Summer is one of the most productive times of year for most gardens, and most of what grows requires hot weather. For most of us, enjoying a perfectly ripe tomato in February is a dream.
So how do you stretch summer’s harvest to all year long? We explore five common ways that help home preppers save summer foods for use throughout the year. Inside we discuss:
- Blanching for freezing
- Home Canning
- Freezing prepared meals
Some of these tools are easy and very inexpensive. Others on the list require an investment either of money or in time. The goal is to expand these tools so that people who want to take more control over their food supply can.
Let’s get started.
1. Dehydration – Perfect for most foods and even herbs.
Nothing brings home-cooked meals to life like fresh herbs out of the garden. In fact, an herb garden is a huge benefit for an independent food lifestyle.
The problem is that many herbs either only grow during the warmest months of the year or they do not offer their best flavors when the temperatures drop. Basil is a heat-loving herb that withers and turns black at the first hint of frost.
Dehydration is different from freeze-drying and dehydrated foods have a shorter shelf life than foods that are freeze dried and dehydrated foods should be used throughout the year.
If you are looking for a food preservation method to last for decades, then freeze-drying is the way to go. Since the topic of this blog is about preserving summers harvest for the entire year, dehydrating is perfect.
How Dehydration Works
Dehydration uses air and sometimes heat to remove moisture from food. The process is not exact as most dehydrators remove only 90 +/- percent of moisture from foods. That is enough to prevent most bacteria, molds, and even yeasts from causing the food to spoil.
Regarding health, dehydrated foods contain active enzymes as the process acts only to slow down their processes rather than to destroy them. Cooking food destroys enzymes such as during the canning process.
Examples of Dehydrating times for Foods:
- Apples – 6-12 hours
- Bananas – 8-10 hours
- Berries – 24-35 hours
- Carrots – 10-12 hours
- Garlic – 6-8 hours
- Corn – 6-10 hours
Dehydrating also preserves liquids, such as fruit juices by turning them into leathers. In fact, there are many ways to use a dehydrator to preserve summers bounty. Here are a few resources to get you started. You can also build your own dehydrator using basic household materials. Before electricity was available, many cultures sun-dried foods and still do.
- Preserving Food: Drying Fruits and Vegetables – University of Georgia
- The Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes – Ball
2. Blanche and Freeze
Blanching food is an old method of food preservation. It works in conjunction with freezing foods and as a means of keeping the foods flavor, texture, and color. The process works by scalding fruits and vegetables in boiling water.
Like dehydrating, there are various times for scalding the food. Once scalded, the food is immediately placed in ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cool, the food is ready to be packaged for freezing.
Blanching food is an easy and economical way of preserving much of your summer harvest. The process works by stopping the action of enzymes within the food, thus preserving the food during the freezing process. You can blanch food in boiling water, using steam, or even in a microwave oven.
Blanching times for some foods:
- Butter Beans – medium sized – 3 minutes
- Broccoli flowerets – 3-minutes in boiling water or 5 minutes in a steam bath
- Carrots – diced – 2 minutes
- Corn-on-the-cob – small – 7 minutes
- Greens such as collard greens – 3 minutes
- Sweet peppers – strips – 2 minutes
Resources for learning how to blanch foods:
- Freezing/blanching – National Center for Home Food Preservation
- Vegetable Blanching Directions and Times for Home Freezer Storage – University of Minnesota Extension
Canning is an old way of preserving food. It uses heat to kill organisms in food and then seals the environment so that new populations of organisms cannot cause the food to spoil.
There are two basic types of canning:
- Water bath
A water bath process is a good approach to foods that are high in acids. The water bath itself seals the container while the acid in the foods kills off the organisms. Both methods of canning cook food and then preserve it.
Pressure canning uses a pressure cooker to quickly, and they are used to cook foods at higher temperatures than a water bath does. Water bath canning uses boiling water, which boils at 212°F. A pressure canner can heat water to 240°F because it traps the steam forcing convection to raise the temperature.
Which Foods to Water Bath?
A classic water bath preserve is jam. Fruits and fruit juices are perfect for water bath preserving. Other foods include pickles, condiments such as acidic ketchup, tomatoes, salsas and other tomato products providing that they are high in acids. You can add acids, such as vitamin C to bring acid levels up so that food is safe to consume.
Which foods to Can with a Pressure Canner?
All foods that are not high in acidity, such as meats, corn, beans, etc. Foods without high acidity are prime targets for Clostridium Botulinum – the organism that causes botulism.
Resources for canning:
- The Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes – Ball
- Learn from someone experienced or take a canning class from a local source. Many communities offer classes in food preservation and these help you learn how and why canning works. Canning can be dangerous if not done correctly. Food poisoning is a high risk with canning, but it need not be if you learn to can food properly.
4. Cook and Freeze Prepared Meals
One of the easiest ways to stretch summers bountiful harvest is simply to make meals and then freeze them. There are several good examples of ready to heat-and-serve frozen meals. Those include lasagna, soups, and casseroles.
Many meals can be assembled and then cooked later. Pizza and lasagna are two perfect examples of make it now and cook it later meals that freeze well. The trick to cooking or assembling meals for freezing is to preserve the food from freezer burn.
Freezer burn is the result of air drying a small section of the food during the freezing process. The air exchange causes chemical changes within the food, which then results in an odd taste. Not every type of food freezes well.
A good example of these foods is cooked pasta. When frozen with other foods, pasta freezes well, but not when frozen by itself.
Resources for Freezing Meals for Future Use:
- Freezing Cooked Foods for Future Meals – Freezer Bag Tips – University of Nebraska
- Freezing and Food Safety – USDA
5. Freeze-drying Foods
Freeze drying foods increases the shelf lift from a year or so to 10-30 years. It is a process that goes beyond dehydrating food and removes as much as 95 percent of the water in foods. It is an expensive food preservation process to get started, but the use of a home freeze dryer over time can be very economical.
The process uses three steps:
- Low-heat vacuum
It is the pressure that allows freeze drying to remove more water than just dehydrating foods. Like a pressure canner, the pressure changes how water moves from a solid to a liquid and gas.
In freeze-drying, water goes from a solid to a gas without becoming a liquid. Under pressure, the vacuum removes the gas as water transitions from a solid to a vapor.
Learn more about home freeze drying:
- Should you Consider Freeze Drying – BackdoorSurvival
- New Freeze Dry Methods for Processing Fish – USDA
- 4- Step Process – HarvestRight
Preserving your summer garden for use all year long is a simple way to save money on groceries and to also to gain more control over access to quality food.
Each of these food preservation methods offers strengths and weaknesses, but together they provide a complete toolkit for addressing safe food preservation for the short term.
- Dehydrating works best for many foods, including some meats. The shelf life for dehydrated food varies a lot between food types. Here, we dehydrate foods and then freeze them using freezer bags. Using this method of dual preserving foods works well so that food lasts throughout the year.
- Blanching is my preferred method for freezing foods as close to their original form as possible. When packaged correctly, blanched and frozen foods are perfect for cooking later.
- Canning is a process, and it can be time-consuming, but it works well for dealing with huge batches of foods such as tomato harvests and is my preferred method for preserving corn.
- Cooking or assembling meals and then freezing – This is probably the most efficient way to preserve foods and is one method that we use the most. It is easy and affordable to make three of something and then stick two of them in the freezer. This method works well for bread, such as zucchini bread, soups, casseroles, and even sauces, such as tomato sauce.
- Freeze drying – This is a method that we do not use, but plan to add to the stead at some point in the near future. It offers a way to store food longer, so there is less pressure to use food in the first year following its harvest.
Overall, these tools empower preppers and homesteads to grow more of the food they use throughout the year.
About the Author: David is an active prepper and freelance writer. He lives in rural Northern California in the shadow of an active volcano. He hunts and fishes as a means of providing. He brings a science background to his writing and discusses botany, biology, geology, and weather as they apply to living, growing your own food, and surviving. He is a master gardener and understands food production, storage, and preserving. He lives five miles down a single-lane road and he deals with power outages, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and crazy pot growers, raiders, medical emergencies, law enforcement and the potential of that volcano.
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