Fall is a fabulous time of year. It’s the time of year when fresh, local produce is available. A successful hunting trip may provide you with extra meat for your family. You may want to can, freeze or dehydrate foods for enjoyment during Wyoming’s cold winter months.
Quality is Key
When selecting foods to preserve, choose those at the peak of ripeness. Using under or over ripe foods will produce a less flavorful product and can compromise the quality of your preserved food.
Take the time to learn about food preservation before you begin to preserve foods. Be certain home canned foods you choose to eat have been properly processed. Bacteria in these foods can cause mild to severe illness, even death.
Choose Your Method
There are several choices of methods to preserve food: canning, freezing and dehydrating. As you choose your food preservation method, some important factors to consider include storage space for equipment and preserved food. Freezing requires space for the freezer itself and for the food in the freezer. Foods will keep best in an upright or chest freezer that is separate from your refrigerator. The freezer that is attached to a refrigerator is typically a frost free freezer and will be more likely to freezer burn (remove moisture from your frozen food). Canning requires large a large boiling water kettle, steam canner or pressure canner and space for jars of canned foods in a cool, dark, dry place. A food dehydrator will take up about as much space as a canner, however, the food will require the least space in comparison to other preserved foods. Dehydrated foods can be stored in glass or plastic containers or plastic bags (freezer bags are heavier than regular storage bags making them more durable) or you can use a vacuum sealing system to remove the air from the bag which will increase the time you can store the food.
The intended purpose of the food will help to determine the best method of preservation. Dehydrated fruits and vegetables make lightweight, easy to transport and eat snacks. Canned and frozen foods are great for use in recipes.
In the interest of food safety, when choosing a canning method you must carefully follow up-to-date recipes that have been tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Reliable recipes and information can be found at http://www.uwyo.edu/foods/educational-resources/food-preservation.html. It is absolutely necessary to adjust canning recipes for altitude to ensure a safely preserved food. Low acid foods, such as meats, green beans, carrots, dry beans & peas, and soup mixes, must be pressure canned. High acid foods (pH of 4.6 or lower), such as pears, cherries, peaches, and tomatoes, can be steam canned, boiling water canned, or pressure canned. Use official canning jars, not jars from foods purchased in grocery stores (spaghetti sauce, etc.) – the glass has not been made for home use and may be thin and prevent proper sealing of the jars or the glass may break. Use new lids (flats) each year; rings can be reused.
Dehydrating foods is easily accomplished in a food dehydrator that has a fan and a heat source. Many types of food dehydrators are available, and the prices vary. You can also dehydrate using your oven, but remember to use low temperatures and watch the food closely to avoid over drying the food or cooking it. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, yogurt, and salsa can be safely dried when you are sure to dehydrate the thinly sliced foods rapidly.
Freezing is a great way to preserve vegetables, meats, fruits, jams, casseroles, soups, and breads. Blanching is recommended for vegetables to stop enzymatic action in the foods. Consider the size of your freezer when filling it with foods to be frozen. You will need to freeze food in batches to be sure all foods can get cold enough to begin to freeze within two hours. If the food you are freezing is liquid rather than pieces be sure to allow for expansion of the food during freezing and avoid overfilling the container.
All preserved foods should be labeled. Include the name of the item in the container and the date processed.
Canning classes are available through your University of Wyoming Extension Office. Contact your local Extension office for more information about food preservation and classes.