Saving For a Rainy (or Snowy) Day
We rank high on the agricultural output scale, despite our fleeting fresh fare season. But there are ways to extend that summer feeling.
Photographs by Cybelle Codish
The great thing about Michigan’s bounty is being able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. But let’s face it. The harvest season here doesn’t last forever — and neither does the good weather. So if you’d like to preserve a bit of summer goodness for the long cold winter, there are several options to consider.
Putting fruit or vegetables in airtight containers (usually glass jars) is one common method. The good news is the results can be stored for years. The bad news is that some of the methods require special equipment. Pressure canning is recommended for foods with low acidity (most veggies). It gets temperatures above the boiling point needed to reduce the threat of botulism. High-acid foods (fruits) can be canned using a simpler “hot packing” technique. Sterilize your jars first. Place the produce in the jar, top it with boiling water (leaving space for expansion), and close with a threaded lid. Another method is the water-bath canning. For advice, a good resource is simplycanning.com. A more extensive resource is the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning: nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html.
Salting can be used for sliced vegetables as well as meat and fish. A low-salt method promotes the growth of lactic acid bacteria, good bacteria that inhibits bad bacteria. It also slightly pickles vegetables. A higher percentage of salt (between 20 and 25 percent) preserves freshness but leaves a saltier flavor. A good resource is the homepreservingbible.com.
Drying dehydrates the fruit or vegetables and removes all the water (as well as bacteria, yeasts, and mold) but doesn't cook it. Drying also concentrates the taste. One benefit is that you don't need special packaging. Drying can be done outdoors (if there's low humidity) or in the oven. You can also purchase an electric dehydrator. In the oven, you need low temperature and good air circulation. Think big: fruit leathers, celery, and mushrooms. The University of Georgia has a helpful guide on the National Center for Home Food Preservation's site.
Freezing fruit, vegetables, and herbs can “lock in” the fresh flavor. It’s best to freeze them soon after they’re picked. In most cases, it’s recommended that you blanch vegetables (a minute or two in boiling water) first. Store below zero for the best long-term results. Unless you’re freezing liquids, remove as much air as possible from the container. You might want to invest in a vacuum sealer (it reduces freezer burn). WedMD is a good site for tips: webmd.com/food-recipes/guide-to-freezing-fresh-produce.