Yep…Warm up your winter with Fresh Garden Preservatives!
by Carly Deacon
January blues anybody? Wishing for that lush, colorful, fresh off the plant garden produce back at your fingertips? I know I am! It kills me to buy lettuce and tomatoes from the local supermarket when I had it at the convenience of my backyard for 3 months. Fresh beans, beets, carrots, onions, and cucumbers overloaded my fridge crisper at the end of summer. We ate them every day and still couldn’t keep up to what the garden was producing. I absolutely love sharing garden veggies with friends and family. I especially love to share with those who don’t have the space to grow their own garden, and of course to my sweet extremely appreciative grandparents that cherish fresh potatoes like they are gold. All that being said however, nothing is better than hording those veggies and stalking your pantry with fresh preservatives for that cold winter day when you would give your big toe to have your garden back!
One of my favorite fall past times is canning and preserving. It absolutely kills me to waste any produce from the garden, so over the years I have become motivated and pretty creative at thinking up of new ways of eating local and spreading the garden joy into the winter months. Nothing warms my heart more than a plump plucked Teal and garden veggies on a cold February evening.
Stalk your Pantry
This year I took on pickles, pickled beets, pickled carrots, sweet relish, corn relish, cherry jelly and crabapple jelly. Most were successful endeavors but some a bit more challenging! All in all these types of High-acid foods are the most popular and easiest to preserve. High-acid foods include fruits, fruit juices, jams, jellies, salsa, pickles, relishes, chutneys, and other condiment like sauces and can be processed using the water bath canning method.
Using the water bath method you will always want to start by sanitizing your jars, rings and sealers. You can do this by either boiling the empty jars or you may also use a dishwasher to wash and heat the jars. Prepared foods can then be filled into the clean jars and sealers tightened to fingertip tight. Here is where the “water bath” method takes form. Filled jars will now need to be processed again in boiling water to remove air bubbles and bacteria for a desired processing time (depending on the preserving recipe). Remove the jars from the boiling water and let them stand on the counter top undisturbed for 12-24 hours. Eventually you will hear a very satisfying and rewarding “pop”, the center of the seal will suck down (at this point the lids should not flex up or down when center is pressed). Vowala…you have now stretched the longevity of your produce to a year of shelf life!
My next big endeavor is to start preserving wild meats and fish. The reason I haven’t started this yet is because I haven’t had the problem of having too much wild meat or fresh fish in the house. It seems to get consumed too quickly☺. Some of you however may find this interesting and may be looking for new ways to enjoy your fall harvest throughout the winter and summer months.
To preserve low-acid foods such as meats, poultry, seafood, fish or any stews, soups etc. (combinations of meat and soups), you should use the pressure canning method. Low-acid foods require special handling to eliminate the risk of spoilage caused bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Pressure canning is able to bring the temperature of low acid foods to 240°F and kill any existing bacteria and its toxin producing spores. To achieve this you will need to purchase a pressure canner which range in price depending on the amount of bells and whistles it comes with. Otherwise the processes is much the same…sterilizing your jars, filling with prepared food, and placing them in the pressure canner for the desired processing time. Be sure to read the instructions on your pressure canner. My recommendation for both the water bath method and pressure canner method, follow the recipe steps in detail. There are reasons for each one and missing one step when it comes to canning can end in undesirable results. For example; jellies or jams not setting properly or bacteria growth causing spoilage. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Stalk your Freezer
I know first-hand how busy the fall can be! Between MWF’s fall programs and trying to tie in some personal hunts, my spare time gets eaten up rather quickly. So canning is not always an option. There are times I resort to just getting the veggies harvested, cleaned and packed in the freezer. I recommend blanching any vegetables such as beets, carrots, or beans before packing them in zip locks for the freezer. Blanching is easy, simply clean the veggies, chop as desired, boil for approximately 3-4 minutes, and immediately immerse them in an ice bath. Let them cool completely in the ice bath before you transfer them to freezer safe bags. I also love grating and freezing carrots, rhubarb and zucchini in 2 cup bags so they are ready to use in some delicious pies, zucchini loaves or carrot cake.
Eating Local for Good Food and a Healthy Lifestyle
As anglers and hunters we are fortunate to stalk our freezer shelves with protein rich wild game. Gardening to me is very much the same as hunting in regards to finding joy and tranquility and reefing the benefits of a healthy, local, hormone free food supply. Spending time in the garden is like spending time in a duck blind or tree stand; it is extremely therapeutic and rewarding. My mind shuts out the busy day to day chaos and clears of all stress. Then the pride that follows at the end of August when the garden is flourishing with ripe beautiful vegetables. I once heard a quote that said gardeners tend to live longer lives. I often wonder if that also applies to hunters and anglers. Maybe it’s the healthy food we consume, maybe it’s the time we spend afield, soaking up the fresh air, staying active and taking that time to turn off all the pressure and stress life can sometimes throw at as. I love hunting, fishing and gardening…maybe this means that someday I’ll be celebrating my 100th birthday. I hope you can join me!