By Julia Howard
Late summer’s bounty of fruits and vegetables is here. Vine-ripened tomatoes shift from green to red almost overnight, ripe cucumbers seem to hide under every leaf, and zucchinis of all shapes and sizes make impressive harvests. Whether you are a home gardener or an avid farmers’ market shopper, the abundance of summer produce can be overwhelming as they are only fresh for so long.
While enjoying fresh food is undoubtedly the best, preserving fresh fruits and vegetables has many benefits. Canning, drying, and freezing allow you to control your food ingredients and eat healthy year-round. Preserving food reduces food waste, waste in landfills, and our environmental footprint. It also contributes to the local economy and your wallet. With time and proper instruction, canning, drying, and freezing food is surprisingly easy.
There are specific methods to preserve certain foods; however, the fruits and vegetables that can be preserved are countless. Apples may be cooked down into applesauce for canning or freezing. Tomatoes may be stewed or dried or made into sauce or salsa. Cucumbers, beets, bell peppers, cauliflower, and green beans can be pickled. Mushrooms, berries, herbs, and even kale can be dried. You can freeze fruit, and many vegetables can be blanched and frozen.
Before getting started, Diane Whitten, Food Preservation Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, stresses the importance of food safety. “Always start with good quality fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Whitten. “Preserve them as soon as possible,” she adds.
In the day of online recipes and instructions, Whitten emphasizes the importance of using safe preservation methods to avoid spoilage, contamination, and even botulism (food poisoning caused by bacteria). Whitten offers several in-depth presentations and how-to videos from verified sources on Cornell Cooperative Extension’s website. Whitten also recommends The National Center for Home Food Preservation as an online source for current research-based recommendations for most home food preservation methods.
Don’t shy away when you find a good deal on a flat of tomatoes, a bushel of apples, or quarts of beets, cucumbers, or beans at the farmers’ market. There is a use for everything, and preserving food at home can be fun and very beneficial.
This week’s recipe: Refrigerator Pickled Beets