This is how we do it

Now that the garden is 99% harvested, it’s time for a retrospective on our 6 growing seasons here. One of our primary goals is to see just how much food we can grow, to last us the whole year long. Attaining that goal involves some food preservation techniques, and we’ve learned that it’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Certain tools are the backbone of our pantry supply chain – pressure canner, water bath canner, dehydrator, freezer & refrigerator.

Most folks are familiar with water bath canners.

 They are fairly low-tech, used for tomato products, pickles, jams & jellies. High acid foods that don’t require temperatures over the boiling point to ensure a safely preserved product.

For low acid foods like meat and veggies, we use an All-American pressure canner.

This kind of pressure canner doesn’t have as many parts to wear out like other brands, such as rubber gaskets. The metal-on-metal contact just requires a periodic greasing with vaseline, and that’s about it for maintenance. It’s relatively expensive and takes some storage space, but definitely worth the investment.

Some foods are more convenient in the dehydrated form, whether for palatability or space-saving convenience. Then we use an Excalibur dehydrator.

This model has a fan/heater in the back and blows the air across the food more evenly than cheaper dehydrators. I like to turn the trays & check the food while it’s drying, but if I can’t get to it, the Excalibur still turns out a quality result with no fuss.

Some food is just better or easier frozen. Usually veggies require blanching before freezing (and dehydrating too) to stop enzymatic action, and we use a pot like this, with an insert for water-blanching veggies. There is a shallower steamer insert that is great for cooking tamales too.

We use a specialty refrigerator to store our eggs & produce until we have time to process it, and certain processed foods like fridge pickles live here for months. The fridge is special in that it doesn’t have a freezer. Most fridge/freezer combos are designed to function in household temperatures, and just don’t work in the cold environment of an unheated garage in winter.

With all this extra space, we can keep many jars of pickled food, eggs, homebrew, etc, safely stored without worry of freezing or spoiling.

And speaking of freezing, your average fridge-top freezer in your kitchen isn’t up to snuff. Frost-free freezers keep the frost away by warming up just enough to melt the frost, then cool down again. Eventually this freeze/thaw cycle really lowers the quality of frozen food, which is not what you want after going through the work of growing your your own. Chest freezers don’t cycle like this, they keep food at a constant low temp below zero. This buys a lot more time to use food up before is loses palatability.

We have 2 chest freezers at Seven Trees. A 7 cu ft one that fits all of Patty Pig, plus some berries and other produce. The 14 cu ft freezer fits all of Doug and half of Buddy.

A quick breakdown of what we preserve and how:

  • Meat – pressure canned, jerky in the dehydrator
  • Veggies – (corn, broccoli, carrots) pressure canned, blanched & dehydrated (good for soups)
  • Fruit – dehydrated (so tasty as snacks)
  • Berries – frozen
  • Peppers – dehydrated
  • Pickles – water bath canned, fresh-brined and refrgerated
  • Chard/Chinese cabbage – blanched & frozen

The possibilites are endless in terms of keeping ourselves fed on what we grow here. It’s a process of trial and error though, discovering what foods we like preserved in what way. The tools outlined above are well worth the investment in money and practice though. We’ve looked at many ways of putting food by, from the ancestral low-tech of leather britches, to the more modern tech of the vaccum-sealed Foodsaver, and have settled on the set of tools/methods you read about in this blog. As the saying goes – your mileage may vary.  Experiment with what grows best for you, what you like the best, and what preservation methods are convenient and affordable. But this set of tools is a good starting point for most folks.

Oh yeah – as for the title of this blog post – those of you from an urban environment, from a certain time period (like one of the humans of Seven Trees) may recall this tune http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hiUuL5uTKc

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