Preserving This Summer's Bounty


Country MoonWhen it comes to summer produce, nothing tastes better than fresh, hands down. It is also the best for you nutritionally, because fresh always has the highest concentration of nutrients and antioxidants.

Although the harvest season is short, people have been preserving its bounty for years. The most popular methods are canning and freezing, but there are other options. There is no right one; the choice depends on personal preference, length of planned storage, and the particular type of produce being preserved. As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to each method.

Canning is the process of sealing food tight in various containers, usually canning jars. It alters the food chemically by changing the PH balance and moisture levels to protect against microbes, bacteria, mold, and yeast. Combining these processes with the physical barriers of glass jars, seals, and lids prevents decay. Canned foods, whether store-bought or home-processed, can be stored for years. Food will not spoil as long as the seals are not broken, although flavor and appearance may be compromised.

The downside of canning is that foods lose 65% of their nutritional value as compared to fresh. Of course, being able to enjoy the foods in the winter and getting 45% of the nutrients is better than not having them at all. However. improper processing and poor sanitation can result in deadly botulism. For this reason, a pressure canner is always recommended, as well as using sterilized jars, lids, and utensils.

Freezing perishables is a relatively quick process and only requires freezer containers and time. The texture of processed foods is a big reason why people prefer freezing over canning, or vice versa. Personally, I like green beans better canned while I like peas better frozen. Freezing also allows you to spread out the processing of fresh produce. Garden veggies usually all ripen at the same time, regardless of when planted. I am always hard-pressed for enough time to preserve corn, tomatoes, green beans, beets, and a host of other veggies simultaneously. Tomatoes and peppers especially lend themselves well to being washed, chopped, and frozen until later in the season, or even winter. It is much nicer to make salsa, chili sauce, and spaghetti sauce at a leisurely pace.

Blanching vegetables, which is simply the process of plunging them into boiling water and then into cold water, stops the enzyme activity and helps maintain the nutritional value by preserving some vitamins better than canning. Although vitamins B and C are lost in frozen foods and antioxidants are lower in frozen than fresh, vitamins A and E, carotenoids, fiber, minerals, and protein retain their values in frozen foods.

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