Plans for Labor Day barbecues means summer is almost gone. Many people will be buying or harvesting the very last of their summer produce, hoping perhaps for an extra two weeks of eggplant or peppers. Zucchini is becoming a memory. As we scurry to freeze and dry the final late summer garden bonanza, I will recap Mom’s food preservation videos that have filled the blog this summer and the philosophy and food science that underlies her techniques.
Preserving the taste of summer
Summer gardening offers some of most distinct flavors of the year-long garden. An heirloom pepper is wonderful simply roasted and eaten in a composed during the summer months, but you can also chop it, sauté it in garlic and oil, grind it up, freeze it (read more), and you can enjoy the summer pepper flavor in winter soups in the darkest days of winter. December pumpkin soups are always better when you can walk to your freezer and pull out a bag of cubed eggplant pieces to add to it.
I could pay about five bucks for frozen peppers at Whole Foods to add to my soup or I could plant a few extra pepper plants in the garden, help a friend harvest hers, or buy some in bulk from a farmer in September and have enough frozen peppers for a dozen or more soups in the winter. Preserving the taste of summer, then, is cost-effective. The fact is it can even be simple.
Freezing: Better than grandma’s canning
Many people are intimidated to preserve their own food because it seems so difficult. You have to buy mason jars, lids, and rings and then you have to figure out how not to kill yourself with botulism.
Once you get past those barriers, you have to ask yourself whether it is worth your time to spend the better part of a day canning and ending up with eight quarts of canned tomatoes. Most people these days do not have monumental amounts of produce to preserve. They may end up with a lug of tomatoes or peppers and may come to the rational conclusion that the quantity is nowhere near worthy of canning.
Here at the Rebuild Blog we have a simple solution to get past your fear of canning or your rational conclusion that canning takes too much time: don’t can.
Grandma used to can her food because she lived in Missouri (insert your favorite Dustbowl state here) and had to make her summer garden harvest last through the winter. I do not know if you ever saw Grandma’s freezer, but it was likely about two cubic feet in size and was covered with an inch of ice. My Grandma actually lived in a tent without a refrigerator or freezer for part of her married life, so even these small freezers were pretty high-class.
In any case, freezing produce was not a viable preservation method back in Grandma’s day. Grandma canned instead.
Now that we have options, one added problem with canning is the nutrient loss that comes with canning. Canning usually comes with pretty extensive cooking, particularly for home cooks. Whenever your food is exposed to heat, it will lose some of its nutrient content. Canning requires high temperatures and, thus, your produce will suffer a bit for it. For those of us who seek out heirloom produce because of its higher nutrient content, it is a shame to can the produce when we could use a technique that is more friendly on the nutrient content.
Consider for example the case of the loss of vitamin B-6 in canned and frozen vegetables. Vitamin B-6 is a nutrient that fights depression, so it always gets my attention. A study on nutrient loss in processed foods way back in the 1970s examined the loss in B-6 in frozen and canned foods. Loss of vitamin B-6 was nearly two times greater with canning than with freezing. Of course, these are studies of commercial canning processes that actually tend to be easier on nutrients than does your home canning. If you have ever canned and have boiled the heck out of a jar to get it to seal, you have some idea of what I am talking about.
Freezing preserves more of the nutrients in the food but consider as well how accessible freezing is to us. Today you can get a 25 cubic feet Energy Star chest freezer for about $700. A few years back, we recycled two dinosaur freezers on our property, spent some bucks on a new one, and paid the cost of the appliance in ten months with the energy savings. The freezer does not cost $10 a month to run and holds a great deal of food.
Freezers are fairly inexpensive to buy these days and they are inexpensive to run. Freezing produce is extremely easy. Mom goes into some detail on her videos for people who may have never frozen fruit and vegetables. Her videos include a basic technique to freeze fruit and vegetables and a cooked and ground pepper concept for times when you have mountains of peppers. You can also just make the usual tomato sauce that you can, but freeze it instead.
I mentioned these videos to a friend who responded along the lines of “Those videos are really basic.” I agree. The techniques are so basic, in fact, I wonder why anyone would ever want to heat up their kitchen in the summer and go through a whole lot of extra work canning.
That is not to say there are not exceptional reasons to can:
• You want to replicate one of Grandma’s recipes
• Your freezer is already stuffed
• You do not have a freezer
• You simply want to can
I encourage you to preserve your produce by freezing it. For the more adventuresome, consider drying tomatoes or making fruit leather. Those techniques require neither a freezer nor jars and lids and they are pretty easy. They do require a good bit of sun if you do not have a food dehydrator (daytime highs in the mid-80s or above).
These techniques are easy ways to preserve the taste of summer and your garden’s nutrient content at the same time.
This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday.