By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
We are within days of kicking off strawberry season in Johnston County. If you have been keeping up with farms and produce stands around the county, you’re beginning to see a plentiful harvest of greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers, and other seasonal items. One of the greatest things about living in North Carolina is the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the warmer months of the year. Unfortunately, all of these delicious foods have short harvest seasons, making preservation efforts a must!
Preservation includes canning foods for shelf-stability, freezing foods to lock in freshness and pause the expiration clock, drying foods, as well as pickling and fermenting foods to extend their quality and reduce food wasted. Each year, the Johnston County Cooperative Extension office offers recipes, workshops, videos, and more to help you extend the life of fresh produce and safely preserve foods. If you are planning to preserve foods from your garden or local farm markets, you’ll want to freshen up on procedures to ensure the safety and quality of your foods.
You may be short on time or yield of food, and if this is the case, freezing is your best option. Freezing fruit is easy! All you have to do is lay the fruit on a sheet of parchment paper to freeze, then pack it into freezer-safe containers or bags. Vegetables, however, require blanching. Blanching can be done by steaming the vegetables or dipping them into boiling water for a short amount of time. This time is specific to the vegetable and halts an enzyme from acting that causes loss of flavor, texture, and color. Blanching also helps to brighten the color and further remove soil and pathogens from the vegetable. Steam blanching will take longer than the boiling water method, and “microwave blanching” has been shown to be ineffective and causes poor quality. Once the vegetable has been blanched, you’ll need to shock the vegetable in cold water to prevent cooking and cool the item before freezing. The cooling should take as long as it takes to blanch the vegetable. It is critical to store frozen foods in a freezer-safe container or bag designed for freezing. Storage bags are not designed for freezing and easily result in freezer burn due to the thinner material.
Freezing is a great option that requires little equipment, time, and skill. Unfortunately, we live in a region prone to hurricanes and power outages. In order to avoid spoilage due to loss of power, canning is a suitable option to make foods shelf-stable. Canning, however, is much more involved than simply cooking food, placing it in a jar, and listening for a pop. In fact, hearing the sound of the pop just means the jar sealed; it does not mean the jar sealed correctly or the product is shelf-stable. In order to be shelf-stable, the oxygen must be driven out of the jar before it seals. This is only accomplished through processing the jar in a canner. There is a lot of science that goes into canning, which is why there are two canner methods- water bath canning and pressure canning. High acid foods such as tomato products with added acid, pickled foods, and fruit products can be canned at a lower temperature using a boiling water bath canner. Foods that lack acid to counteract pathogens that cause foodborne illness and food spoilage must be pressure canned. Meats and vegetables should always be pressure canned! These foods must be heated to 240 degrees, which can only be done using a pressure canner. I’ll save all of this information for my next article!
In the meantime, if you are interested in learning how to can using a water bath canner, be sure to visit www.johnston.ces.ncsu.edu to register for the class on April 29th. If you are planning to pressure can meats and vegetables this year, call the Extension office to make an appointment to have your dial gauge inspected and tested for accuracy (must be a Presto or Mirro brand) at 919-989-5380. You can find additional canning, freezing, and food preservation information at https://nchfp.uga.edu/.
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