News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Preserve your garden harvest with freezing, drying, canning

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Linn County Extension volunteer.

It’s harvest time for most Canyon gardens. 

The moment of harvest is when the produce is at its peak of quality, nutritional value and flavor. To get the most out of your garden, try to harvest only what you need for a meal and use it right away. Sometimes there is more than you can eat before it loses quality.

Harvest in the morning when vegetables are cool and take handling better. Try not to bruise or damage the produce, and keep the food out of direct sunlight. 

Use it or store it as soon as possible. Each crop has unique best practices to store fresh pickings successfully. A good resources are available from University of Idaho Extension – www.cals.uidaho.edu/edcomm/pdf/BULBUK0617.pdf or https://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog. 

You can always ask Google or Siri. or visit the local library and look into gardening books that have harvest advice.

Need ideas for cooking fresh produce? Oregon State University Extension has a wonderful collection of tested recipes sorted by ingredient, with videos, at www.foodhero.org.  Food Hero is an online resource for people who want to make eat healthy low-cost, healthy meals for their families. It is available in English and Spanish. 

Natural Resources Defense Council has recipes to encourage us to eat local. Their online address is https://www.nrdc.org/stories/attention-food-lovers-eco-conscious-eating-isnt-all-about-distance. There are shelves of cookbooks at the local libraries, too.

For long-term storage of abundant produce consider freezing, canning or drying. Guidelines developed by USDA have been developed at University research labs to ensure safety, especially in canning procedures. 

Freezing vegetables usually involves blanching – boiling for up to 3 minutes to stop enzymes from ripening the food further. Blanching also partially cooks the food so it requires less effort to prepare it when thawed. To stop the cooking, blanched vegetables are put into cold (or ice) water to cool before packaging. 

Frozen fruit quality is usually better if the fruit is mixed with sugar or a syrup to help maintain cell structure. All foods placed into the freezer should be tightly packaged, labeled with name and date. 

Consider bagging small meal-size quantities, then placing the small bags into a larger freezer bag to keep air out and moisture in. 

Most vegetables and fruits will maintain quality for up to a year if properly packaged. Freezing does not kill bacteria, but slows their growth and development until thawed.

Drying food removes moisture that enzymes and bacteria need to grow, but does not kill them. Drying also dramatically changes the texture, and sometimes flavor, of the food. 

Dried foods must be stored in tightly-sealed containers, like glass jars, to keep moisture from the air from penetrating them and activating spoilage. Dried foods should be kept in cool, dark places. Storing in vacuum-sealed bags may extend the dried life of foods.

Dried food should be used within months. Freeze-drying is a process with a special machine the totally dries food that will maintain quality for years if properly packaged to keep air out.

Proper canning is a science that was developed to protect our health. Research has resulted in guidelines for destruction of yeast, enzymes and bacteria that reduce quality of the food and are a source of food-born illnesses. 

During canning, oxygen is removed under water allowing for the vacuum seal of the lid. 

Canned fruit, including jams and jellies, rely on sugar content to chemically “tie up” water molecules so the microorganisms cannot use them to grow. Foods like fruits that are naturally acid can be processed in a water bath canner. 

The canning time in the recipes is recommended, from testing, as how long it takes to kill the microorganisms in each food. Some USDA approved recipes include lemon juice or vinegar to increase acid content of the jars. Tomatoes need acid because they are on the low end of acidic foods. The acid (pH) helps to keep the microorganisms from growing in the vacuum. Low-acid foods like meats and most vegetables must be processed for longer times to kill Clostridium Botulinum. 

Today’s pressure canners have gauges, safety valves, lid-locks and other features for consumer safety. If we follow directions, the danger is eliminated and the food quality is better. 

 Canning resources and recipes are available at https://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog and National Center for Home Food Preservation website https://nchfp.uga.edu. Oregon State University Extension also has a toll-free Food Safety and Food Preservation phone hotline available weekdays, through Oct. 7, 1-800-354-7319.

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