Can, Freeze or Dry?

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Water bath canner.

Water bath canner.


Food preservation has many faces. When you’re faced with the annual glut of darned near everything, how do you decide whether to can, freeze or dry? And I suppose I should add to that list whether to ferment or store intact without processing. I’m assuming you have the necessary equipment to do all of the above; if not, that may play a large role in the decision-making process.
Those of you who have been reading my posts should know by now that I’m all for the easy way, so that’s a big factor in my personal can/freeze/dry eeny-meeny-miny-mo. The other major issue for me is that I don’t have a cellar or its equivalent, which means I have to be careful about high temperatures for things like canned goods, so the seals will stay good. In other respects, my choices may vary from one year to the next, depending on how much of whatever food I have available, how much time I have, how much help I have and how full the freezers are.
First, I generally do not can any kind of meat, and I rarely can vegetables. By the time you’ve met the required pressure canning times for meat, it’s pretty much cooked to death. Canned meat is really only useful for things like stews, pot pies and sandwich meat (if ground or chopped fine and livened up with things like mayonnaise, hot sauce and such). IMHO, the only kind of canned vegetable that tastes very good is corn, and it’s a heck of a lot better frozen. Canned meats and veggies are also the most likely to raise food safety issues – i.e. botulism – and you’re supposed to boil them for a minimum of 10 minutes before you eat them. So not only do you cook them in the canning process, you cook them some more. Heat destroys many nutrients (although it does concentrate some). However, if I lived in a situation where I didn’t have freezers, or should TSHTF and the electrical grid go down forever, I would do a LOT more canning.
This is presumably some sort of Concord grape; very vigorous -- if we didn't hack it back to nubbins each year it would soon take over the whole orchard.

This is presumably some sort of Concord grape; very vigorous — if we didn’t hack it back to nubbins each year it would soon take over the whole orchard.


I do can (water bath) fruit juice, primarily grape juice, because the grapes get ripe in fall, when I can put my jars outside in the wash house. If I had a basement, I might can more juices – apple, pear and blackberry come to mind. I make jams and jellies (no water bath) and can tomatoes, applesauce, pear sauce and fruit butters (water bath). These are all high-acid foods, so pressure canning is not required.
Filling jars for Easey-Peasey Grape Juice.

Filling jars for Easey-Peasey Grape Juice.


In a perfect world, I would have about a dozen BIG freezers, and everything would go in them. In the real world, I have two big uprights, a smallish side-by-side with the big refrigerator and an even smaller top freezer on the small refrigerator. Meat takes up a lot of that space. When I’m milking, I freeze butter, and I often freeze blackberries and plum pulp because they get ripe in the dog days of summer, when it’s too bloody hot to make jam. The rest of the freezer space is occupied by frozen veggies like corn and green beans.
I don’t have a dehydrator, but I do air dry herbs and have been known to do some fruit drying using my gas oven. If I had a dehydrator (and I’m currently using creative nagging to get one built, as we have perfect summer conditions for dehydrating), I would certainly dry apricots and apples, and probably peaches, Damson plums and cherries as well. Pears would be iffy, because by the time they get ripe, we’re usually into the rainy season. We use dry storage for dry beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash and pumpkins.
Basil hangers.

Basil hangers.


I ferment apple cider for vinegar, as well as cucumbers, zucchini, sweet peppers, zucchini relish and beets. I don’t can them, but store most of them in the fridge (they’re usually good for a year or more). Vinegar can be stored on the shelf. If I had a root cellar, I would ferment a lot more stuff; it’s quick and easy, doesn’t heat up the house in the dead of summer and I think ferments generally taste better than their counterparts canned with vinegar. I don’t make sauerkraut because nobody in the family likes it, but if you do, fermentation is a great way to deal with lots of cabbage.
Fermenting pickles (summer squash with onions and garlic) and apple cider vinegar.

Fermenting pickles (summer squash with onions and garlic) and apple cider vinegar.


I like to eat from the garden whenever possible. In the spring, that means lots of asparagus, snap peas, cabbage and spinach. In the summer, it’s tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, summer squash and green beans. Fall and winter are broccoli, beets, cabbage, spinach, winter squash and kale. We have green onions, celery, lettuce, carrots and chard fresh from the garden year round. Many of these are foods that really don’t can or freeze well, and are better eaten fresh in season, or that will hold well in the garden through fall and winter so they can be eaten even if they aren’t technically in season.
That’s my (relatively loose and flexible) system – what’s yours?

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