Essential Pittsburgh
5:16 pm
Fri September 13, 2013

Preserving the Harvest, Beyond Canning

Pickling is a fairly simple preservation method. Find out how to create bread & butter pickles
Credit Rhonda Schuldt / Local Goodness

Food contributor, Rhonda Schuldt of LocalGoodness.com knows a number of ways for you to preserve your harvest this time of year. She shares some simple methods which go beyond the process of canning.

Freezing

Rhonda says freezing foods to 0 degrees or below is the easiest and least time consuming method of preserving. This inhibits the growth of organisms that cause spoilage and foodborne illness. Low acid produce can be ideal for freezing. Here are her recommendations for freezing fruits and vegetables:

-Blanch items like beans & corn first to keep enzymes from altering the texture too much.

-Peas are a great thing to freeze…simply remove from the pod and place in zip-top bag

-Slice and chop peppers and onions and store in zip-top bags for quick-adds to recipes, soups, sauces, etc.

-Blanch greens, drain and chop for additions to pastas, frittatas, soups, greens&beans, etc.

-Grate zucchini & summer squash in 1 cup portions to add to quick breads, soups and other dishes where you want veggie punch

-Freeze whole berries – great for smoothies, pies, fruit sauce -frozen grapes are a tasty, refreshing snack

-Pit & slice stone fruit. Add a bit of lemon juice or citric acid to keep color and have handy for making pies, jams, and smoothies

-Tomatoes can be frozen whole. Skins will slip off when thawed. Excellent when you want a fresh tomato taste in salsas, soups, sauces, chilis, etc.

-Grate apples and add a little lemon juice or citric acid and store for cookies, cakes, desserts. Or peel, slice and toss w/ cinnamon & sugar for a ready pie filling

Drying

This is probably the oldest method of preservation, it removes moisture to preserve food by creating an environment where spoilage organisms can't grow. Fruits, vegetables and meat are all appropriate for drying. While an electric dehydrator makes easy work of the process, it can be done in a home oven…or even outdoors with some ingredients if the temperature and conditions are right.

Pickling

A traditional food preservation method, originally used in the days before refrigeration. Depending on the size of the product being pickled and its acidity, the procedures and time required to process the food vary. Rhonda says it's important to follow recipes exactly because pickled foods are subject to spoilage from microorganisms.

Cucumbers, green tomatoes, onions, small peppers, beets, and cauliflower are the vegetables most commonly preserved in vinegar. The processes of pickling consist of a preliminary treatment to prepare vegetables for the vinegar and secondly, of the storage in plain or sweetened vinegar. The vinegar is the preserving agent, but a salt brine is sometimes used.

Infusions

A way to use seasonal items to transform a liquid (typically vinegar or alcohol), by adding fruit and herbs. Herbs make delicious infused vinegars, while fruit can transform a number of spirits into delicious liqueurs.

Rhonda recommends a Swiss recipe called "Officer's Jam" that creates a delicious fruit-infused sweet liqueur and potent "pickled" fruit:

-Take whatever fruit is available, layer it with an equal quantity of sugar.

-Use kirsch to cover red fruit and cognac for anything else.

-Keep it in an airtight stoneware or glass pot.

-Don't stir; just layer the fruit, sugar and kirsch or cognac.

-For the best results, wait 6 months before tasting it.

Fermentation

Utilizes certain desired microorganisms and is the process for transforming vegetables into sauerkraut and kimchee. When fermenting, vegetables are seasoned, then left to soak in their own juice and ferment in naturally occurring lactic bacteria. The sugar content of vegetables is transformed into lactic acid. Vegetables preserved this way are high in vitamins and minerals, and retain their color. Rhonda says this process is a simple, safe and effective way to preserve cabbage, cucumbers, beans, radishes, onions, Swiss chard, zucchini, and more.

No matter the type of preservation method, Rhonda emphasizes the fact that it’s always important to follow trusted guidelines and tested recipes.

Here are some of her favorite resources:

National Center for Home Food Preservation, an excellent resource for preserving -- canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, pickling, curing & smoking: 

University of Missouri Guide for Freezing Fruits

University of Missouri Guide for Freezing Vegetables

Try a few of Rhonda's LocalGoodness recipes as well:

Kale Pesto

Apple Chips

Morgan's Bread & Butter Pickles

Pesto

Vegetable Chips

Yankee Sauerkraut