Thursday, September 23, 2010

Boozing your fruit

I just found a great article on using alcohol to preserve fruit in the New York Times!  They tout it as a great "entry" into food preservation, because it is hard to mess it up.  Not only does it provide links to recipes, but uses for your hard work, which is sometimes the hardest part.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Canning Books

Food In Jars is giving away my 2 favorite canning books!  Check out their site for more information.


I'm still working on a final article about food preservation.  I've been spending so much time actually doing the preserving, I'm having trouble finding time to write.  This is what I'm working on this week:

Years ago, Cliff's mom planted fruit trees on her property.  She rents out that house now, but the renters don't use the apples so we were able to pick them last weekend.  I left behind as much as I brought home, but we just didn't have any more room in the car!

I picked up the peaches at the farmer's market and as of today, they are done... 9 quarts quartered in light syrup and the rest dehydrated.  The green bucket has lovely red apples (Macintosh? same as the grey bucket) on top, but hiding underneath are granny smiths and some pears at the bottom.  The Granny Smith apples will probably get used in a crisp this weekend. I believe the other apple variety is Gravenstein (in the white and orange buckets), which is a wonderful apple for a wide variety of uses including freezing, drying, canning, and baking.  Unfortunately they don't store well, especially in my 70 degree kitchen, so I gotta get to work!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cashmere Aromatherapy Pillow

Today I came across a great tutorial for making your very own aromatherapy pillow.  I've done something similar in the past with a knotted sock filled with rice, but this seems so much more luxurious and is right up my alley because it uses a recycled sweater!  You can find the tutorial over at The Magic Onions.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Our Freezer

We picked up our side of beef this weekend, so I thought I'd share a peek of what our freezer looks like right now. We cannot possibly fit another thing into it at this point.

Our Freezer 9/13/10
 On top of the corn and berries I already blogged about, we've been freezing beans from our garden and I regularly make my own beef or chicken stock and cream of mushroom soup to freeze.  This year, we bought 25 pounds of wild Pacific sockeye salmon, a side of pork, and a side of beef.  We shared the beef and pork with my parents, keeping about 2/3 of each.  In total we have more than 400 pounds of meat in here, plus fruit, vegetables, bread, soups, stocks, jams, nuts, and whatever else we can fit.  I'm still waiting on tomatoes and apples for canning.  After that, I think we're set for the winter.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Food Preservation part 2 - Freezing

Freezing is exposing food to extreme cold, slowing the rate of decay and growth of organisms. Ideally, to make the most of freezing as a form of preservation, you would need to have a large freezer or “deep freeze” to accommodate your food. Not all foods freeze well, so it is important to do some research before buying a 25-pound box of whatever, making sure it is worth your time and effort.

Freezers come in a variety of styles and sizes, and there are many important factors to consider when buying a freezer. The two biggest considerations are the volume you require for your family (if you plan to store a side of beef, for example, along with your produce, bigger is better), and how energy efficient the freezer is. Chest freezers, while many people find them less convenient, are more energy efficient that upright freezers. When you open the door of an upright freezer, all that cold air just comes out right at you, whereas with a chest, it all stays down at the bottom of the freezer. Check the number of watts or amps the freezer uses. My 20 cubic foot upright freezer is about 10 years old, and was a mid-range model... it uses only 2 amps. My parents just bought a 7 cubic foot chest freezer that uses 5! That is a huge difference in power consumption! In an emergency, we can run our freezer off our solar panels without even taxing the system. Another consideration is whether or not to buy a frost-free freezer. I am a fan of NOT going frost free and here's why. Frost-free freezers tend to be more expensive than conventional freezers and they use more power. Yes, it is inconvenient to have to defrost the freezer, but I only have to do it once a year, sometimes only every other year. Frost-free freezers also tend to dry out your foods. The cycles of frost-free units dehydrate the air, so it makes sense that they would dehydrate your food too, causing freezer burn more quickly.

Here is a photo of Cliff cleaning out our freezer last spring.  It really only took a couple of hours because we put pots of hot water on the shelves, allowing the steam to help the thaw and then picking off some of the ice as it loosened up.  Once the ice was all melted, we hosed it out and wiped it down, inside and out.  It is important not to force it to thaw too quickly or to use a hammer, pick, or other tool to pry off the ice; this could damage the coils in the shelves of your freezer.

There are 2 key factors to keeping food looking its best the longest and saving wear and tear on your freezer, temperature and capacity. Keep your freezer at 0 degrees F. At higher temperatures, food loses quality much faster. A full freezer is more energy efficient because it doesn't have to work as hard to maintain temperature.

Organization of your freezer is key to know what you have and how old your food is. In my upright, I have cheap IKEA bins that I labeled, so I can grab the one for the meat I need and grab the cut I want from it. All vegetables go in the basket in the bottom. Jars of soup and stock are in the door with butter, bread, etc. My next freezer will definitely be a chest. My plan for organization is to take the cheap $1 reusable grocery bags and pick a color for each food type. Vegetables go in a green bag, beef in a red one, etc. This way, I can tell at a glance where you need to look and grab that bag.

Ideal containers for freezing are uniform in size or shape, do not become brittle at low temperatures, and allow for easy sealing and marking. Personally, the only time I use containers for storing frozen foods is for delicate berries, such as raspberries, and for leftovers. I do use some canning jars for storing soups and stocks as they fit well in my freezer door, but I've found that headspace is critical when using jars. I once overfilled a jar of spaghetti sauce and when I pulled it out of the freezer, the jar broke in my hand, leaving me with 3 stitches in my thumb.

I prefer to vacuum seal my meat and produce for freezing. By removing excess oxygen, food lasts longer and is even less prone to freezer burn. According to, food last 5 times longer and you can save up to $600 a year on wasted food. I don't know my results are THIS good, but I do love my FoodSaver. Most meat and vegetables will last a year or more without noticeable (at least to me) decrease in quality if stored properly. General guidelines for expected life of frozen foods can be found here. Vegetables and even some fruits should be blanched before freezing. I will go through this in depth in a later post.

That pretty much sums up the basics of freezing as a method of food preservation. Next up, dehydrating and cellaring. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Food Preservation Part 1

It is Harvest time and around here and food is being put up almost daily. (For the uninitiated, “putting up” food is preserving and storing it for later use). Since it is fresh in my mind, I figured I would share some methods and tips on food preservation.

There are 4 main ways to preserve food; canning, freezing, dehydrating, and cellaring. Each method has its pros and cons. I will briefly touch on all 4, but I do not practice all 4 yet, so my knowledge is limited in a couple of these areas.  Today, I'm just going to touch on canning.  I will cover other forms of preservation in future posts.


Canning is the process of heating food to kill microorganisms and then hermetically sealing the container to prevent re-contamination. There are 2 types of canning: water bath canning and pressure canning. Which method you use is determined by one thing, the pH, or acidity, of food. In canning, all foods are divided into 2 categories: high-acid foods and low-acid foods.

Water bath canning is used for high-acid foods; that is all recipes that have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Generally, these foods include fruits, soft spreads, and fermented foods such as pickles. Jars of food are processed in boiling water, a temperature sufficient for killing yeast, mold, and some bacteria. If dealing with food pH scares you, stick with a tested recipe and follow it exactly. This is the safest way to can in a water bath.
Pressure canning is not something I have done yet, but a pressure canner is on my wish list. A pressure canner is essentially a large pressure cooker designed to hold canning jars for processing. Pressure canning is typically reserved for low-acid foods, or recipes with a pH of 4.6 or higher. Generally, this includes vegetables, meats, soups, and stews. Foods are processed under pressure, allowing it to reach a temperature of 240 degrees, thereby killing bacteria and their spores, particularly botulism.

There are a ton of resources out there with detailed instructions how to can.  I am not going to go into detail on the process of canning in this post because I really can't give thorough and correct directions without plagarizing someone else's instructions.  Honestly, I don't want to be liable if my own version of canning directions aren't complete enough and someone gets sick.  

The #1 resource I suggest to people for canning is the Ball Blue Book of preserving. This is the canning “bible” and has detailed instructions to get you started and a selection of tried and true recipes as well as basic information on dehydrating and freezing. I used this book to teach myself to can about 7 years ago. If you purchase the Ball Canning Kit the book is included.

I also use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving which includes many of the recipes from the “blue book” and hundreds more. It also contains detailed instructions on canning and includes some pressure canning recipes.

The third book in my library that has great recipes is the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. This is a basic cook book many people have in their home. It was my very first cookbook when I moved out on my own, but I forgot all about the canning recipes in it until I was looking for a ketchup recipe and someone suggested the one in this book.

A complete list of my favorite books for cooking and canning can be found in my book list.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Weekend Bounty

Last weekend, we went to visit some family about an hour north of home, at the base of Mount Baker.  They grow blueberries, raspberries, corn, and irises, and raise their own beef. I love going to visit them, not only because its great to see them and catch up, but because it reminds me of my goals and re-focuses my attention on what is important to me.

They sent us home with literally a trunk load of wonderful food and I'm scrambling to get it all put up this week, before it turns. When we got home Sunday evening, we processed what seemed like 50 pounds of corn.

Here is Cliff, cutting kernels off blanched corn, so I can pack it and freeze it.  This was only about 2/3 of what we brought home.

Here is the rest of it, 2 flats of raspberries, about the same amount in blueberries, plus some apples and pears.  So far, I've made raspberry fruit leather, raspberry freezer jam, and blueberry lime jam.  I'm still going to make blueberry syrup, blueberry butter, and blueberry fruit leather.  The rest of the berries will be frozen for baking during the winter.  For now, the apples and pears will be primarily for eating, though we'll be going back to visit in a couple of weeks and picking up our side of beef.  More apples should be ready by then, and there are about 6 trees that don't get picked, so I think we're going to make use of them this year.

I'm working on posts about food preservation and freezing... as soon as I get all this work done, I can finish writing it!  Happy Harvest!