While it is certainly great to enjoy your garden’s bounty fresh every day, it can also be nice to enjoy a lot of those same vegetables when they are not in season. Preserving your garden’s bounty can help you to ensure that your pantry and freezer are well stocked so that you are never short on nutritious options. But just which vegetables are the best choices for preserving? There are certainly some that are poor choices for trying to preserve for enjoyment during the off-season. But there are also definitely dozens of others that are excellent choices. Consider these as you are planning your spring garden.
Best Vegetables For Canning
Canning vegetables is the process of packing them in a glass jar and sealing them with lids that ensure no bacteria growth is possible inside of the jars. This is a very popular and effective method of preserving vegetables, although it is most often used in the average home for canning jams and pickles. If you have any questions about whether a vegetable is suitable for canning, simply take a look at the canned foods on your grocery store’s shelves. Most commercially canned foods can be easily replicated at home, which means that you could can any of the following vegetables yourself.
- Winter squash
- Pickled onions
- Pickled cucumbers
Some things can be raw packed, with just boiling water poured on top of them, while other vegetables are better first being blanched before they are canned. Tomatoes are an interesting choice because not only can you preserve them as whole blanched tomatoes and as pastes, but you can also create your own pasta sauces and can jars of your delicious red bounty for enjoyment year-round.
It is essential to follow the strictest methods of ensuring your workspace is pristine and that you are keeping things sterile throughout the canning process. While it is not unheard of for individuals to get sick from food they have canned themselves, with the proper sterilization methods, it is very unlikely.
You may already have some of the tools that you will need when you are canning your vegetables on hand, but others will need to be purchased.
- Large stockpots for sterilizing the jars and for the boiling water bath
- A lid lifter, which is essentially a magnet on the end of a plastic stick
- A jar lifter
- Stainless steel tongs.
- Dozens of glass storage jars and lids. The jars can and rings can be reused, but the lids need to be purchased new every year.
A pressure cooker is not always required when canning, but if you are going to be doing this on a regular basis and in large batches, then you’ll find it to be a superb investment in your family’s food stores. In addition, certain low-acid foods (like beans) will need to be canned with a pressure canner to ensure safety.
Best Vegetables For Freezing
Freezing a good portion of your harvest is an excellent choice, especially if you have the extra freezer space. A lot of gardeners purchase second and third freezers just for the sole purpose of storing their food reserves! Here are some of the best vegetables for storing in your freezer:
- Winter and summer squash
- Brussels sprouts
Tomatoes are best stored in the freezer if they have already been processed. This means that your fresh whole tomatoes might just simply succumb to freezer burn, but your pasta sauces, purees, and pastes should store just fine in the freezer for up to six months. It is often easier to freeze your sauces, purees, and your pastes in ice trays first. Once the blocks have been frozen solid, you can pop them out and store them in the already dated and labeled freezer bags. This will let you simply pop out the exact amount that you need when you are cooking. This method is also useful for freezing eggs and things like vegetable stock or sauces.
Some of the tools that you will want or need on hand prior to freezing your food stores include the following:
- Various sizes of freezer bags
- A vacuum sealer, if possible
- A permanent marker
- Ice trays for freezing purees and sauces
The majority of your frozen vegetables should do just fine in airtight freezer bags, especially if they have first been blanched before you froze them. Blanching is the process of scalding the vegetables in steam or boiling water. It stops the natural enzymes in the vegetables from losing flavor and color, which could happen very rapidly once the vegetables have been picked. It can be a bit tricky to get the blanching times just right. If you under-blanch the vegetables, then you actually run the risk of overstimulation of the enzymes, which could result in rapid degradation of the vegetables. Over-blanching the vegetables will cause a loss of color, flavor, and also a loss of vital nutrients.
What a lot of people don’t know is that there are a number of fruits that can also be frozen really well, beyond strawberries, raspberries, and peaches. If you have some bananas that are turning over-ripe rather rapidly and you don’t have the time or need for banana bread right now, then you can easily slice the bananas and freeze the slices until you are ready to use them. Some people even run the frozen banana slices through a food processer and refreeze the puree for a dairy-free frozen treat that everyone can enjoy!
Canning Versus Freezing – Pros And Cons
So just how do you determine whether you need to freeze or can your vegetable bounty? Naturally some vegetables are just better suited for canning, like the pickled onions or dill pickles that are a favorite in just about every household. Here are a few pros and cons of each method so that you can come to a decision about which one will work best for your unique food preservation and storage needs.
Pros To Canning
- Canned food has an incredibly long shelf life. Some produce can last up to five years and taste as fresh as the day it was packed into those jars.
- In the event of a power outage, you do not need to worry about losing your entire stockpile of food.
- It is easy to share canned food with friends and neighbors without being concerned about thawing during transport.
Cons To Canning
- It can take a long time to put up several pounds of vegetables.
- It can be a backbreaking task.
- A lot of tools are required for effective and efficient canning.
Pros To Freezing
- Freezing your vegetables is easy and relatively quick.
- Freezing requires fewer supplies than canning.
- It is typically easy to tell if frozen food has gone off, and the most you’ll have to worry about is freezer burn.
Cons To Freezing
- Freezers can be costly to run, especially if you have several of them and are trying to conserve power.
- In the event of power loss, you could lose all of your food stores.
- Freezer burn is very possible after as little as three months, even with proper methods used.
Keep in mind that a lot of your root crops and your winter squash don’t need to be frozen or canned. Butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkins, for example, can last up to six months if stored in a dark and cool location like a cellar. Potatoes, onions, and garlic are other types of vegetables that will do well if stored in a dark and cool spot.
Determining whether you can to freeze or can your vegetables should also depend on the amount of storage space that you have to devote to each of the preservation types. A cellar is typically a great place to store your canned food, and your basement can also serve the same purpose. Freezers can be placed anywhere in and around your home, but they can sometimes be a bit on the costly side to purchase and repair if something does go wrong with them.
It is recommended that you sit down prior to the spring growing season and make a list of the vegetables that you would like to grow in order to keep your family fed during the fall and the winter months. With this list of vegetables in hand, you’ll also be able to determine which storage method will ultimately be the best choice for you and the space you have to dedicate to food storage. The crops that grow best in the cooler months can be planned towards the end of the summer so that you are assured of a continual year-round harvest from your garden.
While things like cucumbers and lettuces are great to enjoy during the summer months, it is often suggested that gardeners try to limit the number of these that they grow. This is because these vegetables do not freeze or preserve well at all. You can certainly make pickles from immature cucumbers, and enjoy lots of fresh salads, but the growing space is often better reserved for beans, tomatoes, or squash that can sustain your family during the cooler growing months.
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