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This year we were really depending on our garden produce in order to preserve and put it up so that we had our pantries and our shelves very well stocked with food as we go into the fall and winter months during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s my Complete Guide to Home Food Preservation, sharing which ways we preserve different forms of produce.
We’ve always been focused on putting up as much food as we could from our own land. Just like the homesteaders of old. And maybe it’s not from your garden; you might not have a large garden space yet or can’t grow all the things that you would like to put up, but you take advantage of local farmer’s markets and CSAs. Even buying produce in bulk from the grocery stores and then preserving it and putting it up at home so you don’t have to go out and buy it during the off growing season months.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #272 A Complete Guide to Home Food Preservation (What to do When You Can’t Find Canning Supplies) of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
The homesteaders of old and farmers of old, before we had all of our large agriculture and store and supermarkets and that type of thing, it was just a normal way of life. I was really fortunate to be brought up with that mindset. My dad was born during the great depression so he was a child during the great depression. Even after the depression ended my grandparents still grew and preserved their own food.
Quite frankly, if they hadn’t produced their own food, then they would have gone hungry. That has always stuck with my dad. It was really interesting to learn a lot from him when I interviewed him where he shared 17 self-sufficiency tips from the great depression. You can hear what it was like growing up in that time from my dad himself. But that definitely shaped him which meant he raised me with that thought process and taught me those skills to put into practice.
So it’s always really been a part of my life. It’s not really anything new but the pressure, I guess for lack of a better word or the uncertainty with what might happen come this fall in winter with this new precedence of COVID-19 and everything as a result of it, we’ve put up more than we ever had before. I purchased canning lids and extra jars and supplies well in advance. I told my husband that we were going to make sure we had enough canning lids and jars to take us all the way through into next summer, if possible. So I purchased from all of the bulk sources that were available to me. And now most of them are now, unfortunately, saying they’re out of stock for this year and trying to meet their back orders that they have.
But I know many of you are not in that boat. You didn’t have a back supply of canning lids and supplies and you’re trying to find them now while you have the produce available. I’m going to address how to get things preserved and will start with canning because canning is my favorite form of food preservation because the food is ready to go. It’s shelf-stable without any type of electricity. It doesn’t matter if the power goes out my food is always safe on the shelf, ready to go. I don’t have to have extra water to rehydrate anything.
That is why I love canning. To me it is our most relied upon the type of food preservation, plus, not going to lie, on those nights where you’re busy and don’t have anything planned, I know I can just go to the shelf, grab a couple of jars, pop some lids, reheat and mix together for soup with a side of bread. I love that aspect of it too. I can get meals and food on the table in a quick hurry and we’re ready to go.
There are lots of other different types of food preservation that may lend themselves better than canning, especially if you can’t find canning supplies. At the time of this article, there are some places you can look to find canning supplies.
Pressure Canners: They are hard to come by right now as a lot are on backorder. Definitely keep checking the websites and if they’re showing in stock, then get them ordered. But they may be difficult to acquire right now. You can get them used. If you do, you want to make sure that you get the dial gauges checked if it’s a dial gauge pressure canner. If it has a rubber seal you want to make sure that the rubber seal is in good condition, have a backup.
And if you do have a pressure canner, make sure it’s in working order. You may want to look at getting some replacement supplies. There are things that can break on the pressure canner.
Water Bath Canner: You don’t actually have to have a water bath canner as long as you have a pot that is deep enough for the jars when they’re filled with food and they have their lids on that the water covers the top of the jar at least by one to two inches. You have to have some type of rack in the bottom so that the jar is lifted up off of the bottom of the pan.
Of course, if you buy a water bath canner they come with a rack, but you can use extra bands and put them in the bottom to create a homemade rack. Some people will twist up dish towels so that the jars aren’t sitting directly against the bottom of the pot. You definitely have some makeshift ways that you can water bath can acidic foods. I go over this in-depth in my canning course, but I also have a free four part canning safety video series. This class will answer questions such as:
I highly recommend going through that four-part video series. It will give you a foundation for updated, tested, and safe canning. You’ll be able to look at recipes and ingredients and understand exactly how something needs to be processed.
Canning Lids & Jars: You really cannot can without lids and jars. Places to check for supplies (and you may need to check in often as they come and go quickly):
Look for Tattler canning lids. They are the only type that is safe to reuse. They’re a two-piece system with a rubber seal and white lid that you use with regular canning bands. They’re definitely an upfront investment because they’re more expensive, but the rubber seals can be used multiple times, but not forever. Usually, about five and eight times to use that rubber seal.
I have to give you full disclosure, while I want to love them and say that they are the answer to everything canning because they’re reusable, I have a higher seal failure rate with them. Meaning that when I do a canner full with say 7 quarts, there’s usually at least one of the seven that doesn’t seal. Now, with the regular metal canning lids I may have two from the whole year of canning, which is close to 400 jars, fail. Once they seal they stay sealed. I’ve never had an issue with them coming unsealed but I have a harder time getting them to seal.
There are many different ways to preserve food that doesn’t involve canning. In fact, not every food should be canned like broccoli and cauliflower (unless it’s pickled) and zucchini.
And most people don’t want to can small amounts. In fact, it’s not advised to only can one or two jars in a pressure canner. It’s find to do in a water bath canner but most people don’t want to do that just for a couple jars. This is most likely to be an issue at the beginning of the harvest season when you have just a few cucumbers come in, or a few berries or tomatoes. Now, the tomatoes and berries I can just throw in the freezer until I have enough to can, but that doesn’t work on cucumbers or green beans.
This is where fermenting comes in. Fermenting is fabulous when you have smaller amounts of produce to so and you want to get it preserved up. Especially if you can’t find or don’t have the canning equipment. All you need is a glass mason jar or a fermenting crock in order to ferment your food.
There are glass weights but you can do impromptu weights. There are also airlock lids that help to prevent mold but you don’t have to have them. You really can do it with very minimal equipment. You just need the produce, salt, and sometimes water. If you’re doing things like sauerkraut or cortido – which is a form of sauerkraut, kimchi you’re just using salt. If it’s cabbage-based you’re usually just using salt. You’re not creating a brine.
If you’re fermenting things like cucumbers, green beans, or other items like that, you’ll create a saltwater brine. My favorite garlic dill fermented cucumber pickles is ideal when you have smaller amounts of produce. Of course, you can do much larger volumes in crocks.
Once the fermentation has gone through its fermentation at room temperature then it needs to be moved to cold storage for long-term storage, which for most of us is the refrigerator. If you have a basement that is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler, that can be ideal. Or a back room that doesn’t get a lot of heat, although in the middle of summer that can be a bit more difficult.
They can’t stay at room temperature above 55 degrees for a prolonged state of time because they will keep fermenting and they will become over fermented, meaning completely unpalatable. It’s not really a safety issue. Then you’ll get into a texture issue because it’ll start to break down.
Fermenting is something I’ve put into practice a lot this year because, unfortunately, we’ve had a very cool summer, even by Pacific Northwest standards. With the cooler temperatures, my warm-weather crops don’t produce well.
Dehydrator: Aside from canning and fermenting you have dehydrating. A dehydrator will give you a better ability to control the temperature of your dehydrated food. I don’t have an Excaliber dehydrator, which is known as the Cadillac of dehydrators, mainly because the air blows from the back instead of the top. Which means it’s an even temperature and even distribution of the heat and airflow. That’s why a lot of people really like the Excaliburs.
I have Nesco square dehydrator and have had it for five or six years. I use it quite a bit. You can add trays to it. It does blow down from the top but it’s quite a bit less expensive than the Excalibur.
It has worked just fine for me, but what I really like about my Nesco compare to older dehydrators that I’ve had in the past is that I can select the temperature so I can take it as low as 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is what I use for all of my herbs because it keeps them raw.
Then for fruits, I can put it on 125 degrees and vegetables 135 degrees. Here’s How to Dehydrate Fruit
If you’re doing meat like jerky the temperature needs to be higher, I think 160 degrees, but don’t quote me. (See Jerky Food Safety for detail on dehydrating jerky).
Dehydrating in the Oven: If you don’t have a dehydrator you can use your oven but you will need to prop the door open because it’s not just heat but airflow to help dehydrate.
Air Dry: Some things like herbs lend themselves well to air drying. You want to make sure to harvest the right parts at the best time to get the maximum medicinal properties. The way you dry and store them also impacts the medicinal properties and the strength that is available to you when you use the herbs.
When you’re drying herbs that are leafy greens, I recommend that if you don’t have a dehydrator that lets you go low enough to that 95 degrees to air dry. The great thing is that things like flowers, aerial parts of herbs, or things like basil, can be dried very easily without any equipment…just use the air.
Another form of food preservation is by using root cellar techniques. Heads up ya’ll, I don’t have a basement or root cellar. I don’t even have a garage or barn. You can use root cellaring techniques without any of those areas to store your vegetables for a very long time. It is specific vegetables that this works with, it doesn’t work with all of them.
Now, I have the Family Garden Planner, a planner with worksheets, weekly and monthly tasks, and recording areas for harvest yields, garden performance, and a day planner in one! The planner is available for preorder. I’m creating a pre-order bonus video and download guide so that you have the written material that you can print off which has information on how to properly cure your vegetables, which ones can be cured, ideal temps for each of them, and then storage so that you can sue those root cellaring techniques even if you don’t have one or even if you do. So that’s a great technique to use that will last months…even up to a year for some items.
We also have freezing. I know a lot of us don’t like to use a freezer per se because it is dependent on the freezer continuing to work and power. If you don’t have a generator and your power goes out then having your stuff in the freezer is not always ideal. But, for the most part, if you have a power outage, the food in the freezer, as long as you don’t open the door, will be fine for 24 hours. If the outage goes longer than that then you definitely want a generator.
We’ve had a power outage for two weeks before and had to run the generator. Yes, I know it needs fuel. We keep some on hand for these instances. There are just some things that lend themselves very well to the freezer. Some of those things are going to be your summer squash. Zucchini and summer squash can only be canned in relish form. Some pickles can be done with zucchini. My grandma’s mustard pickles are fine to do with zucchini in place of cucumbers.
However, I will shred zucchini and freeze it to make bread with throughout the winter months. But I also will cut it into coins or the smaller ones into rounds. If they’re big round slices, then I’ll halve them. I have found that shredding and freezing for bread it’s just fine. I don’t need to blanch it. But when i do the slices, I steam blanch for a few minutes, dunk into ice water, layout to drain and dry a little bit and then flash freeze on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper or silicone mats. Once frozen solid put them in the freezer storage container. I use large gallon Ziploc bags, which I reuse often, but you could use anything you’d like, such as a vacuum sealer. I like using the bag because I can just open the bag and take out what I need and reseal it.
Broccoli is another vegetable that we blanch and freeze. I can just add the frozen broccoli to some of my casseroles. Or I’ll serve as a side with some type of grated cheese on top. Another thing that people are surprised by, you can freeze cabbage. You can freeze the whole head without blanching but you have to use it within two months. You don’t want to let it go too long. When you blanch something, it stops a lot of the enzyme breakdown. And if you don’t blanch they never taste right. The texture is weird, even though you’ve cooked the frozen item fully. The flavor is just off and it’s because those enzymes continued to do their work. So if you freeze a whole head of cabbage plan on using it within the next month or two.
I’ll make cabbage rolls with it. It’s one of my favorite things to make. You can also blanch and then freeze your cabbage. You can do blanch a whole head, just the leaves, or rough chop it which I then use to make fried cabbage, add it to soups and stews, etc. Cabbage can’t be safely canned except in the form of sauerkraut.
Those are some of the ways that we are putting up the majority of our crops this year. I hope it gave you some ideas. That’s how we’re preserving up quite a bit of our produce.
The Pioneering Today Academy will be opening up for new members at the end of September. So if you’re on my email list (and you should get on it if you’re not), you will get notified about it. The academy is where I share all of the How-Tos, recipes, and where I walk you through every single step of doing all of these fermentation recipes, my full canning course (which you can get the Canning with Confidence e-course independently without being a member of the Pioneering Today Academy), root cellaring, growing all of your vegetables and fruits plus all the preservation methods using dehydration and fermenting. It’s all inside the Pioneering Today Academy.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.