It’s growing season! Gardens are abundant with shiny red tomatoes, crisp green beans and summer squash. Orchards and farm stands along the road have plenty of local fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. What a perfect time to take advantage of all the summer produce by preserving it so you can enjoy it all year!
Preserving foods at home has been around since the 19th century. People canned and dried foods to assure there would be a variety of foods and plenty to eat during the harsh winter months. It was also a way to avoid waste since food that was not preserved in some manner would spoil soon after it was harvested. With advancing scientific discoveries, we now know that using different methods of preserving food and establishing safe practices, various food-borne illnesses like botulism can be prevented. Today, we have an abundance of food available all year that is either a walk or a quick car ride away from where we live. So why then are people still interested in preserving their own food?
When you preserve your own food, you have control over the way your food is produced and know exactly what goes into it. Home-preserved foods are more natural and do not contain additives or preservatives. Also, as home gardening continues to grow in popularity, preserving the overflow of fruits and vegetables grown in your backyard can cut back on food waste in the landfills. Preserving your own produce or other foods that are grown locally, can turn a seasonal harvest into one that lasts throughout the year. Home-preserved foods also make wonderful gifts to give your friends that are healthy and delicious.
Interested in attending a food preservation program? The University Maryland Extension offers food preservation workshops throughout the state using these four methods as part of their Grow It Eat It Preserve It program.
Canning is the most popular method and depends on the type of food being canned. The water boiling method is safe for tomatoes, pickles, fruit and fruit products like jams and jellies. The pressure canning method is the only safe way to can vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood. Both of these methods destroy bacteria or molds that can spoil food.
Pickling blends spices, sugar and vinegars and is generally used to make fruit and vegetable pickles, relishes or chutneys.
Freezing is one of the easiest and convenient method to preserve foods. This method does not sterilize foods, but slows down the changes in food that cause it to spoil and allows you to enjoy high-quality, nutritious frozen foods.
Drying is one of the oldest methods to preserve food. Drying removes the moisture from food so mold and bacteria cannot grow.
There’s a few things to do before you begin to preserve foods at home. First, choose a safe method based on the type of food you want to preserve. Some foods may be better for canning while others may be better for freezing or drying. Second, read the instructions that come with your food preservation equipment several times before using it. Last but not least, choose a recipe that is based on research and lab-tested. Many recipes that have been passed down through the family have not been tested for the proper pH or acidity level of the preserved food product which can lead to botulism. Botulism can’t be seen, smelled or tasted but can be deadly if eaten. The best way to prevent botulism food poisoning is to only use recipes that have been tested by reliable sources. The University of Maryland Extension recommends using one of the approved resources for home preservation recipes.
USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning https://nifa.usda.gov/press-release/usdas-complete-guide-home-canning-available
National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general.html
University of Georgia’s Extension, So Easy to Preserve, sixth edition.
Interested in getting started in preserving at home? The Cecil County’s Extension office is offers a series of workshops lead by Beverly Jackey, MS, RDN. Please call and sign up. Space is limited. For more information, visit the county’s extension website at: https://extension.umd.edu/cecil-county under the Health and Wellness section.