If you’ve stepped foot in a grocery store or filled an Instacart recently, you know there are a variety of items that are in low supply. In fact, butter and sweet pepper shortages appear to be a sign of these very uncertain coronavirus times. So whether you’re looking for ways to preserve what you already have in the house or are setting goals to be better about reducing food waste in the future, we’ve got some pointers regarding the proper way to save everything from milk to peaches so you can enjoy them down the road.
Your freezer is a golden opportunity to store ripening fruit and wilting greens. If you fear your container of strawberries, mango, or pineapple is a day away from passing its prime, cut it into cubes and put it on a cookie sheet. Flash freeze the cubes and then transfer them to a freezer safe bag. Use fruit in smoothies, compote, or pies later on. Avocados can be frozen in peeled halves or mash them and store in a bag or container to use for guacamole at a later date.
Some dairy products can also be stored in the freezer, although it may change the consistency a bit. Butter can go directly in, boxes or plastic and all. Milk can be repackaged or frozen whole. It will expand, but that’s what those divots on the sides of the container are for, really. Cheese also stores well, but maintains a better texture if grated first. Be sure to package tightly and remove air before freezing.
Vegetables and freezers make great partners. Some foods first need to be blanched in order to start the cooking process. This simply means steaming or boiling them for a few minutes before cooking and prepping in containers or bags for the freezer. Blanch asparagus, broccoli, leafy greens, okra, peas, summer squash, brussel sprouts, artichoke hearts, and cauliflower. Blanching times range from one to six minutes. Some sources will tell you to also blanch corn, sweet peppers, onions, and tomatoes, but it’s not really necessary. Garlic bulbs can be frozen with or without the skin. A note: the purpose of blanching is to break down the enzymes that cause decay. While unblanched frozen food is safe to eat, the consistency and/or color may suggest otherwise.
To prepare for freezing, remove the core from tomatoes, then cut and place into a freezer safe bag. Peel and cut onions before freezing. You can combine onions with a variety of colored sweet peppers for an instant fajita mixture.
Pickling is a fermentation process that has been around for generations. It’s simple to do, although some processes are fast and others require patient observation while the process takes place. Pickle red and yellow onion, cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes and other favorite veggies by first cleaning and cutting into slices or spears.
One technique is called quick pickling. This results in a snackable product in just a few days, but lacks the deeply pickled taste of long-fermentation. Combine equal parts vinegar (any type) and water. You can add herbs, spices, garlic, or ginger to create unique flavor profiles. For a combination of one cup water to one cup vinegar, add one tablespoon kosher salt or two teaspoons pickling sale and an optional one tablespoon of table sugar. Boil the mixture until the dry ingredients dissolve. Stuff vegetables into clean canning jars and top with the boiling liquid, filling within ½ inch of the top. Seal with a lid and refrigerate. Wait a minimum of 48 hours before opening. The longer they sit, the fuller the flavor will be.
To ferment the traditional way, use a large crock or other container that can be out of your kitchen circulation for a few weeks. There are many, many recipes for different foods and flavors but the basic process is again to prep foods by cleaning and disposing of end pieces. Slice in the shape you prefer. Then make a brine with water, acidic vinegar, and salt. Combine in the crock and let them sit a few weeks. Once fermented, pack into jars. Different foods call for different processing times, but typically range from 15-30 minutes.
Canning foods is an excellent preservation technique. Many vegetables can be made in a pressure cooker or instant pot. To can green beans, for example, select fresh beans. You will need one to three pounds per quart jar. Blanch and then cut them into bite-size pieces. Pack them into hot jars, add salt, and cover with hot water. Release trapped air from the jar and leave about an inch of space at the top. Place the jars into a pressure cooker and follow directions to create the proper amount of cooking pressure based on your model. Use caution when handling hot items.
Fruits, jams and tomatoes are processed in a simple water bath and create a plethora of food options with no waste. When your tomatoes go crazy at the end of summer, you can also make a variety of sauces to get you through the winter. Try salsa, marinara sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, etc. All of these items are cooked in a pot and then added to hot, sterile jars. Wipe the top of the jar with a clean cloth and seal with lid and ring immediately. Then submerge into a water bath for the recommended amount of time. The process is similar for peaches, pears, jams, and applesauce, with a bit of variation in the preparation. You can even make apple pie filling and can it to reheat and serve over ice cream or add to a pie crust during the upcoming months.
Even if you don’t plan to process your food, you can make it last longer with proper storage. Hearty onions can be stored for ten months or more in the proper conditions. The ideal location is a cellar or shed that maintains a temperature of around 40 degrees F. Also stored in a cool, dark location, garlic will store for several months. For both foods, be sure they are properly cured (dried) before storage. Potatoes can also join the cold and dark party where they should remain fresh for at least three months.
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