Preserving food -- What do I do?

Reader Caroline emailed with a question about what foods I preserve each year:

I love your blog and I wanted to make a future topic suggestion if I may be so bold. I notice you talk a lot about putting up your own fruits and veggies. I would love to hear how you do it, how much you put up etc. I'm planning to hit as many you-pick places as possible this summer in our family's effort to eat more local and do more scratch cooking.

I've done some reading on extension sites but there is nothing better than reading someone's tips and suggestions. My mother didn't do this sort of thing so I have no idea how to do it. I'd mainly be interested in freezer ideas as canning scares me to death.

Hi, Caroline! :)

I do some food preservation each year, but not really what I would consider a lot. My mom is the real expert, and I'm blessed to have her help! :)

What we do:

I do get a lot of fresh food from the garden (I share a garden with my parents, who live about 15 minutes from us) each summer, and my mom and I can lots of tomato products. From our tomatoes, we make pizza sauce, diced tomatoes, salsa, tomato soup, and spaghetti sauce -- which for us is actually a half-and-half mixture of our pizza sauce recipe and our tomato soup recipe.

I don't can much besides tomatoes, though sometimes my mom gives us a jar or two of her dill pickles. ;) I have canned sour cherries for pies, but a few quarts of cherries will last us all year. :)

I don't do a lot of freezing, simply because we just use the small freezer on top of our fridge. One thing I have made room for in my freezer is sugar snap peas, since they are quite expensive to buy, but easy to grow. :) The rest of my freezer usually is filled with meats and fruit or vegetables from the store.

I do have a dehydrator, and for certain things, it is the easiest solution! Some things I like to dehydrate would be cabbage (sliced thinly and spread on the trays), bell peppers (diced), hot peppers (you can slice the side of the pepper, dry it, and then put one in chili while you simmer it, to depart flavor), and of course almost any fruit (bananas are the easiest, if I find a good sale!)! You can also dehydrate carrots, green beans, etc. to use in vegetable soup. It's not quite as good as frozen or canned, but is easy to prepare and easy to store. :)

Where we get the food to begin with:

The food that I freeze, can, or dehydrate is usually from our garden, or something that someone gives to us. It seems that when people know you're willing to use their extra food (apples, corn, etc.), they're more likely to call and say, 'We have a tree with a bunch of ripe apples on it... do you want them?' :)

So really, the only thing I actually buy to preserve is ripe bananas when they're on sale. :) For us, it's a combination of growing a little bit of what we like best and use most and have room for. We get blessed with free food unexpectedly (like zucchini, for example, which we haven't grown ourselves) and some of that makes its way into jars or into the dehydrator. ;)

How much food to preserve:

I think the amount of food you preserve depends a whole lot on your family size!

I'd also suggest starting small. Don't plan to make 4 bushels of apples into applesauce unless you've already done a small test batch... plus have a whole day free to work on them. ;) Doing up food takes a LOT of time! We love our homemade pizza sauce, but it is time-intensive to make. It would be cheaper and easier to just buy pizza sauce, but we're so spoiled with our delicious homemade sauce, that we put the time into making it. :)

For our family (2 adults, 2 children), I try to guess about how much of something we will use in a year's time.

For example, when we have pizza (a 16-inch pizza is a meal for us) I use 1 cup of sauce. So I figure that pizza once a week for a whole year would be about 26 pints of sauce. I try to do up at least that much for us. :)

Something like applesauce, well, we'd eat about as much as I could ever can (we love it!!) so if someone gives us apples... I just use them all. :)

Anyway, those are my very limited tips for right now. Preserving food is a huge topic when you think of all the different foods and methods!! :) For starting out, I strongly suggest trying one new thing at a time, and gradually learning more as you go along! :) I hope this has been at least a little help to you. :)

Comments

It is not really very scary! Freezing is easy, but I have found this summer how much easier it is if you freeze fruits in a flat layer on a cookie tray first, then put into bags. Use good quality freezer bags, not cheap ones.
I love to can! It is alot of work, but the finished product are so pretty! Peaches, Pears, jam, applesauce are my favorite things to can. I also like green beans, but only have a pressure cooker than does pints and have not grown them in awhile. Oh, I canned a bunch of tomatoes also!
I wish I could can more, I do not have access to huge amounts of food though, so I can what I get. I have canned cherries and apricot jam this year so far.
i froze cherries, raspberries, and some apricot puree. I also dried some.

This is the first year that I have canned! I loved it! I understand being nervous about canning - it can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. However, if you buy a canner it comes with detailed instructions - and I mean DETAILED. So that is very helpful. Also the Blue Ball book is the best canning book I have found. They have great info on their website also.

My biggest advice about canning is: if you have little ones, have someone watch them while you are learning! It takes a lot of concentration and effort since there are so many things that must be precise. I found it practically impossible to do without my mama watching my kids in the next room!

Sorry this is such a long response - I just got bitten by the canning bug and wanted to talk about it! There is nothing like seeing those beautiful jars on the shelf, knowing how much effort and love went into them!
-Lauren

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