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Preservation of otherwise perishable food runs paralell to Human evolution and the advance of civilization. Societies that failed to preserve food from times of plenty for times of famine perished. Those that were able to maintain a continuos year round food supply flourished. In Modern times the focus on sustainablity is intensifying, not just for basic survival but for economic prosperity and the sense of pride that comes with growing and preserving your own food supply year long without having to rely on 7-11, Piggly Iggly or Stop n Shop.
All foods in their natural state contain microorganisms, such as bacteria, molds, yeasts and enzymes. Food spoils when microorganism growth is not controlled. Preserving food halts the progress of microoragnisms that lead to spoilage. This article explores the many modes of preservation readily available.
Freezing is the easiest method of saving summers bounty. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be frozen as close to 'fresh' as possible, right off the vine would be just dandy. Once it has begun to show even the slightest signs of breaking down / spoiling, even though it's still edible - it's best that you use it for something else.
Suitable containers, freezer bags or Freezer Safe Food Storage Containers should be used for produce you choose to freeze. This helps to avoid freezer burn, retain flavor and ensure that spoilage is kept at bay.
Blanching is sometimes advisable. If drying your vegetable product, Steaming or blanching is used as opposed to a hot water bath to inactivate enzymes that cause produce to break down durring the drying process. Some produce is also blanched or steamed prior to being frozen. Basically, it neutralizes the bacteria in fresh foods that could lead to spoilage.
Blanching removes the bitter tate from some hard core vegetables such as kale, it is used for loosening skins from fruits like peaches or tomatoes. It removes chemicals such as fungicides and pesticide from the fruits outer layer.
Blanching is not boiling, it's basically a quick dip in hot water something like the local 'polar bear' club taking a quick dip .. in and out.
Proper, Safe Home Pickling procedures controls the growth of microorganisms, allowing us to keep food beyond its natural storage period. Three primary pickling methods are commonly employed.
Fermentation A naturally occurring bacteria on cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables has the ability to reduce the sugars present in the fruit through the process of fermentation or curing.
Pasteurization, vegetables may be preserved by means of pasteurization in which fresh vegetables are bottled and subjected to a 160 degree Fahrenheit heat for a specific number of minutes to kill or make dormant bacterial spores that may threaten health.
Refrigeration. refrigeration in combination with acidification. Cold temperature and vinegar are used as the primary vehicles to keep bacterial spores dormant.
You can pickle whole vegetables, like green beans or okra. Another possibility is to make chutney or relishes. This is done by adding salt, pepper or other seasonings to small, cut pieces of vegetables.
Anything can be pickled, not just cucumbers, even sweet fruits can be made into spicy or sweet pickle products.
Drying foods is another method There are several methods used to dry fruits and vegetables.
Sun Drying is the oldest method, it has been employed since the Bronze age at the very least. Warm sunny days of summer and early Autumn are ideal, temperatures of 85 to 100 F for sun drying are optimal. Techniques differ very little, be it tomatoes or plums, peaches or onions. The fruit is generally sliced in halves, or quarters for larger produce and set out in direct sunlight, either on screens or drying trays.
Electric Dehydrators are the most common in the modern age. Rotating dryer trays and turning the produce on a regular basis will help to ensure they dry uniformly. One overly moist spot on a dried fruit or vegetable is an open invitation to mold - fungus and can spoil an entire batch.
Don't attempt to dehydrate food in a microwave oven, it doesn't work out very well. An electric dehydrator will maintain a steady reliable heat, use relatively little energy and the end result is palatable.
Oven Drying will work for small batches. An oven thermometer is advisably placed on the top tray in order to monitor the temperature. Keep the door open, or you may end up with mush. Rotate the racks for even drying. A temperature 125 - 135 F is best.
Many foods, primarily fruits, can also be pureed and turned into fruit rolls.
Veggie Powders are a personal favorite of mine, they generally keep indefinitely so long as moisture does not make an incursion. To make a veggie powder you first have to dehydrate the food.
Freeze Drying is another method of drying food. Freeze dried food is nothing new, it has been around since the 1940s but lay in the realm of large commercial operations. In recent years the prospect of freeze drying your own food has become feasible.
There are two primary methods to can produce, pressure canning and boiling water baths.
Water bath canning involves using a deep kettle with a wire insert to holds canning jars. It's primarily used to preserve foods high in acids, such as tomatoes, fruits and berries.
Pressure canning food requires a pressure canner. Pressure canners can be dangerous if not used properly. The manufacturers instructions for the safe operation of their pressure canner supersedes any other instruction other than the USDA. See: Safe Pressure Canning
Jelly Making - Jam, Marmalde, Preserves is a dieing art. It's so easy to go to the supermarket and buy jars of chemically enhanced glop made from produce aisle rejects - why bother ? In my humble opinion I'll take Grandmas's Jelly over Welches or Smuckers any day.
Jelly is a clear preserve from strained fruit juices. Jams are thick spreads made from crushed and chopped fruits.
Marmalade's are generally made from citrus, they are soft jellies with pieces of fruit and/or peel.
Conserves are jams made from a mixture of fruits, nuts, raisins ,coconut and so forth.
Fruit Butters are a combination of spices and herbs added to the primary ingredient with additional ingredients such as sugar.