Perhaps you've gone through the work of sharpening your green thumb and keeping your garden maintained in order to grow all of your favorite fruits and vegetables. Or maybe you like buying veggies and fruits in bulk when they're ripe in season so you can freeze them and save them for later. Either way, there are many ways to preserve these nutritional staples to last much longer than their most commonly expected shelf life. The four most common options are canning, drying, freezing and pickling.
Whatever option you choose, keep in mind that the ideal time to start your preservation process is six to 18 hours after they've been harvested. While this is easier to manage if you're picking from a home garden, you can also get freshly picked items from the local farmer's market or nearby farms.
If you've never considered preservation on your own, you may be enticed by the potential these processes have to cut down your grocery bill by several hundred dollars. The methods of preservation are generally quite simple, relaxing and even fun -- especially if you have children who are eager to help out in the kitchen.
Canning is so much more than baked beans, tuna fish or Spam. In fact, it's a great way to preserve fruits, fruit butters, salsa, vegetable soup, pickling options, jellies, jams and more. You want to make sure to find reusable jars that are made specifically for this process, and make sure to sterilize the lid in boiling hot water before closing.
First, prepare your fruits and vegetables, then add the sealed jars into a large pot of boiling water, filled just enough to cover the tops of the jars. Let it boil for several minutes before bringing the heat down to medium low so that the water continues to boil at a lower temperature. Cover the pot. The amount of time you keep the jars on the stovetop will depend on your specific recipe. Once you're finished boiling, carefully remove the canned fruits or veggies and let them cool on a towel for up to 24 hours before storing them.
Drying is another solid option for preserving your items; however, you can lose some of the nutritious value that canning helps maintain. You want to first purchase a food dehydrator, unless you live in an area that you can expect four consecutive days of over one hundred degree weather where you can leave your fruits and veggies on a rack to naturally dry out. The dehydrator method will come with instructions specific to that brand, but generally, you will lay out the fruits and vegetables on trays and dry for either several hours or several hours, depending on what you're drying out. When the process is finalized, make sure to tightly seal the finished product.
Chances are, growing up, you always had frozen bananas in your freezer. It was just sort of something that the older generations did. You can keep that tradition alive and freeze your own blueberries, peas, blackberries, carrots and more. Quickly boil the fruits and vegetables, and slice them. Then, if you'd like to add a little extra caution with the preservation method, slice a lemon and spritz over the cut fruits and veggies to help maintain them longer and prevent them from going brown. Use a paper towel to pat dry the laid out slices, and then distribute onto a baking sheet and place in freezer for several hours. When the process is complete, remove the frozen fruits or vegetables from the freezer and put into plastic freezer bags or containers.
Pickling can be done for so much more than cucumbers -- aka "pickles." Beets, cauliflower, peppers, cherries, ginger, grapes, squash, tomatoes -- the list goes on. Boil apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorn and water to a boil. (You can find various recipes online. Pinterest is a great place to start.) Depending on your taste preference, you can add different spices to the liquid, as well. Once boiling, pour the liquid into your canned goods and let cool for several hours before sealing the jars. If you're "in a pickle" with just how creative you can get, check out http://www.epicurious.com, for an article called "How to Pickle Basically Everything." This will help guide you through the various options available in the pickling arena.