus. Once you are comfortable with these methods, try curing, smoking, and fermenting.
Share Your Abundance
Local Food Pantry
As a general rule, food pantries do not accept home-processed foods due to safety guidelines. You can share raw produce, however, and delivering food to those in need is often very meaningful to children.
Check with your local nursing home to see if there are patients who do not have many visitors or if they have an “Adopt-a-grandparent” program. Shut-ins are very appreciative of visits and homemade goodies.
If you participate in a homeschool cooperative, handing out jars of food you preserved not only helps others fill their pantry, but may ignite an interest in others to learn preservation skills.
Set out jars of preserves during potluck dinners; give a basket of preserved foods to the minister, choir director, pianist, or Sunday school teacher.
Drop in on neighbors you haven’t seen in a while, or those new to your neighborhood, with a gift from your garden.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.