Preserving the harvest. What's your favorite method?

grn_grl(6/7)August 10, 2011

Hey y'all I'm a newbie here but I've been loving the posts lately about preserving our harvests. I just wanted to know what your favorite method is. I've tried it all. I did a lot of canning last year but haven't done any yet this year because my yields were down, AND because I'm in love with my dehydrator. I can do small batches of multiple veggies and it is so much more kid friendly for the time I have available to preserve. I put dehydrated veggies into winter soups and sauces and am really pleased with the results. I also freeze produce (lots of pesto this year! Yay!) but I use the ziplock vacuum seal system instead of the food saver vacuum seal system because my food saver didn't last more than two seasons and it's just too expensive to replace all the time. Oh and i use those awesome ball freezer containers too. I'd love any advice you have or tips on what you have found that works.

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Hey, grn-girl.
When it comes to food preservation, two things are tops on my list. Safety, and quality. Even the slightest risk from botulism is too much risk for me. All non-acid veggies go in the freezer and only jams, pickles and so on are canned. I've found that even some of the really fragile fruits can be frozen if it's done in a very light syrup with FruitFresh added. Things like figs will not be exactly like fresh, but they handle it a lot better than you'd think, and they are so much better than the canned product you'd buy in a store.. Blackberries and raspberries are spread on a cookie sheet to freeze individually before being bagged. Pecans or walnuts are oven roasted before being frozen. It brings up the flavor and helps preserve them as well.

We have a lot of the wild persimmon trees (doesn't everyone) and I can't buy the big fancy persimmons here that I use for a favorite cookie recipe. I just gather the best of the ripe fruit from the wild trees and run it through a food mill (ricer) to get rid of the seeds and skins and then put it in freezer bags in the measured amount for the recipe. I can pull out a bag and make 'fresh' persimmon cookies in February, and it works really well. The neighbor kids appear like magic for them.

If you've ever frozen much of the fishing catch, you already know that fragile stuff will do much better if it's surrounded by water and the air is exhausted from the bag. The quality improves pretty dramatically when you do that.

Peppers, beans and so on are processed as quickly as possible, and I get them ready for use before they go in the freezer. Peppers are diced, beans are broken up ready for eating, given a minute in a scalding water bath and then plunged into an ice bath before being drained and vacuum-packed in bags. Corn on the cob, the same way. I just break them into short cobs so they are easier to pack. Leek is cleaned and sliced before freezing.

I haven't done it recently, but when I had a big garden and a picky boss who used to fly in unexpectedly, I'd make up gazpacho soup in advance, leaving out only the avocado chunks. Put it in freezer bags and have it ready to thaw (along with some Texas toast) on a moment's notice. You can use up excess cukes, peppers, and tomatoes that way, and have garden fresh gazpacho any time of the year that you can find an avocado to add to it.. Extending the harvest and enjoying your good produce out of season is the whole point of the garden, isn't it? Nearly all the vegetable soups can be done that way. If they are going to be a cream soup, just add the cream when they are defrosted later on.

I suppose it goes without saying, but I always lay the freezer bags down flat until they are frozen solid. Then they can be stood on end or stacked and take up very little room.. I also measure the contents into portion sizes and label it on the front, 2 C. or whatever it is, so there's no guesswork later.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2011 at 8:21PM
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I never roast nuts before freezing and rarely roast them for a recipe because I like the fresh taste better than a roasted one.

Since I have learned that the pecan harvest is very good some years and not so good in others, I usually buy heavy and expect to be using them longer than one year. I never have a problem with them keeping. I shell them and place them in Ziploc freezer bags, then put those bags inside a large paper grocery bag like I get from Braums. I take out one Ziploc at a time and move it to the freezer in my kitchen and keep them frozen until I am ready to use them.

I agree that fish does better in water, but I don't try to keep it over a long period. My daughter loves fish, so she usually takes some home if I have any in the freezer. I haven't frozen fish this year because of the blue-green algae thing, but this rain and cooler weather should fix a lot of that problem. Since fish is so available to us, I don't try to freeze a years worth at one time.

When I have a lot of green beans, I can them. When I am only getting smaller quantities I usually freeze the excess. I freeze broccoli, and this year I frozen lots of 1/2 cup size packages of chopped onion.

With tomatoes, I make salsa. After that I normally can tomatoes and okra or tomatoes and squash. I can pickled squash or make squash relish with extra squash. We eat an amazing amount of tomatoes fresh when they are in season.

I use a lot of peppers so I cut up peppers and freeze them for later use. I make two different bags. One is just sweet peppers that are chopped raw and frozen in Ziploc freezer bags. It is easy to pour out what is needed for one recipe then return the bag to the freezer. I also freeze a spicy pepper mix which has sweet peppers, along with any hot peppers I have available.

I seem to handle okra differently than almost everyone on this forum, because I just wash it, freeze it whole, and cut it up while still half frozen. Unless I buy it, I won't have any to freeze this year.

I dehydrate very little now, although I did when I lived where there was a lot of fruit available. I will dry a few hot peppers in late fall to grind for hot pepper flakes or powder.

I have not been happy with the vacuum sealer I have so I almost never use it. We bought half a beef this summer and the packing plant sealed it in clear vacuumed bags and it seems to hold up well.

My garden this year was very poor so preservation methods have not been much of a problem. Luckily I still have a lot of things left from last year when it produced abundantly and my son's apple tree was loaded. My freezers are almost full and I have lots of dry grains which I prefer to store whole and grind myself. I have a few hens which give me 6-10 eggs a day.

When you have a nice garden and preserve the excess, it is amazing how many things you can pass by in the grocery store. I find that I walk through the store thinking, 'I have plenty of that', 'I have that in the freezer', 'That will be ready in a few days', etc. etc.

With grocery prices today being excessive, and rising all of the time, any food in your house is a blessing. The extremes in weather this year along with a poor economy and high employment, should make everyone joyful that they had a garden and can save a little of it for winter.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 10:32AM
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Carol, I absolutely agree that fish should not be kept in the freezer for very long. Six months is fine, but never for a year or more. Ick!

You're lucky your birds are still laying. Ours quit for the first time when the heat moved in for the duration. I'm hoping they'll start up again soon.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 3:43PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I use different preservation methods for different foods, and sometimes use several different preservation methods for one thing. For example, with peaches from the peach tree last year, I froze some for use in the future in homemade ice cream, cobblers or to eat half frozen/half thawed, and made some into jelly, jam, peach butter and spiced peach butter. Of course, we ate all of them fresh that we could as well.

I tend to freeze broccoli, spinach, sugar snap peas, okra, corn, green beans, southern peas, and some tomatoes, peppers and onions.

With excess cabbage, I'll make freezer slaw and sauerkraut.

When we have a huge bumper crop of onions like we did this year, I set aside a certain amount for fresh eating and store them in the root cellar (which is actually the tornado shelter). With the others, I use some in pickling recipes and when making Habanero Gold jelly, and then I chop and slice the others and prepackage them in quantities suitable for cooking. The extra freezer out in the garage is absolutely full of frozen onions from this year's harvest.

Fresh carrots will last a long time in the fridge as well fresh cabbage, so I put the extra ones in the extra refrigerator we have out in the garage, or slice/freeze carrots. I also grate/freeze some to use in carrot cake.

With bell peppers, I slice and freeze them to use in beef-pepper steak, or freeze peppers mixed with sliced onions to use when cooking fajitas. Sometimes I chop some and freeze them to use when cooking in winter.

After we eat all we can fresh, some tomatoes are frozen fresh and used in soups, stews and sauces in winter. I dehydrate the bite-sized ones in vast quantities most years and then we eat them all winter long. Some tomatoes get made into canned salsa. Some are made into pasta sauce. Sometimes I've made tomato jam.

Peppers are really versatile and can be preserved in many ways. With hot peppers, I usually can some jars of sliced jalapenos, and other jars of Candied Jalapenos. I'll make red jalapeno jelly and green jalapeno jelly. I'll roast some and freeze them to use in cooking, and I'll cut some in half, cut off the ends and deseed them, and freeze them to use to make jalapeno poppers. I'll dehydrate some and grind them into powder or chop some up first in the food processor and dry those as 'pepper flakes'.

With melons, we eat most of them fresh, but sometimes I make melon balls and freeze them (they taste best if you eat them when they are only half-thawed which keeps their texture from being too mushy). Dehydrated cantaloupe is really good, but really, really sweet.

With plums, we mostly eat them fresh or use them to make jelly, jam, plum butter and spiced plum butter. Sometimes I dry some, effectively making our own prunes.

With berries, after we eat all we want fresh, I either make jelly or jam, or I freeze them for future use. If you don't have enough strawberries or blackberries or blueberries to make their own jelly or jam, you can combine the berries together and make Bumbleberry Jam.

Some foods are best preserved in a root cellar, or indoors in conditions that are as close to root cellar conditions as you can get them, and this includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and winter squash/pumpkins. Some of the winter squash I grow most years will last about a year in storage, and some sweet potatoes can last almost that long too.

With cucumbers, pickling is how we use them, and with excess summer squash/zucchini, I either freeze the yellow summer squash to use in squash casserole or grate/freeze the zucchini to use in zucchini bread, cake, cookies, etc.

Most herbs can be either frozen or dried.

I just try to preserve foods using whatever method will give me the 'results' I want, in terms of how I intend to use that item in the future. Freezing is quickest and easiest most of the time, but you have to use other methods because the freezers will fill up fast in a good year.

Obviously the weather this year meant that the garden didn't produce excessively huge amounts of produce from July onward, but in a good year like last year, I will fill up 3 freezers, can hundreds of jars of stuff, fill up the shelves in the root cellar and will dehydrate as much as I can manage to get done.

It is fun to walk through the produce section of the grocery store and not buy stuff. It is fun to walk by the egg section and not have to buy them too. Our eggs are fresher and taste better anyway. Our chickens lay eggs year-round despite the heat or cold, and one hen has been setting on her eggs and so far 8 little chicks have hatched. That's more egg producers for us!

I love preserving our own food even though keeping up with all the processing can be hard in a really bountiful year. I get a lot of satisfaction from raising as much of our food as I can here at our place.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2011 at 5:24PM
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I absolutely LOVE these responses! I have a few specific questions for all of you more experienced pioneer folk. 1. I am totally inspired to harvest and freeze our persimmons now, but when are they ready to pick? I've gone out tasting of ours throughout the fall to see when the hairy tounge effect has passed, but rarely do I get to them at their perfect state before the animals do or they fall off the tree. 2. I pickled so much last year and was a little discouraged by the results ( I know there is another thread on here for this subject, I should check it) especially the okra which two weeks after pickling was amazingly good, but several months later a mess of slimy mush. Also my pickles are just not crisp. I use recipes from the ball blue book of canning, but haven't tried brine recipes yet. 3. Tomatoes in the freezer? I made salsa and froze it last year and it was very thin when i thawed it. I puree then dehydrate the tomatoes into leathers that resemble flakes then freeze that and use it for sauce or soup base. I would love to know how you freeze tomatoes and how they turn out. I'm too chicken to can salsa that whole botulism issue scares me.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 4:29PM
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Don't be frightened by botulism. Just follow approved, safety tested recipes and follow safe canning practices. Several of us put up Annie's Salsa from the Harvest Forum. If you aren't successful with a search for it, let us know and we'll help you.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 7:19PM
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I have never done them, but my grandmother, mother and sister, all experienced canners, have had trouble at times with green beans going bad. We won't touch the home canned variety. Its real easy to tell a bad jar fairly quick and then there is the mess to deal with. We choose freezing and just buying canned green beans. You can pickle them, however.

Our favorite is fresh corn scraped off the cob, frozen in bags and cooked with a bit of bacon. This one is top on the list.

Pickled okra. Freezes well which is good because its expensive to buy.

Dill pickles with a grape leaf on top of the cucumbers and a red cheyenne pepper + garlic stuffed down the side of the jar for some heat. These are our favorite dills and look very pretty canned.

Tomatoes canned. I think the frozen ones taste like rotten tomatoes.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 7:35PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

The only persimmons we have are the native ones that grow wild here. We have those trees all over our property. I don't pick them until after we've had a hard freeze or two, which generally is November. They are strongly astringent before the first freeze, then they are much better after a freeze or two and even better if they've turned black. I do have to fight the coyotes for every single persimmon from the shorter trees because the coyotes will eat them while they're still green. I think that's why we have so many persimmon trees---the coyotes 'plant' the seeds after eating the fruit.

Canned salsa is perfectly safe. Just follow the directions precisely and don't freelance or alter recipes. I made over 140 jars of Annie's Salsa last year and we give them to friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors, and no one has died yet. : ) So far, Annie's Salsa is my favorite of all the kinds I've ever made, and because you do add canned tomato paste to it, it has a texture/thickness much closer to that of commercially canned salsa. The folks who work with my DH love Annie's Salsa so much (we give it as Christmas gifts most years) that they almost cry if their gift bag doesn't have a jar of Annie's Salsa (some years I don't have 100+ jars of each thing I've canned, so they don't all get the same things in their Christmas gift bags). It amazes me that something so simple makes people so happy. Habanero Gold jelly is another great success story from the Harvest Forum.

Frozen salsa can thin out a little when you thaw it because of the water content in the tomatoes. You can 'fix' it by stirring in a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste after you thaw it. You can sometimes prevent it by chopping up your tomatoes to make salsa for the freezer and then letting them sit in a colander or strainer over the sink for a couple of hours while all the excess moisture drains out. Most paste tomatoes are so thick and meaty that they don't give you watery salsa, but regular slicing tomatoes will because of their higher water content.

For crisper pickles, use only pickling varieties of pickles, pick them younger and smaller, and pickle them as soon as you pick them--not a day or two later. Be sure you're cutting the ends off the cukes and discarding them. You also might want to try some of the recipes that call for the use of "pickle crisp" or for brining or fermenting.

I freeze tomatoes all the time. I just put whole tomatoes in the freezer in ziplock bags, and then either use them for canning or cooking, but don't eat them raw half-thawed or fully thawed because I don't like the texture. For cooking, they taste perfectly fine. Most years I freeze gallons and gallons of bite-sized tomatoes after I've dehydrated them and we eat them for months and months. This year I haven't frozen much and haven't canned or dehydrated anything. Fires have kept me busy, so we've just given away all the extra tomatoes and peppers and stuff. I know I'll regret that this winter, but it is a priority to keep our firefighters well-fed and well-hydrated, so gardening/food preservation has taken a back seat to the work with the volunteer fire departments.

I don't pickle okra, so cannot comment on it. Did you follow an approved recipe for pickled okra? If you did, I cannot imagine what went wrong. If your frozen okra turned black and slimey, I'm guessing you didn't blanch it first. If you don't blanch it, then the enzymes that cause ripening continue to be active and it can turn all slimey and black.

I'd can salsa or any other tomato product with no fear whatsoever as long as I was using a safety-approved recipe. They all have enough vinegar, lime juice or lemon juice to give them the right (as in safe) pH. For Annie's Salsa, we liked it fine when made with vinegar, but then when I followed the safety-approved suggestion to substitute bottled lemon juice (bottled, not fresh-squeezed, because the bottled has a stable, tested, uniform pH level) and/or bottled lime juice, we liked the Annie's Salsa even more. We've canned hundreds of jars of Annie's Salsa during the last 5 or 6 years and haven't had a single jar go bad or a single person get sick from eating it.

It is wise to be concerned about botulism, but with salsa properly canned, it isn't going to happen. I do hear a lot more about botulism with green beans or listeria with pickles, but that's because proper canning procedures weren't followed. For example, people will freelance and add some other vegetable to the green beans, which is a no-no, or they'll add oil or meat, also a no-no. Or, they'll use a boiling water bath canner for the beans, instead of a pressure canner, which is not safe. Lots of people make refrigerator pickles without canning them and that's where the listeria problem develops. Some old refrigerator pickle recipes that used to be considered safe have been found via modern-day testing to no longer be considered safe. So, as long as you're using current, tested, safety-approved methods, and not out-of-date, obsolete ones, you do not have to worry. It is good to be concerned about safe procedures, but not good to be paranoid. Canning isn't fun if you make yourself crazy with worry. : )

I freeze all my excess green beans. It is so much faster than canning and we like frozen better than canned. It probably depends on what you grew up with. I grew up on frozen green beans from the garden, so that's what I like. Some people grew up eating canned green beans, so that's what they like.

Please don't be afraid of salsa. It is one of the simplest things to can. I believe salsa was the very first thing I canned on my own after I grew up and left home (used to make salsa with my dad when I was a kid) and I haven't had a single batch fail yet. The only thing I think is easier and more worryfree than salsa is jelly. Anyone can make jelly. I feel the same way about salsa though. With a safety-approved recipe that is followed exactly, anyone can make salsa. Even a caveman can do it.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 8:24PM
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I can most things, unless they don't can well or taste good canned. I like dehydrated sundries cherry tomatoes. I'm going to try dehydrating eggplant this fall, as well as pickling a bit, since we never seem to eat much of the frozen eggplant dishes that I put up.
Right now, I don't have an extra, large freezer, just an extra refrigerator with a top freezer. I feed my dogs Raw prey diet, so my freezers are overfilled with meat on sale all the time. I'm hoping to buy a large freezer this fall, although I don't know how wise this is, since we'll probably be moving next fall. Although, how much can you really lose on a used, Craig's List freezer?
Anyway, I guess my current preference would be can, dehydrate, freeze. I love the flexibility of canning. The other day, we were going out of town just as we were leaving, I noticed everything in the one freezer was thawed out! Thankfully, the freezer was rather empty, awaiting the next dog meat order. But still, I ended up moving everything, juggling, leaving stuff in the fridge. And, if that had been a full freezer, or if we had been out of town, think of all the food we could of lost. Point is, the freezer is not a reliable method of preservation. Any power outage or freezer breakdown can cause a huge loss of food and can be costly.
I don't worry about botulism because I follow USDA guidelines closely, using only approved recipes. It's amazing how creative you can actually be, once you learn what changes you can make without effecting food safety. ( dry spices, sugar, salt) I'm canning chicken stock tomorrow, from my homegrown chicken, and this weekend I'll be getting some pears and apples $0.25 a pound, to do a humongous batch of pear/apple sauce, pear apple juice and jelly, plus some syrup, since we discovered we liked the syrup as much or more than the jelly, lol.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 8:53PM
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Tracy and Dawn, I'm going to agree with you again and also throw my two cents worth in.

I've never canned okra, so I can't comment on that. However, for pickles, the main problems are that the cukes are not fresh-picked or of the wrong kind; the vinegar is not 5% acid, or cider vinegar was substituted. Cider vinegar will make the pickles all cloudy and funky.

With any other product that turns slimy and off-color, there can be several things wrong. Too much headspace left in the jar, an improper seal, or the jars were not stored where they would be fairly cool, or improper processing. I'm assuming you are boiling your jars and lids immediately prior to using them, and checking the lids for flaws before you put them on the jars. It doesn't happen too often, but once in a while a bad batch will slip past quality control at the factory. You need to spot it before you've put up your food, and not afterward. Always check the seal on each jar of food before it's stored away for later use.
My own personal rule is to can fruits, pickles and relishes, and freeze meat and veggies. We prefer it that way, and it's easiest on me also.

Preserving your own food can be fun and infinitely satisfying, not to mention that you can produce things that you can't buy in the stores. I've made salsa, chutney, tomato preserves, marmalade, and even seedless fig jelly for my father, who loved the taste of figs and hated the seeds. One year when I had access to a bunch of cherries, I packed them in a brandy syrup to use later for chocolate-covered cherries for Christmas. Another year my DH brought home 3 lugs of ripe peaches. In desperation, I canned some, made jam from some, and then made pie filling out of a bunch of them for turnovers for his lunches later on. It worked out really well.

Fresh applesauce, canned pears and peaches, salsa made the way you like it. Those things just can't be beaten by anything you buy in the store. Simply follow the rules. If any produce looks less than fresh and 100% perfect, don't use it. It's not worth it. You may be able to cut out the flaws in fruit for jam, but not for anything else. Fruit has more latitude than anything else. Fresh veggies must be exactly that . . . fresh! Processed within hours of picking.

Our persimmons seem to ripen erratically, depending on the climate. Last year we had almost no crop, and I haven't checked the trees yet this year. I need to try to get them before the sheep and chickens do. They are ripe when they are plump and soft when you squeeze them, but not mushy. Since the trees are growing wild here anyway, I decided to make use of the fruit and I'm glad I did. I think you could substitute persimmon pulp for applesauce in an applesauce cake or cookie recipe, although I've never tried it. The cookies I make with them are a rich spice cookie. If anyone wants the recipe, I can post it for you.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2011 at 9:42PM
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Ok thanks again, I have now checked out the harvest forum and I will definitely be trying Annie's salsa. I have been canning for about five years and have been using information and recipes from the Ball Blue book. I have just been working my way from my grandma's hand holding to jelly/ jams and now to pickling and freezing. I am very careful about sealing and disinfecting but from what you all have been stressing I think it is a head space issue, and I have to admit some of the cucumbers were probably over ripe. My jams, and apple butter are always awesome, and last year I did mulberry and grape preserves. I will try pickling again, I really enjoy it, I just need some experienced advice so thank you all again! @ Pat: I would love the persimmon recipe, since the raccoons robbed ALL my apples this year I'm looking forward to freezing persimmons instead and I need ideas on how to use them.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 11:55AM
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Hi Amanda,

It seems such a shame to let the native persimmons go to waste, and particularly since I can't get the big commercial ones here. These are free, and the product is every bit as good.

I gather the persimmons as they ripen, so I may be processing batches of them over a period of a couple of weeks. Wash them and run them through a food mill or ricer to remove the skins and seeds, add a little FruitFresh to hold the color and flavor, and then bag the pulp up for the freezer in 2C amounts. I can get a bag out and make a double batch of persimmon cookies any time of the year.

1 C margarine
3/4 C dark brown sugar
3/4 C sugar
1 large egg
1 C persimmon pulp
2 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1 C chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
1 C raisins
1/2 tsp vanilla

Grease cookie sheets. Mix margarine, sugars and egg and beat well. Add pulp and vanilla and beat. Mix flour and spices, add in and beat well. Stir in raisins and nuts. Drop by teaspoonsful on cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes at 350, until puffed and slightly browned. A bit longer for larger cookies. Store in an airtight container for as long as they last - - - which probably won't be long. They are rich, and good!


I make mine fairly large, so I generally bake them for 14 min or so.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2011 at 4:16PM
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