Tips for Effective Canning and Freezing
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE CANNING AND FREEZING
Last week I posted an article on canning and freezing as popular ways to preserve foods, especially for those like us who grow vegetables and fruits. They're both good preservation methods that will prevent waste and save a lot money. But things can go wrong, and sometimes your efforts to can and freeze don't turn out too well. Here are some tips for successful canning and freezing.
For the best bet at success, preserve seasonal, local foods. They are fresher, and may be more nutritious. Seasonal foods grown locally are also less likely to be sprayed with preservatives and other chemicals to protect them during long shipment. In short, they are just better quality food, and high-quality, fresh foods keep their color and texture well.
If you are freezing fresh food, blanching the food before freezing it can up your success rates considerably. To blanch foods, dip them in boiling water for a few minutes, then remove them quickly and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. You can also blanch by steaming before the ice water bath. Sources say that blanched foods keep their color, flavor, and texture better than those that are frozen when raw.
The importance of cleanliness in preserving foods - especially canning - cannot be overemphasized. It's vital that you follow your canning recipe closely and that you update it. For instance, old recipes may call for a hot water bath when pressure canning is really the only way to be sure the germs are killed. Make sure you use sterilized jars, jar tops, funnel, and tongs.
Getting the air out of preserved foods is essential. In canned goods, you can tap the bottom of the jar sharply on the kitchen counter to release air bubbles. Draw the air out of plastic zip top bags with a straw.
If there is a sale on produce at your local market or grocery store, canning and freezing are excellent ways to keep that wonderful money-saver from going to waste.
For freezing foods, the colder the temperature, the better. This means that you may need to invest in a case freezer rather than using your refrigerator's freezer. Case freezers keep the temperature lower than the average fridge freezer, and the colder the temperature, the longer the food can be kept. Sources say it's a myth that very cold temperatures cause freezer burn. Freezer burn actually happens when the food dries out partially.
Preserve in Small Batches
Success is more likely if you do a small batch at a time. Food also has less time to harbor bacteria if you're working with small amounts.
It's frustrating when you're in the middle of a canning or freezing project and you find you need a piece of equipment. And then you may not be able to find it! Gather all your necessary equipment together before starting. Review our Guide to Food Canning and Freezing
Tips for Freezing Herbs
Did you know freezing herbs is a great way to preserve them? You have probably thought of drying herbs, which I wrote about in A Guide to Making Your Own Spices, but freezing is another great way to preserve herbs, and some say frozen herbs are superior in flavor to dried ones. You also don't have to worry about mold or insects infesting your frozen herbs.
Frozen herbs do tend to act and taste more like fresh herbs in recipes, and you don't need to thaw them before use unless you're putting them in something raw, like a salad.
Here are some tips and suggestions on freezing fresh herbs.
One way to freeze herbs is simply to put entire sprigs in a single layer in a zip top plastic bag, suck the air out with a straw, and seal. Or layer the sprigs between pieces of wax paper. When you want to use them, simply break or cut off a piece and chop it, then re-seal the bag. This would work well with herbs where you use the stem in addition to the leaves, such as parsley.
For herbs where the stem is tough and woody or you just prefer to use only the leaves, cutting the leaves off prior to freezing works well, too. You might want to use small freezer bags to freeze the leaves so you can avoid opening and re-sealing a large bag too often.
If you like, you can chop your herbs first. Place the chopped pieces into ice cube trays, add a bit of boiling water, and freeze. Then pop them out of the trays and freeze in zip top bags. Add a cube or two to soups and stews.
To Wash or Not to Wash
If you've grown your herbs in a greenhouse, on your porch, in your windowsill, or in your garden with no chemicals sprayed on them, then you don't necessarily have to wash them. Some experts say that washing them actually has a negative effect on the flavor.
However, if you've gathered your herbs from an area where spraying has or may have occurred, rinsing them well and patting them dry first is a good idea. If you want to make sure there are no dirt or insects on your chemical-free herbs, then you can always briefly swish them in a pan of water and pat them dry.
You can also blanch your herbs by dipping them in boiling water for a few seconds, just until their color brightens.
When to Harvest
Herbs are best harvested when they are at their peak. Cut them when they are not wilted, brown, or spent from flowering. Sources agree that cutting them in the morning is best. Use sharp scissors so you don't mash the stem.
Ideas for Your Canned and Frozen Foods
Canned and frozen foods are considered healthier than commercially preserved foods, and they're cheaper, too. But sometimes you may be stumped as to how to use your foods once they are frozen or canned. What do you do with that can of corn, for example, or those frozen tomatoes? What about the frozen strawberries and canned carrots?
Here are some ideas and recipes to help you make use of your preserved foods:
Frozen fruits have lots of uses, and it can be a welcome taste change in the middle of winter. Here are some ideas to try.
Puree any frozen fruit with a liquid of your choice to make a healthful smoothie. The varieties are almost endless, and you can "health-fy" the smoothie with added healthful ingredients. Examples might include these combinations:
- Frozen strawberries, vanilla almond milk, unsweetened cocoa powder, and ground flax
- Frozen bananas, peanut butter, wheat germ, and vanilla nut milk
- Frozen grapes, raspberries, and blueberries with unsweetened apple juice
- Frozen fruits can also be cooked down for sauces or ice cream.
Frozen vegetables like bell peppers can be used to top pizza; corn and beans can be added to soups. Try this frozen vegetable soup for garden-fresh flavors in fall and winter:
Make a lovely fruit salad by mixing various canned fruits and adding some fresh sliced banana. You can use them in pie and cobbler filling. Stir some home-canned fruit into yogurt, put a dollop on ice cream, or add some to gelatin to make a molded salad. For a healthful dessert, spoon canned fruit over shaved ice.
Use in recipes that call for canned vegetables or recipe that call for fresh vegetables. Del Monte has some great vegetarian recipes that use canned fruits and vegetables: http://www.delmonte.com/recipes