Thursday, 16 September 2010

Some tips for preserving your precious crops!

Because I am back living in the big city of Montreal and that all the spots into the community gardens of my neighborhood were already booked, I couldn't make my garden this year... I miss gardening so much, but I've at least planted two window-boxes of fine herbs that I hung on my frontdoor balcony, and I still have participated in the creation of a few gardens during my visit to Zero One, which is a gem of intentional community doing permaculture. Have a read of the post I’ve wrote about it! Also, if you want to know more about it, please read my friend Jackson’s exciting posts.

Even if I haven't done my own garden, I've eaten local, fresh and organic veggies all summer, thanks to my subscription to the CSA baskets. So then, of course I'd like to continue to eat the same quality during the Quebec's long winter as much as possible. And so, I will have to hurry up and go buy some vegetables in greater quantity at the organic food store -that is at four street blocks from my place- in making sure they are really produced in my province. Why? I think it isn't necessary to tell you the whole story of how are preserved the vegetable produced in other countries so they can get "fresh" in our plate, nor the one about all the gases released in the atmosphere to meet our "needs"... Right?

And what will I do with these veggies? Well I'll prepare and freeze them, of course! Then I thought «Let’s share some tips with my friends (that’s YOU!), so they can do the same with the veggies they have grown, or so they can give me their own tips!»

Thus, to keep your crops, there are interesting alternatives that do not date from yesterday : preserves, pickles and jams, fermentations, freezing and dehydration. Some food, such as herbs herbs can be kept steeped in oil. These are all simple ways to save and preserve the flavor and nutritional values of your food, and avoid commercial products often containing high levels of sugars, salts, artificial colorings and preservatives.

Let’s take a closer look to the advantages of some of these ways…

The preserves, pickles and jams
Cooking and keeping food into airtight glass Mason jars allows you to keep it for about a year or so. The berries are, of course, delicious in jams. The pickles, onions, beets and peppers are excellent for pickling, or to make ketchup and chutney. And homemade tomato sauce is a vital asset for last minute meal.
Also, even if they require a little more of preparation time, canning and jams are offering much more advantages. Indeed, beside the fact that they can serve as nice and healthy gift when we are invited for diner at a friend's place, to prepare them can be a fun activity with family, friends or neighbors!

Nothing less complicated: you just have to do a quick internet search, or to go for a walk to the library, to find recipes that match our tastes and our needs. Even better: pay yourself a visit to your grand'ma, you'll make her day by asking her for her best recipes!

The only tip I have to give you, to do it right, is to pay attention to the sterilization process of your jars and of the food. For preserves of acid food (such as fruits, pickles, chutney, etc.), the bacterias are eliminated by simply boiling the jars once they are filled and sealed. But other preserves (such as meet, soups, sauces, ect.) must be heated to a temperature above 116 °C. How to know if your preserves have been heated enough? The lids should be "sucked" towards the inside of the jar when cooling. If it inflates, this means that sterilization has failed and you must restart the process, or consume the product very quickly and keeping it cold.

The freezing
Any fruits or vegetables can be freezed, this is not an issue. Simply spread them on a plate for the first few hours of freezing, then put them in a container or a freezer bag. This will prevent them from sticking in a bread unbreakable.

Where you have to be careful is when freezing prepared meals. To freeze a prepared meal containing milk or cream is never a good thing… Thus, my tip is to prepare the meal without it, and you’ll simply adjust the recipe when you’ll reheat it to serve. This is what I do with cream soups though.

The dehydration
Dehydration keeps all the vitamins in it. Dried food is long shelf life, contain no fat, and taste delicious. Apart from traditional herbs and raisins, it is quite possible, with a dehydrator, to preserve many foods, such as tomatoes, pears, berries, which can serve as healthy snacks, or can be add to the preparation of many desserts and salads. We can even make grain crackers and dehydrate fish and meat.My tip would be to keep your dried food in a cool place, by limiting its exposure to light, which can degrade the vitamins.

Now! Feel free to share you knowledge on the topic!

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