Let's talk about home food preservation, because it's one of my favorite things in the whole world. If you haven't been bit by it yet, trust me, it's only a manner of time and then you'll be hoarding Mason jars right along with me.
Today I outline pro tips for home food preservation so you know which foods are ready seasonally by the month and the best ways to handle and preserve them so you aren't overwhelmed with all the summer produce coming on. Armed with this info you won't miss a crop either.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #184 Tips for Home Food Preservation- Know Which Foods to Preserve Each Month, 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.
Benefits of Home Food Preservation
There is nothing like having fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. One of my favorite things about growing a garden in summertime eating ripe produce straight off the plant.
You're picking them right at the perfect time of ripeness and there's nothing fresher than getting them straight from your backyard garden. The taste, flavor, and texture is close to perfection! Once you've had that it's really hard to go back to getting those items from the store because the taste just isn't the same.
While I love eating fresh from the garden during the summertime, we also want to preserve the excess harvest so that we have those items in our pantry.
Having them in our pantry allows us the ability to cook these items year round and ideally we'd never have to buy them from the store. When you preserve them at home they have even better flavor than if you you were buying the same item preserved in the same way from the store. If you're harvesting from your backyard and then preserving it, there's not that downtime where it's being shipped or it's sitting on a store shelf and losing some of its nutrients. It's not at it's peak by the time the produce reaches the store shelves. We're just getting better food with higher nutrition when we grow, pick, and preserve it ourselves.
Today I thought we'd dive into preserving your food as it comes on and seasonally because obviously different crops are going to need harvesting at different times and a lot of them overlap. We're really beginning to move into the crazy preserving season for most places that are in the western hemisphere. If you're in the U.S. and Canada then you're really beginning to move into when the preserving season gets cranking!
Preserving Seasonal Food Each Month
Now, for my homestead here in the Pacific Northwest here in the Washington state on the west side in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountain range we're technically (by the maps) we're a gardening zone 7. But really, for where we live in our little micro-climate we are close to a gardening zone 6. For us, the preserving season starts typically in June. I do a little bit in May when I do all of our pickled asparagus, which is one of our favorite crops. For many, it's typically a March through May crop, although some may still be able to get it into June.
One of the things that is helpful when you are preserving know when each crop is going to be coming on so that you can plan. I actually have a preserving plan that I talk about more in-depth in episode #147 Home Food Preservation – Preserving Plan for a Year's Worth of Food. To give you a quick overview, you need to know what food your family eats the most of, which is how we identify what and how much we grow each year. You'll also need an understanding of what form you like to eat it in.
In my example, our favorite is pickled asparagus. I mean, we can eat a quart-size jar of pickled asparagus in one sitting! I also like to freeze asparagus as well and we love to eat it freshly roasted with butter and garlic salt. Oh my goodness! One of my favorite things!
When making pickled asparagus you have to trim each spear for it to fit into the quart size jar, there are usually quite a bit of ends left that is still usable, good, and green. It's not the white, icky part on the end that most of us don't eat that you trim off. I take the green trimmings and freeze those and either use them when I'm making vegetable broth, but usually what I'll do is make a couple big pots of cream of asparagus soup. I use a lot of broth and a little bit of cream to make it creamy and delicious. The cream makes it a little bit richer and let's face it, most things taste butter with some cream or butter in them. Can I get an amen?
I have that plan in place so that I know how I'm using that crop and the way my family likes to eat it and when it's are coming on so that I can make sure I have all the ingredients and the equipment needed in order to get them preserved. There's are many other forms of food preservation aside from canning, such as dehydrating, using salt, root cellaring, fermenting, and freezing.
Snag your free seat in my 5 Essential Steps to Safely Canning at Home Workshop! Learn to safely can and store delicious food so you can secure your food supply and enjoy your harvest all year.
Which Home Food Preservation Methods to Use?
How do you know which one is best for you and that specific crop? Rest assured, I happen to have a podcast episode on that. Big surprise right? You can find that in episode #147 How to Pick the Best Preserving Method.
It's important for me to know how I want to preserve the food I'm growing because, for example, when the fruits and berries are coming on, especially things like our blackberries, cherries, raspberries, and blueberries so are the rest of the vegetables. I know that I can freeze anything that I'm going to make into a jam or jelly and/or syrup or just obviously want to have frozen so that I can use those berries to make a pie later because you can make pies and cobblers very easily from frozen berries.
Did you know that frozen berries are an excellent summer treat when it's really hot out? My kids and I just love to munch on frozen blueberries. I also like adding them to smoothies throughout the year. Frozen berries can also be used in different kefirs or kombucha.
I know when those fruits come on that I'm allocating to all those different types of eating or preserving later down the road, they can just go in my freezer and I don't need to spend my time preserving them into their final product at the moment. Technically, putting them in the freezer is a form of food preservation but it's not as hands-on or intensive as doing the other methods. Then I can focus on the berries that I want to turn into canned home pie filling or just canned fruit. For example, peaches, apricots, pears, those types of fruits.
Once I get that fruit, I need to put that into that form so I need to make and can that pie filling, can the peaches and pears in a really light syrup. The sugar in the syrup helps retain the color of the fruit. It makes a difference! I have to admit when my kids look at peaches on the shelf, if the peaches have turned really brown or they don't have that nice pretty color, it's not quite as appetizing so they're less likely to eat them. So I like to do just a really light syrup so there's not a whole lot of sugar in there, but enough to retain the fruit color.
Make Your Plan to Avoid Overwhelm
You can see why it's really helpful to know how you're going to preserve and eat each of these crops because it's going to determine the way, what you'll need, and what you're going to do with the end product. If you know that ahead of time, it just removes a lot of that overwhelm, which you'll feel once your gardens starts to really produce. For me a lot of my fruit plants the glut of the harvest usually hits in July and it can get overwhelming really quickly. If you go in already knowing this is what we eat, how I need to deal with everything it really helps you to not feel overwhelmed and to not waste any of the harvest.
What if you don't have a huge garden or maybe are not growing all of that fruit yet? It's helpful to know what is going to be in season right now so that you can plan to go to a You Pick Farm near where you live. I love you pick farms because it allows you to know how it's grown. You can ask them if they're not certified organic what type of sprays they use because a lot of places aren't certified organic but they do use organic practices but they can't afford organic certification, especially if they're really small. It lets you talk to the farmer or the person that owns the property and is caring for the crops to find out what's been used on them.
Advantage to Picking Your Own Fruit (hint: this helps your jam and jellies set easier!)
The other great thing is that you are determining, especially when you're picking it, that you're picking the stuff that's not super overripe or under ripe. You're getting it just right.
If you are picking berries and fruit to use for homemade jams and jellies, get about a quarter of it under ripe if you plan to use the old fashioned jam, jelly or syrup recipes that don't call for store-bought pectin
Here's a little tip: Underripe fruit, just a bit under – not totally green, has more pectin. By picking it yourself, you can make sure you've got those great pectin levels in your jams, jellies, syrups, etc.
Here's another tip: There are different levels of pectin in all of your fruits. For example, a green apple has a lot more pectin in it than a red apple. If you put a really high-level pectin fruit with a lower level pectin fruit, then you can use a small amount of that higher level pectin fruit and it doesn't really affect the flavor of the other fruit and you can use that in place of store-bought pectin. And yes, I have a whole FREE ebook Old-Fashioned Preserving Jams & Jellies – No Store Bought Pectin & Low Sugar.
If you don't have you pick farms around then are are farmers markets which is the next best thing. Then there is always the grocery store. I know we're homesteading. Most of you are probably focusing on raising it yourself or supporting a CSA program, you pick farms, and farmers markets and I totally applaud that and agree with it, but sometimes there may not be something near you that you can for that crop. It's okay to get some of this at the grocery store. The great thing about knowing when things are in season though is that you usually will get the best price and the best quality of that produce if you're getting it when it is in its natural season so that it's not being shipped from a different country in a different hemisphere during the off season.
Knowing What's in Season
That's why it's really helpful to an understanding of seasonality and have your plan in place. And, if you're in the Pioneering Today Academy, which is my membership site for which we're going to be opening for just a few days in a couple weeks. What's important to know is if you're a member – And if you're a member and didn't know about this bonus, you best get to opening your emails from me, logging in and grabbing it because each month is only available during that specific month! – we put out every single month as a bonus part of the membership, a seasonal monthly harvest guide.
It let's you know what's in season, If you're growing it yourself, what the signs are that it's ready to harvest, different ways to cook it fresh and different ways it can be preserved. In addition, if it has any medicinal properties or that type of thing we also highlight our natural do-it-yourself section in the monthly guide. So for different herbs and such we share with you how to prepare something that's a natural do-it-yourself recipe. It's a great resource to have.
Foods in Season by the Month
Fruits & Veggies in Season for June
- new potatoes
- snow peas
- spring onions
- swiss chard
Fruits & Veggies in Season for July
- peaches (depends on climate)
- green beans
- sweet and hot peppers
- summer squash
Just by that list, you can tell that there was a huge jump from June to July of what'll be ready to harvest in the garden. When you move into August you'll have a window of harvesting these crops for at least a few weeks, some longer.
Fruits & Veggies in Season for August
- green beans
- sweet and hot peppers
- summer squash
As I shared earlier, we put up pickled asparagus and right now I'm harvesting rhubarb. I'll freeze some of it to later make into jam because I love to pair rhubarb with strawberries and the strawberries are just starting to come on here. I also freeze rhubarb because then I can use it different dishes. I also can up some rhubarb with a light syrup, which is basically called stewed rhubarb. That is great to make old-fashioned pudding cakes (inside my book Hand Made), which is one of my favorites. For this you don't even use store-bought pudding, it's totally from scratch. I love to do a rhubarb strawberry dump cake too. It can also be used to put into muffins or coffee cakes.
Rhubarb is one of my favorite things and last year I made up quite a bit of a rhubarb barbecue sauce. This is where it comes in handy to look and see what you have and know what your family is eating and how much of it. We still have quite a bit of that rhubarb barbecue sauce left. I made a pretty big batch of that last year and have no plans to do it again this year because I have so much left.
How long is home canned food good for
And because I know you're going to ask this, ideally, with your canned foods, most sources say that you want to use it within 12 months and after 12 months it slowly begins to drop in increments on the nutritional value. But as long as you followed proper canning procedure, updated recipes, and times and canning that is safe, newer lids say they'll hold up to 18 months. Honestly, on my fruit stuff, I have had stuff that definitely lasts two years plus.
You do want to practice proper rotation with any of your food, but especially your canned goods so that your eating the oldest stuff first. So you don't have jars that get lost in the back of the pantry that have been there for years and years and years. But with my fruit I definitely have had different sauces and jams, jellies and syrups that go well past that 18 month mark and we've not had any issue.
Another crop that we're currently harvesting are radishes. We've been eating those fresh but you can do pickled radishes. We like a lot of other food pickled and just adore fresh radishes so it's a crop that we don't do a lot of preserving with. I'm also beginning to have my kale come on and will dehydrate it later when I have a lot more in abundance. Right now we're just getting to harvest that when it's fresh. Right now I have that lull before everything in about two weeks is going to be coming on hot and heavy. I will pretty much be preserving from the first part of July all the way through the end of September, so I have about a three month window where we are just going pretty much non-stop with all of our preserving and filling the pantry back up.
Using the Freezer for Home Food Preservation with Canning
My blueberries will probably be ripe, I'm guessing, in about 10 to 14 days. I'll start on the blueberry harvest and usually freeze most of them and that make them into jam and that type of thing later in the fall months when the rest of the vegetable harvest has been take care of. Sometimes I'll make up jam depending on how much room I have in the freezer which definitely comes into play as well.
My freezer space is dedicated to some of the crops that don't lend themselves well to canning or other forms of food preservation – there are a few – and to our meat that I don't can. We raise and butcher our own meat chickens so I have whole chickens in my freezer. We do the same thing with our own grass-fed beef. I have anywhere from a quarter to half a cow in my freezer. And then we raise our own organic pork which I still have some still in the freezer.
Plus any excess that I've got meat wise, some of it I do like to have canned up, such as venison, which I can almost all of it, except the back strap. The back strap is like our favorite and we go through that first so the freezer gets to hold some of the berries if there is space. If not, then I just go ahead and process it right when it comes on.
Cherries will be on right after the blueberries. I cannot wait for the because cherry pie filling is one of our favorite things to can up and yes, you can totally make it into cherry pie, but really one of my favorite things to do is make cheesecake and then put the homemade cherry pie filling on top of that. I also love to use it when making a chocolate cake as the filling. Top the chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache and oh. my. goodness! It's like the best thing every!
The other thing I really love to do with cherries is dehydrate them which is one of my all time favorite snacks. I do make up some cherry jam but I actually have quite a bit of cherry jam left from last year and only two jars of cherry pie filling and no dehydrated cherries. Did I mention that they're a favorite snack?
Putting It All Together
So I have my plan in place that I'm going to be dehydrating quite a few of the cherries just to have as a snack. Then come Christmas time I love to put dried cherries into some of my different cookies and quick breads and that type of thing. We don't have cranberries that grow around here so I like to use cherries in place of cranberries in a lot of recipes because it's something I can grow and preserve myself versus purchasing the cranberries.
As I've said, I have my preserving plan in place. I don't need to make any cherry jam, but I do need to do cherry pie filling and dehydrate a bunch of cherries. I share that just so you can see how I go through and look at things to determine my plan on what where going to be doing with it. Know you know what's coming up in season through August snag your free seat in my 5 Essential Steps to Safely Canning at Home Workshop! Learn to safely can and store delicious food so you can secure your food supply and enjoy your harvest all year.
Resources for Tips for Home Food Preservation:
Episode #149 How to Pick the Best Preserving Method + Favorite Recipes/Tutorials from Two Homesteaders for the Price of One (okay, it’s all free but ya get my meaning, double the fun!)
Your one-stop shop for EVERYTHING homesteading and food preservation- The Pioneering Today Academy
More Articles on Home Food Preservation
- A Complete Guide to Home Food Preservation (What to do When You Can’t Find Canning Supplies)
- Home Food Preservation- Preserving Plan for a Year’s Worth of Food
- 9 Ways to Preserve Food at Home
- How to Store Home Canned Food Safely – Jar Stacking & Canning Rings
- 129+ Best Canning Recipes to Put Up This Year
- How to Preserve Meat, Eggs, & Dairy
- Leather Britches Green Beans (200-Year-Old Preservation Method)
- Freeze Dried Eggs for Long-Term Storage (+ Reconstituting Freeze Dried Eggs)
- How Do You Know if a Canning Recipe is Safe
- How to Pick the Best Preserving Methods
- How to Convert Recipes for Canning + Safety Tips
- The Science of Home Food Preservation
- Planning and Preserving Q&A with Melissa