We are quickly heading into my favourite time of the year! While some may look at autumn as the last chance to get yard work done before winter, I prefer to focus on the rewards of all of the effort that I put in throughout spring and summer.
This is the time of year best known for the harvest, and my vegetable garden is bursting with all of the proverbial "fruits of my labour." This is also the time of year when I need to start filling the freezer, can and preserve all of the food that I grew for my family to eat. I really focus on three methods of food preservation: canning, freezing and dehydrating.
When it comes to canning, the technique is pretty simple. Put food into a jar and seal the jar so that no bacteria can attack your food. Obviously there are more steps involved, but from a basic perspective, this is what canning is. I do a lot of my canning of items like carrots, cucumbers and beans by incorporating a brine; a solution of salt and vinegar. (The salt is really just there for flavour).
This simple liquid, mixed with herbs, garlic, chilies or even spices not only preserves the food; it also imparts flavour into it.
Filling the freezer full of produce and meats is something that I picked up from my mother and her mother before that. Buying in bulk or growing and harvesting food to put away for when you need it is not only rewarding, it's an amazing way to feed your family healthy food and save money at the same time. I often incorporate a sheet pan when I am freezing "juicy" foods like strawberries or blueberries because they tend to stick together.
By spreading the food across the sheet pan, you can ensure that each piece freezes individually. The other big challenge with the use of the freezer is the damage from air in the bag or container. Called "freezer burn," it is one of the most common ways that food is damaged through dehydration and oxidation.
I use the FoodSaver vacuum sealing system to extend the life of my fresh AND frozen foods because it effectively removes the oxygen from their specially designed bags and containers that I freezing in. Studies have shown that your food will last up to five times longer by using a vacuum sealing system.
Finally, I often will dehydrate a lot of my foods to preserve them, especially the juicy ones like tomatoes and apples. Dehydration has some great benefits over canning and freezing. This process of drying out food removes more of the risk of botulism, requires less room for storage and is relatively inexpensive to do. The key to dehydrating food is to prepare it the way you plan on consuming it before you dry it out because it is often very difficult to work with once preserved.
Whether you have a garden or just visit the local farmers market, get out this fall and stock up on all the best and freshest fruits, meats and vegetables that your community has to offer. Just make sure that you are preserving them so that you can feed your family through the entire winter.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
The screw bands of jars don't need to be sterilized in boiling water (since they never come into direct contact with food), but the lids do. It doesn't hurt to throw the screw bands in with the lids, which have to be sterilized, just to play it safe. You can reuse the screw bands for future cannings, but the lids can only be used once. This is because the gasket, which seals around the lid of the jar during canning, changes its shape during processing and cannot reseal another jar.
To make sure that the jars are properly sterilized, wash them with soap and warm water. Make sure that they are free of nicks or scratches as these are breeding grounds for bacteria. Depending on what you are processing you may need to sterilize them further. Place the jars in a pot of boiling water -- right side up -- for 10 minutes (though depending on your elevation you may need more time).
It's important to consider the acidity of the food you are canning. Canned foods with inadequate levels of acidity (pH levels) are breeding grounds for the production of botulism -- more specifically, its vegetative cells which is what makes people sick. Many fruits have a naturally high level of acidity. And when pickling vegetables, acidity is added through vinegar. But in the case where there the pH levels aren't high enough you can add lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar.
While a funnel is not necessary for safe canning, if you don't have a steady hand it can make the process much simpler. When adding the food to be canned to the sterilized jars you want to keep the rims of the jars clean. If the rims have food stuck on them it can compromise the seal of the jar.
Headspace is the empty space between the top of the food and the lid. It is important because it gives food space to expand during processing. Headspace also plays a part in getting the proper vacuum seal. Without headspace, your jars might not seal properly. There should be about 1/2-1/4 inch of headspace depending on what you are processing.
The water bath is the last step of properly canning food. Allow a pot of water to come to a rolling boiling. Keep another pot of boiling water nearby in case you need to add more to the pot. Place the jars in the pot of boiling water, with space around them for the water to circulate. Maintain a level of 1-2 inches of water to top the jars. Process the jars the appropriate amount of time according to this chart.
How to know if your jar is properly sealed is by the lid. You can test it one of three ways to check for a seal: -Press the center of the lid with your finger. If it springs back, it is not properly sealed. -Tap the lid with the bottom of a spoon. If it makes a dull sound, it is not properly sealed. If it makes a ringing sound, it's correctly sealed. -Hold the jar at eye level. If the lid is concave, it's properly sealed. If the lid is flat or bulging, it is not. If your jar is not properly sealed, you need to reprocess it. Or you can store it in the fridge, but the contents will only be safe for consumption over the next couple of days.
Follow Carson Arthur on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@carsonarthur