Preserve the Harvest

By Alan Majka, Extension Educator

It’s that time of year again. Whether you want to preserve the bounty from your home garden or fresh produce from a local farmers market or buyers club, it’s important to follow recommended guidelines. Improperly preserved foods may be wasted due to spoilage, or worse yet, they may result in food borne illness. Whether freezing or canning, begin with good quality fruits or vegetables.

Vegetables should be blanched for recommended times before freezing. Blanching inactivates enzymes that may continue to diminish quality even at freezer temperatures. Flavor and texture may suffer in vegetables that have been frozen without blanching first. Also remember that food will last longer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit than at just below freezing. A freezer thermometer is a good investment.

When it comes to canning, botulism poisoning is a real danger. Generally speaking, high acid foods like fruits, pickles, jams and jellies may be canned in a boiling water bath. However, canning jars with two-piece lids are recommended. While clean, undamaged screw bands may be reused; new lids should always be used. Paraffin wax is no longer recommended. Tomatoes and tomato products may also be canned by using the water bath method, but we now recommend the correct amount of lemon juice or other acid be added to assure safety. Some of today’s tomatoes are not acidic enough by themselves.

All other vegetables, meats, poultry and fish are low in acid and therefore require use of a pressure canner. The higher temperatures in a pressure canner are necessary to inactivate botulinum spores. Pressure canner dial gauges should be tested for accuracy every year before use. An important but often overlooked step in pressure canning is to vent steam for 10 minutes prior to bringing canner to pressure and beginning timing. When recommended time has elapsed, remove pressure canner from heat, and allow to cool and depressurize naturally. Do not speed cooling with cold water or release of steam.

Be sure to closely follow safe, tested recipes in which process time and pressure match the size of the jar, style of pack, and type of food being canned.

Reliable home food preservation recipes and other information is available through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension website. You may get answers to your food preservation questions and make arrangements to have your pressure canner gauge tested for accuracy by calling the UMaine Extension office in Machias at 207.255.3345.