Thursday, June 13

Home Preservation Basics : Canning, Freezing, & Drying Foods

"Home canning puts the pleasure of eating natural, delicious produce at your fingertips year-round."

On a good year, summertime brings a bounty from the garden, as well as a lot of hot mornings spent canning....but there's something soothing about hearing the tiny pop-pop-pops of lids sealing, and seeing the beautifully-colored jars lining shelves.

We grew it, we canned it, and come wintertime, we will enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of our labor!

A Quick Word on Preservation Techniques...
Not everything is conducive to canning.  Some foods do better when they are frozen or dehydrated.  We'll talk about all three techniques.

  • Advantages: Dried fruits take up considerably less space and are ideal for hiking / camping since they are a fraction of the weight. Dried vegetables can also be added to soups and casseroles in the wintertime when fresh produce is not in peak season. 
  • Disadvantages: Nutritionally speaking vitamins A and C will be destroyed by the heat and air during this processing. Water is necessary for making most items usable in future recipes. 
  • Advantages: Freezing is one of the top preservation methods to protect nutritional value. Using frozen produce can be huge time saver in a crunch. Just add frozen veggies to a casserole or stir-fry for a quick dinner, or use defrost frozen fruit for a quick dessert. Nutritious and quick! 
  • Disadvantages: Freezing expands the food's natural water, and can result is ruptured cell walls and a softer texture when thawed. Additionally, there is some research that thawing will also degrade vitamin C, so go ahead a cook your veggies frozen or toss some frozen fruit into a smoothie for a healthy treat. 
  • Advantages: Fruits and vegetables can make tasty gifts, provide year round decoration and may be the main ingredient in your pizza or pasta sauce. Almost all fruits and vegetables can be canned, but for low-acid vegetables, pressure canning is the safest method to reduce the risk of botulism, a type of food poisoning associated with canned foods. 
  • Disadvantages: The process of pressure canning usually involves first heating the food product to destroy bacteria and then placing food in a sterilized container. The contents are then sealed by using high heat to generate pressure that causes steam to push the remaining air out of the cans. Unfortunately, these are steps that cannot be skipped and both heating and boiling result in loss of water-soluble nutrients. Commercial canning usually involves even more processing and can lead to further nutrient loss.
A Food Preservation Week

To get started, take your children to gather, or buy, the food you want to preserve. You want to preserve the freshest fruits and vegetables, and that means using what is in season and, when possible, using local produce. A good u-pick farm or farmer's market should offer the local and fresh produce you want.

Prep your produce.  Snap the beans, pit the cherries, slice the fruits & veggies... The children can do some of these things, but follow behind them (eg, be sure all the cherries got pitted). Make sure that they have clear instructions, and always budget extra time!  We usually do these tasks the afternoon / evening before our big canning day.


I try to do the easy stuff first -- freezing is super easy. The fruit is cut into small slices and frozen on a pan, then transferred into a large freezer bag. This helps prevent the fruit from sticking together and turning into one large lump. 

The vegetables take a bit longer, since they need to be blanched (dropped in boiling water for a couple of minutes) first and then frozen the same way. The kids can help with freezing and drying, but I only let them watch the canning process.  

Canning is something that intimidates a lot of've probably heard a story or two of someone who was horribly burned or had a fire because of a canning accident, but the new canners have safety features built in that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn't have. There's never been a better time to start canning!

Today, we'll focus on pickles and jam. We do the pickles first (don't cook them - they'll be mushy). We cheated a bit, using a mixed spice pack in our brine.  In the interest of saving time, while the cukes process in the water bath, we clean up the pans and start boiling and mashing the fruit for jams.I highly recommend using the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for directions on how long to put the jars in the water bath. A pressure canner would also work, but we use the bath. Make sure that there is space under the jars, and at least an inch of water above the jars, for circulation.  You can do this with a washcloth or a canning basket.

Process your jars based on the jar size and recommended time.  After removing the jars from the water bath, place them on a cooling rack and wait for the joyous POP POP POP of the lids sealing. (If you don't hear the pop, they still might be sealed, but check each one before storing.)

A few years ago, I picked up a dehydrator for a song at an estate sale, and then found several additional trays and accessories the following week at Salvation Army. God really wanted me to have a food dryer! We have used it excessively, preserving anything and everything. My husband even makes jerky with it in the winter.

After trying three or four different brands of dehydrator, this one is definitely my favorite. It works very quickly and effectively, puts out minimal heat and noise, and has various accessories, such as the fruit roll-up trays and mesh inserts for smaller foods.

Foods with a lot of water (melons are a good example) don't dry that well.  You CAN dry them, but it's not high on my list of things to do.  Berries, apples, pears...these are some great choices for drying.  I usually buy a huge case of blueberries, then dry and portion them into vacuum bags for use in baking later.

I take excess peppers, carrots, potatoes, and even greens, dice them up into small pieces, and dry them to use as a soup blend.  During the colder months, you can put this blend into the crockpot with some meat and broth for a hearty soup!

Twenty-four hours after slicing and laying them out, we had dried apples, bell peppers, cherries, blueberries, soup blend, and mango chips. Most will be used in future recipes, but the apple & mango are just for snacking.

Getting Started with Home Canning

Pick up the Homemaking & Homesteading Bundle in our Cottage Shoppe!  

The bundle includes twenty-four tutorials with background information for anyone who is interested in homemaking and homesteading. Topics are broken down into:
  • In the Kitchen – Fall & Winter
  • In the Kitchen – Spring & Summer
  • Around the Homestead – Inside
  • Around the Homestead – Outside
For more great homesteading fun, check out the Homesteading Course at SchoolhouseTeachers!

This homeschool homesteading course is designed for anyone who has a desire to live more independently and prepare much of what is needed each day using their own hands. In this elective course, the student can learn how to work for what they want by making it themselves, instead of participating in an “on demand” society. Homeschool students of all ages learn patience, along with the skills needed to make their own cleaners for the home, sunscreen, homemade ketchup and dry mixes, as well as how to choose animals and prepare for emergencies, and much more. Learning the patience and usefulness of “doing it yourself” can be immensely helpful not only in the sense of living a healthier life, but also for the budget!

1 comment:

  1. I've done a lot of canning in my life, pressure cooking to can is a method I have not tried.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.