Preserving Fall Harvests

By David Hamilton, Full-Time Chef at Trail Appliances Saskatoon

Early morning chill and frost are clear winter is on its way. Which means fresh harvests from the backyard will stop soon. You can, however, preserve the rest of the bounty by freezing or canning. Freezing will give you a shorter span than canning can provide you. Here are some basic tips for freezing your summer berry harvest, as well as some safety basics for doing your own canning at home.

Freezing
Berries survive the freezing process quite well; however, they will become softer and more juice will escape. This step is actually quite helpful for berry coulis, as well as preparing them for pie fillings.

First, carefully wash the berries and gently pat them dry with paper towel. Once cleaned and dry, spread the berries out evenly on a flat tray, ensuring they aren’t touching one another, cover tightly with a fitted lid or plastic wrap, and freeze the tray flat overnight. Once the berries have frozen separately, you can portion them into any appropriate size for your needs in labelled freezer bags.

It is recommended that frozen berries be used within 6 months for quality purposes. I like to keep small bags of berry mixes frozen to add into smoothies  as well as single berry portions for use in pie fillings and coulis.

Canning
Preserving food at home is a practice handed down throughout the generations. However, it must be handled carefully to avoid bacterial contamination – most notably, botulism. The toxins produced by the bacteria can be extremely harmful as it thrives in an environment with no oxygen. Home canners must take special care to ensure the safety of their product. But thanks to today’s modern tools and equipment, it is now much easier to do so. In order to ensure the safety of your canned goods, here are the basic steps necessary for success.

Sanitizing
It is crucial to ensure that all tools and work surfaces are properly cleaned and sanitized before beginning. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water. Be sure to use separate cutting boards for produce and raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood. And maintain a policy of cleaning up as you go to help prevent any potential cross contamination.

Disinfect all tools before and after with a kitchen sanitizer. Be sure to follow the instructions on the container or make a bleach solution of 5 millilitre household bleach with 750 millilitre of water and rinse with water.

Preparing The Jars
First, wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse and drain. Fill the canner with water,  place the jars on the rack, ensuring that the water level is above the jars.  Cover and simmer over medium heat. Keep the jars hot, with low heat, until you’re ready to fill them.

Put the flat lids in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer over medium heat. Do not boil. Like the jars, keep them hot until you’re ready to use them.

The screw bands do not need to be heated but keep them handy around your work area.

Minimum boiling time is 10 minutes and you’ll need to add one minute of boiling time for each 1,000-ft. increase in elevation.

Procedure
Be sure to determine the acidity of your food before selecting the appropriate canning method.

High-acid foods (require a boiling water canner)
High-acid foods have a pH (acidity level) of less than 4.6. A boiling water canner heats food to 100°C (212°F) at sea level. The natural acid in the food will prevent botulism bacteria from growing and the heating will kill most yeasts, moulds and bacteria that could be present.

Low-acid foods (require a pressure canner)
Low-acid foods have a pH (acidity level) of more than 4.6. Foods in this category  need an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, to be added for safer canning. Mixtures of low and high acid foods, such as spaghetti sauce with meat, vegetables and tomatoes, are considered low-acid foods. The  temperature needed to kill botulism bacteria for low-acid foods can only be reached by using a pressure canner.

High Acid vs Low Acid
The type of canning method used depends on the acidity of the food to be preserved, and it is divided into two parts. Food considered to be high acid has a pH of less than 4.6, and requires the use of a boiling water canner. Food with a pH of higher than 4.6 is considered low acid, and requires the use of a pressure canner.

High Acid Foods
Fruits
Jams and Jellies
Pickles and Sauerkraut
Tomatoes with lemon juice or vinegar

Low Acid Foods
Fresh Vegetables
Meat and Poultry
Seafood and Shellfish
Mixtures of high and low acid (spaghetti with tomatoes and meat)

Tools
The tools required for safe home canning are quite specific, and must be used properly. Only use approved canning jars, and ensure the self sealing compounds on the lids are not damaged. Never reuse old canning lids or seals. It is also recommended to authenticate the sources of your recipes to be certain they are trustworthy, and never to alter the volumes, temperatures, or cooking times.

Storage
Once completed, the jars should be labelled and dated, then stored in a cool, dry place away from natural sunlight. To ensure the best possible quality, it is best to use the canned goods within one year. Any open product must be immediately refrigerated and served within one week of opening – unless it contains seafood or shellfish, then it must be served within three days.

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