Sunday, March 25, 2018

Preserving Your Harvest

Food Garden Group member Margie M shared her extensive knowledge of preserving in a workshop for those with limited or no preserving experience.

At the start of the session Margie explained that freezing food is a simple way to preserve fruit and vegetables, but 1. it uses a lot of power compared to the methods mentioned below, 2. we all only have limited freezer space, and 3. you will have big problems if there is a lengthy power failure. That last one made us sit up and pay attention!

Pickling food is another safe method to preserving, but again, only if you refrigerate the result. 

To guarantee that your food is safe to eat when kept outside the fridge for a long time you need to use one of three preserving methods: water bath method, Fowlers Vacola or pressure canning. Which method you use depends on the acidity level of the food you want to preserve.

High acid foods are for instance: apples, peaches, pears, apricots, pickled beets, berries, plums, cherries, rhubarb, cranberries, tomatoes with acid added, fruit juices.

Low acid foods are for instance: asparagus, mushrooms, beans, okra, beets, peas, carrots, potatoes, corn, spinach, leeks, squash, meat, seafood

Margie then explained what the water bath method, Fowlers Vacola method, and pressure canning are.

To keep food safe outside the fridge for a long time preserve it as follows:

Margie then demonstrated the pressure canning method, showing us the do’s and don’ts that you need to observe in order to pressure-can safely. If you are aware of these safety issues, it is a straightforward efficient way of preserving. 
The top of Margie's pressure-canning unit
We discussed jars, where to buy things, and many other preserving issues.  Margie shared her extensive notes on preserving with us using her TV-screen in her living room because she keeps her notes in a Microsoft Office OneNote document.  This document she updates every time she finds out something new. After the session Margie gave all participants computer access to this OneNote document, so we now have handy access to her notes on our own computers.

Next on the list was dehydration.  Margie showed us her BioChef dehydrator and explained how it operates. We discussed the benefits of using a dedicated dehydrator compared to drying fruit and vegetables in a normal oven.
The BioChef Dehydrator
She also showed us her PacFood vacuum sealer and the plastic material that the sealer uses to seal food in. You could use the sealer after dehydrating, to make the food last even longer.

If you don’t like using plastic, there is a different method available. Margie showed how you can connect a special FoodSaver jar (the jar with the white top in the photo below) to the sealer.  Put a jar with food that you want to seal into this FoodSaver jar, press a button on the sealer unit, and the jar with food is sealed!

The PacFood vacuum sealer with FoodSaver jar connected
Dehydrating food and then sealing it allows long-term storage outside the fridge.  However, many vegetables don't taste great when hydrated after dehydrating. The method is most satisfactory for fruits.

Everyone was very impressed by Margie’s ‘larder’ in a cool room under the house. We talked about many of the preserved jars that were stored there, and the preserving method Margie had used for each of them. 
Margie's preserves under her house
Preserving is a big subject, and although Margie proved to be a fountain of knowledge on the subject, this was only a three hour session, and there is always more to learn.

Whatever you preserve, Margie pointed out, there is a great group of Aussies that will be very happy to help. These people can be found on a Facebook page called Preserving Food at Home. Once you are a member, you can ask for help on any preserving issue, and you will probably get a reply from someone within a few minutes. If you would like to join search in Facebook for Preserving Food at Home and request membership. I requested membership, provided answers to three simple questions asked, and was refused. No, just joking! I was made a member within minutes.
Many thanks, Margie, for sharing your skills, knowledge and time! All participants appreciated it a lot and felt inspired to begin to put into practice what was learned!

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