Dear Farmer Tim, we just finished up our growing season, and I am wondering how people used to eat vegetables throughout the winter? What are the best ways for me to preserve my garden harvests through the winter?
Great question Summer,
Some crops will spoil if they’re not preserved, and others will actually store well with only basic preparation.
Many crops can be stored in a cool place like a basement, garage, or in the fridge for many months and still taste freshly picked. This includes winter squash, onions, beets, carrots, turnips, and more. Take a look at this guide to help you harvest and store 20 different storage crops!
The following are ways you can preserve produce that would otherwise spoil.
Canning involves heating jars in boiling water for a specified amount of time to kill bacteria and create a vacuum seal. Properly canned foods are shelf stable and do not have to be stored in the refrigerator until opened. There are two types of canning, water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning requires less equipment, but it only suitable for acidic foods such as salsas, jams, and pickled vegetables. Pressure canning uses a pressure cooker, but can safely kill bacteria in less acidic vegetables. Check out this guide to canning if you want to learn more about the process.
Pickled vegetables have a higher acidity and are suitable for water bath canning. Short on time? Quick pickling provides the same salt and vinegar flavor, but needs to be refrigerated and eaten sooner. Here is a quick recipe that you can use for a variety of vegetables from your Learning Garden.
Freezing is another quick method to preserve your harvest. Fully raw, frozen vegetables, do not thaw well, so before you freeze your vegetables, you will need to “blanch” them first. “Blanching” means to submerge your produce in boiling water for a few minutes and then dunk them in an ice bath to retain their color and nutrients. Rinse the excess water off the produce and store in freezer-safe containers. Make sure to label them!
Having dehydrator is convenient and helpful, but not necessary to dehydrate foods. If you do not have a dehydrator, you can place your thinly sliced vegetables of choice on a lined sheet pan in the oven at 200 degrees until they are dried out – usually 4-6 hours. The dehydrated vegetables will plump back up when you add them to a dish with liquid. I like to do this with halved cherry tomatoes to get that homegrown tomato taste all winter long. Peppers can also be preserved by stringing them together with a needle and thread and hanging until dried.
Fermentation was one of the earliest forms of food preservation, and only requires a few ingredients. It is important to submerge the vegetables in a salty brine and avoid contact with the air to prevent spoilage. Here is a fermentation guide to get you started.
I hope you find these food preservation techniques helpful! By mixing and matching these techniques, you can enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor all winter!