The Art of Canning and Freezing
This time of year, at the end of winter, my thoughts wander out to the garden. I’m already thinking about what vegetables I will grow in my raised beds. The other day my green thumb got to itching and I planted some basil and dill in pots on the kitchen counter. I’m one of those people who keep a five-gallon bucket of garden dirt in the basement, so it doesn’t freeze. I never know when I’ll get the need to have my hands in some good black loam.
The older I get the more I realize that some of the old-time life skills that were a given in my mom’s day are becoming lost in today’s busy, plugged-in lifestyle. One of those skills is preserving food by canning and freezing. When my son was a preschooler, a farmer friend let me have a large garden plot at his mom’s farmhouse on the edge of the village. I grew everything from the usual tomatoes and cucumbers to brussel sprouts, red Pontiac potatoes and cantaloupe. The vegetables from that garden feed us for many winters. Around that same time, I worked with a woman who took her two-weeks vacation every year at harvest so she could can fruits and vegetables.
Preserving food for the winter still has its advocates, at least in my corner of rural America. While some families depend on their home canned and frozen foods, grown in the family garden or purchased from the local farmers’ market, other people enjoy canning up their own specialty foods, just for the fun of it.
A good example of the canning hobbyist is my neighbor, Ron. Last fall, he canned a batch of tomato-based vegetable juice. He handed me a pint to try, over the backyard fence. It was tasty with a nice spicy flavor. (I’ve included his recipe at the end.)
Another canning hobbyist I know is Karen who lives a couple of counties north of me, out in the country. She involves her husband in canning up salsa from beginning to end. They grow all of the ingredients in their backyard garden. They both take care of the weeding, the harvesting and the slicing and dicing on canning day.
Food preservation begins in the late spring with the earliest vegetables including peas and rhubarb. I prefer to freeze both of these vegetables over canning them. Rhubarb is easy to freeze: just rinse and dice. And peas retain better color and texture when frozen.
Freezing and canning is also a way to save on your food budget. I love the color of yellow, orange and red sweet bell peppers in my cooking. I buy them on sale and freeze for later use. The process is easy: rinse the peppers then remove seeds and pith. Cut into thin slices, spread out on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight. Then scoop the pepper slices into zip-style plastic bags or into freezer containers. When ready to use, just take out the amount needed. That’s all there is too it.
Green beans and broccoli need to be blanched, which is the process of dipping the prepared vegetables into a bath of boiling water for a couple of minutes, cooling in ice water, draining and then freezing.
Again, if you’re processing a small amount of vegetables, spread them on a cookie sheet to freeze and store in zip-style bags. That makes it easy to take out only the amount of vegetables needed.
Canning can be a year-round activity. I enjoy making up a big batch of turkey vegetable soup, using the turkey carcass and leftover meat and gravy from Thanksgiving dinner. A ham bone from Christmas can be added to navy beans for a pot of delicious bean soup that can be canned or frozen to enjoy all winter.
An important advantage to canning and freezing your own fruits and vegetables is knowing exactly what is going into the jar or freezer bag. There are no chemical preservatives or artificial colors and flavors added. Salt can be eliminated and the amount of sugar can be decreased.
My canning “bible” is Ball’s Blue Book of Canning. Everything I’ve ever wanted to know regarding recipes, processing times and pressures is in that book.
RON’S TOMATO-VEGGIE JUICE
10 lbs tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 8 quarts)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, chopped
2 carrots,cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 c chopped celery
1/2 c chopped green pepper
1/4 c sugar
1 T salt
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t pepper
DIRECTIONS: Combine tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, celery and green pepper in a large Dutch oven or soup kettle. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Cool. Press mixture through a food mill or fine sieve. Return juice to Dutch oven. Add sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Bring to a boil. Ladle hot juice into hot sterilized quart jars, leaving 1/3 inch head space. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar. Adjust caps. Process for 40 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Yields 7 to 8 quarts.