Dear Home-Ec 101:
I’m taking your advice about building an emergency food supply seriously. I’d like to do some of it by canning and preserving foods from my own garden. Besides pickles, jams and jellies, (which are yummy, but don’t exactly fill a belly) what kinds of foods should I be growing so that I can fill my emergency pantry with home-grown goodness?
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
Pickles, jams, and jellies are great, but you’re right they have limited usefulness in a pantry. Although, If I were in a true emergency and biscuits and bread became a much larger portion of my diet, I think I’d be pretty grateful for those jams and jellies.
Home preservation is a valuable skill, but it isn’t limited to water bath canning. Freezing, dehydrating, and pressure canning all give additional means to preserve your garden harvest.
What to plant has a lot to do with your climate, the size of your garden, the length of your growing season and your skill as a gardener. I would really like to hear what Home Ec 101’s avid gardener’s suggest.
Personally, I would like to address additional methods of preserving your harvest.
Freezing works well for many vegetables, although some like green beans, peas, and broccoli, require blanching -that’s just a quick boil- for best results. If you have the freezer space, after blanching, spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and quick freeze before packing into quart size freezer bags. This method helps keep many vegetables from turning into a solid mystery lump and preserves many nutrients.
Dehydrating fruits and vegetables is easier in some climates than others. The cost of electric food dehydrators has dropped over the past few years, but I have yet to make the investment.
With pickles, jams, jellies, and some salsas a water bath is all that is needed to process the jars, this is due to the preservative nature of sugar or the natural acidity of the recipe. Once you have mastered water bath canning, it’s time to invest in a pressure canner. I bought the a Presto 16 Quart Pressure Cooker / Canner last year and have been slowly practicing with their provided recipes. This isn’t the exact model I have, mine did not come with a gauge, but mine seems to have been replaced with this model.
I’m just dipping my toe into the water of home preservation, but there are many other models to choose from:
With a pressure canner your ability to preserve foods increases dramatically. All of the safety precautions you learned with water bath canning still apply. You must use sterile jars and new lids. The bands should still be finger tight. The pressure canner itself brings another set of safety concerns, always check the seal for wear and make sure the vents are clear.
Remember canning soups, vegetables, and meat does have its drawbacks:
- Foods lose some nutrients through processing.
- Jars are bulky.
- It’s time and labor intensive -this is especially true for new canners- after doing it a few times it’s easier to find the rhythm of work.
That said there are also some great benefits to canning your own vegetables, soups, and meat.
- After the initial investment has been recouped (this can take a couple of seasons) canning becomes an inexpensive preservation method.
- You gain complete control over what is in your food.
- There is some concern over the BPA levels of canned tomatoes. By canning your own tomatoes you virtually eliminate this risk.
Unless power outages are a frequent concern in your area, if I had a plentiful harvest from my garden, I would freeze produce first and can the remainder.
Here are some useful resources to help you get a safe start with pressure canning. Presto has a great list of pressure canner recipes and references. The National Center for Home Preservation is a useful website and they are trying to update. Your county’s cooperative extension may offer classes in home preservation for free or for very low cost. It’s worth looking them up and giving them a call to see what is offered in your area. This program may be one of our most under-utilized assets. When trying new recipes for pressure canning, it’s very important to ensure it meets the guidelines for safe preservation. Variations in seasonings are usually not an issue, watch for processing times that vary widely from standard recipes for the particular ingredients.