After all the hard work that is put into growing your food, it should be preserved as long as possible. There are many methods you can employ to savor spring greens, summer fruits, and fall roots all year long. ‘Putting food by,’ as we say in the south, allows you to have a kitchen full of food that tells a story and brings back sweet memories of when it was harvested and lovingly saved for the future.
Here is a break down the four main ways to preserve food and notes on what foods work best for each method. We’d love to know your top tips for food preservation. Please share with the community in the comments.
Evidence shows that Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures actively dried foods in the hot sun as early as 12,000 B.C. This is still a very common preservation method in hot climates all around the world. Drying evaporates the water content from food, which then prevents the food from rotting. Dried foods can be eaten as is (e.g. dried fruit, fruit leather, or jerky). Or they can be reconstituted with water and added to meals (e.g. beans, bouillon, herbs, and spices). Dried foods can also be used to make herbals medicines like teas, tinctures, salves.
- Electric dehydrator (Excaliber makes great ones)
- Hanging herb drying racks, like we carry in the shop
- Create your own set up by spreading out food (greens, herbs, flowers) on screens or hanging from a line in a hot place with good airflow. Be careful that they do not mold.
Best foods to dry
- Garden vegetables, in slices, later be ground into powders or for bouillon
- Any fruit sliced or blended and spread out to make fruit leather
- Mushrooms to reconstitute, tincture, or powder
- Herbs for teas and seasonings
- Seeds to make raw crackers
- Peppers to make spices
- Flowers for beauty or tea
- Meat or fish for jerky
Canning was developed in the early 1800s as a way of preserving fresh food for soldiers while they were off at war. The tools and procedures have evolved over the years but at its most simple, canning involves put acidic foods in glass jars with lids that seal under heat, and boiling those jars in water for a predetermined amount of time. Some teachers and books make the whole process out to be very complicated. But really, it’s as simple as making pasta (boil water, put a thing in water, wait, take the thing out of water). That being said, it's best to know the rules well so you can decide if and when to bend them.
- A large pot with lid
- Water bath canning kit
- Canning rack
- A good funnel
- Pressure Canner, if you’re serious about canning meats and other low acid foods
Best foods for this method are high acid foods such as:
- Jam, Jelly, Marmalades, Fruit Butters
- Tomatoes: whole, chopped, or tomato sauce
- Pickled vegetables in a vinegar brine
In a pressure canner, you can preserve
- Meat, seafood, or poultry
- Vegetables in water
*Note: pressure canning can be dangerous and needs to be highly supervised. It’s probably not the best place to start, but it certainly an option for the brave.
This is one of the oldest methods of food preservation dating back as far as 6000 BC. There are many ways to preserve foods via fermentation and a lot of those methods increase digestibility and nutrient content in the process. For the sake of this blog, we’ll specifically focus on lacto-fermented vegetables, i.e. kraut, kimchi, or putting chopped vegetables in a 2 tablespoon: 1-quart salt water brine.
Best foods for this method
This is definitely the easiest of the methods and great for preserving flavor, texture, and digestive enzymes. The trickiest part can be having enough space in your freezer and enough foresight to thaw what you want to eat. When it comes to fruits and vegetables it’s good to peel and/or chop them before freezing. Whenever possible it’s a good extra step to vacuum seal your freezer items to prevent freezer burn and oxygenation.
- A good freezer
- Vacuum sealer
Best foods for this method
- Fruits cut into pieces or peeled in the case of bananas
- Chicken, beef, lamb, and bones for bone broth
- Broth, soups, stews & leftovers
- Nuts and Seeds that can easily go rancid
- Thickly cut vegetables
- Whole tomatoes
Between traditional methods and technology, we have so many ways of preserving food whether it’s the food you grow yourself, get from a CSA/farmers market, or get on sale at the store, this is a valuable way to save money and preserve (and in some cases increase) the nutritional content of high-quality food. If you’re ready to dive deeper here are some more quality resources.