Friday, May 21, 2010

Thinking Ahead To Preserving the Harvest

Hopefully by now, most readers have at least planned their garden even if you haven't started planting yet. But have you thought ahead to what you will need toward the end of the season to save all your produce? If you wait until late August or September to gather supplies, it will be too late to obtain certain items. For example, canning jars often are low in selection by the end of July!

Photo Credit: thebittenword.com

Harvest Preservation Supplies

Books. Do you have a good book on food preservation, one that includes canning, dehydrating, and fermenting? Or what about storing produce in a root cellar? Consider purchasing one or two that you can use all summer long as a reference for recipes, techniques, and troubleshooting. I'd love to hear about some favorites in this category from Homestead Revival™ readers!

Water Bath Canner. You can pick up this item at a reasonable price at a hardware or discount store! Definitely a must for every kitchen and a great first purchase if you're just starting into food preservation because the investment is relatively small.

Pressure Canner. If you like to can most vegetables, you'll need this item, but keep in mind that it is not the same as eating "fresh" produce as it cooks the food in the jar to some degree. It will also can meat, which is a big plus in my book. Have you ever had home canned tuna? Be still my heart! It's unbelievably good! Keep in mind that this is an investment purchase. Also, there is a difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner - it's called SIZE! You want your jars to fit inside. And I recommend getting the kind with the dial you can actually read. My wish list includes the All American Pressure Canner - the cadillac if you will of pressure canners. (Each season you should have your county extension agent check your pressure gauge for accuracy.)

Dehydrator. I personally love the dehydrator for drying herbs, tomatoes, fruits and this summer I hope to try drying some new things as well, such as veggies. I've had two different types of dehydrators, and may I recommend the Excalibur? It is also an investment item, but it does so much more than the round models that utilize rising heat only! (I think I need to devote an entire post to this kitchen jewel. Another day, another post.).

Vacuum Sealer. My number one favorite kitchen tool after my VitaMix. And to think I nearly didn't buy this because I wasn't sure I'd use it. Silly me! It's perfect for freezing the summer harvest at it's peak without cooking it to death in the process. However, the freezer can fill up quickly if you use this a lot. The attachment hose and jar sealer make it ideal for the dehydrated produce as well. (And can I mention how much I love the meat marinader that works with it?).

Photo Credit: thebittenword.com

Canning Jars and lids. I use to be forever frustrated that the size of jar I need was sold out when I went to the hardware store until I realized I could often order on-line and get free shipping. Ace Hardware on-line will deliver it to your local store for free, then you just need to pick it up, but they aren't carrying as much as they use to. Perhaps the selection will increase mid-summer, so keep your eyes pealed. Watch garage and estate sales, Craig's list, and discount stores, making sure you pick up a variety of sizes that you will need at the end of the season. And figure on extra! When selecting lids, keep in mind that most, if not all metal lids contain bpa. Leifheit use to claim they were bpa-free, but recently I've heard through bloggers that they now claim they do contain bisphenol A. Weck makes a lovely bpa-free jar and lid, however, they are a bit more of an investment. You might wish to purchase a few each year to add to your collection. Another product to consider are the Tattler Reusable Canning Lids that are bpa-free. I'd like to acknowledge the reader who told me about these, but forgive me... I can't remember who it was! My brain! (Please leave a comment if it was you so I can give the credit where it is due!). Anyway, I plan on trying these myself this summer.

Accessories. Don't forget the necessary things like jar lifters, cherry pitters, bags for your Food Saver, good knives, etc. Look through the recipes you hope to use and make a list!

Tomato Press. Oh, how I wish I had this last year! And I only canned a few jars of tomatoes. This year I planted 15 Roma alone, just so I could make lots of sauce, so I bought a tomato press at the end of the season last year to have on hand for this season. 

Natural Pectin. I had no idea there was such a thing, but there is! Pomona's Pectin. Check it out and order some now! I can actually get this at a large health food store in the big city, but I've ordered it on-line as well. 

Spices. Last year I looked everywhere for dill seed, which is apparently hard to come by. I could find dill weed, but not dill seed. Most local grocery stores don't always carry it. Again, go through your recipes and see what you might need.

My first choice would be to eat produce fresh from the garden and thus, my goal to garden year-round. In the meantime, however, I like to use a variety of preserving methods depending on the fruit or vegetable I'm storing. Consideration is always given to how it will retain it's most nutrients when preserved.  And because of the expense in acquiring items for preservation, I've had to make a wish list and prioritize the things that are most important to me and spend my dollars there first. Be sure to tell family members in case you have a birthday coming up! 

If you can't afford something you need, consider teaming up with friends who might have the necessary tool. They might really appreciate your help when veggies are coming off the vine faster than any one person can preserve them. And the fellowship is always a wonderful bonus. 


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