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Learn to preserve the produce you grow in your home kitchen garden. This home canning starter kit includes everything you need to can your first batch using the boiling water bath method for high-acid foods. Find it and other canning supplies at the Home Kitchen Garden Store.

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When you grow fruit in a home kitchen garden, it’s a good idea to learn to make jams and jellies. I pack pint jars for my sandwiches and english muffins, and 8 oz jars as gifts for school teachers, music teaches, riding instructors, and friends.

If you planted a large home kitchen garden this year, then you probably already know how to preserve the fruits, vegetables, and nuts you grew in it. Or… maybe you planted the garden without thought about what you’d do if it produced more food than you could consume during the growing season? For those who are thinking of adding a home kitchen garden to defray food costs in the coming year, learning to preserve food could become of paramount importance.

Food Preservation Methods

There is no single method of preserving fresh garden produce so that it is as satisfying in two or three months as it is on the day you harvest it. Some fruits will keep for many months when stored in the right environment (cold-storage in oxygen-free containers), but their texture deteriorates and they’re never as satisfying as fruits picked fresh from a tree. Certain vegetables–especially root crops and squash–keep surprisingly well and can last through a long winter… but after lengthy storage, they almost beg you to cook them; textures change and they just aren’t as appealing as they were when you first harvested them.

Popular methods of preserving produce include:

  • Storing it in a cool, dry environment (typically, a root cellar)
  • Dehydration
  • Canning
  • Freezing
  • Pickling (and canning)

Root cellar—Storing potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, squash, and similar vegetables in a root cellar holds the produce in a condition quite similar to fresh; the items you preserve this way are most like fresh produce when you later prepare them in your kitchen. Unfortunately, most types of produce won’t keep in a root cellar any better than they will on your dining room table. Root and squash crops may keep for three to nine months when managed properly in a root cellar.

Freezing—Freezing produce retains a considerable amount of a food’s characteristics, and stands as the preservation method of choice for most green vegetables and fruits. Interestingly, freezing dramatically changes the characteristics of most root crops, making the mushy and unpleasant. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, and chard are also lousy candidates for freezing, unless you plan to eat them cooked; once frozen and thawed, leaves become very mushy and bear little resemblance to the original product. Frozen fruits and vegetables will keep well from six to twelve months.

This two-gallon pot of applesauce is ready to go into canning jars. My kids will eat a quart of applesauce each week which means I could can 13 gallons a year and it wouldn’t be too much… only 11 gallons to go!

Canning—You pretty much cook fruits and vegetables during the canning process. Consequently, they soften up. In the case of vegetables, canning makes them softer than you might intentionally do when cooking from fresh; there’s no cripiness in a canned green bean. Home-canned fruits have exactly the same characteristics of commercially-canned fruits except that their flavor is exponentially better… probably because you can use fully-ripe fruit at home, and commercial canneries tend to use firmer fruits that won’t bruise easily when running machine processes. So, if you’re used to eating canned pears, peaches, applesauce, and the like, it’ll taste much better if you prepare and can it yourself. Canned produce will last from one to two years.

Dehydration—Dehydration may be the least common method of preserving produce from a home kitchen garden. It offers certain advantages over other methods: Dehydrated foods don’t require freezing, refrigeration, or storage in a root cellar. Bags of dehydrated foods are light and easy to store. When cooked, many dryed vegetables and fruits rehydrate convincingly back into something resembling the original product. As well, semi-dehydration can produce new forms of a food that are just as scrumptious as the original. Consider, for example, raisins and prunes. As long as you keep fully-dehydrated foods dry, they will last a year or more.

Pickling—This method of preservation has the greatest impact on the flavor of the food you preserve. To pickle vegetables and fruit, you add acid—usually vinegar—and, in most cases, salt. Different pickling methods involve canning, or open-barrel storage, but the end result is a product soaked with vinegar, salt, and seasonings. Pickled foods have distinctive flavors and usually serve as side dishes or as ingredients in recipes. Canned pickled produce will last for one or two years.

Harvest Time in Your Home Kitchen Garden

At the end of the growing season in Pennsylvania, I’m in the throws of preserving garden produce. Because frost has killed off my vegetable patch, I’m through with tomatoes… and I’ve already done jellies and jams from various fruits when they were in season. A few weeks ago, I made my first pickled vegetables, and I just put up (meaning, “canned”) to gallons of applesauce. I’ll be canning another two gallons of applesauce this weekend, and, perhaps, two more gallons next weekend.

Even when I’m not using my own produce, canning pickles and apple sauce provides a modest financial boost: the cost of pickled vegetables at the local market is $4 per pint. Mine cost just $1.25 per pint. My applesauce, made with commercial apples, costs about a dollar per gallon less than commercially-canned applesauce, and it tastes about $4 a gallon better (if that makes sense). Had I spent $15 to protect my apples from insect damage this summer, my home-grown applesauce would cost about four dollars per gallon less than commercial applesauce.

Here’s a video that introduces home canning. The narration is a bit stilted, but the content is golden. Please enjoy:

Follow this link: for in-depth information about preserving produce with a food dryer.

 

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2 Responses to Preserve Food From Your Home Kitchen Garden

  • Daisy says:

    I’m a teacher, so timing is difficult. I’m considering drying next year. I cooked a lot of tomato soups and sauces this year to freeze, and I think I can expand on that. I steamed a big batch of spinach and froze it in small jars, planning to add one jar to a stew or soup throughout the winter.

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your comment, and sorry it took so long to get it up here–I need to check settings about where my notifications are getting mailed.

    When it comes to food-preservation, I’ve always been challenged about timing, so I try to engineer around things that have me in (or near) the kitchen anyway. For example, it takes me about one football game to core enough apples to fill a 5 gallon stock pot. I pit sour cherries while watching tennis matches in the late spring.

    The canning itself is a definite commitment, but making jams and jellies borders on meditative for me, so I welcome the escape (release).

    Your observation suggests a post about how to get this stuff done inside an already busy schedule. I’ll put that together as a capper for the series on canners.

    There is a bottom line: If you can make better use of your time (for example, do two hours of billable consulting), then why do the food preservation? Instead, make your kitchen garden small so you don’t have leftovers that need preservation. My other blog, Your Small Kitchen Garden focuses more on kitchen gardens from which you “eat it all during the growing season.”

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