2017-10-04 / Gardening Tips

Putting Up the Produce

It remains exceptionally hot and dry as I write this column in the last week of September, but the weatherman promises a return to “normal” fall weather by October 1. The lack of rain for more than 2 weeks now in much of the region has caused far too many of my favorite trees to drop their leaves prematurely, without changing colors, sadly. I am still hoping that the first two weeks of October will provide a spectacular show for us, as nature usually does.

This is the time of the year when our thoughts turn to saving or preserving some of the wonderful produce we have grown in our vegetable gardens this season. There was a time when this food was very important for survival during the long, cold, winter. Today, we can probably buy frozen or canned produce in the supermarket at a lower cost than is required to preserve it ourselves. There is something unique about home preserved food however that makes it very special. My family in Florida really enjoys Grand Bob’s home-made pickles and tomato sauce and I think they would miss these Xmas gifts they get from me each winter. I also enjoy eating it myself, as well as putting it up.

Tomatoes ripened quickly

The heat spell did allow lots and lots of my tomatoes to ripen that I thought might not make it this year if we had an early frost, but it has also made my kitchen too hot to do all the cooking! Making my tomato sauce is a several day long process of cooking. I like the fact that everything that goes into it, from tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and even some wild mushrooms, was grown or wildcrafted by me. Hopefully, this weekend I will be able to can at least a dozen pints of sauce and perhaps another dozen jars of stewed tomatoes. I am pleased to tell you that some of my canned tomatoes and pickles fed a good friend of mine in Florida, who lost her power for several days and could not get out to shop.

If you plan to do some canning, be sure to follow an approved recipe because there is a chance of food poisoning if the food is not sufficiently processed. A pressure canner is the only certain way to insure the proper temperatures are achieved. These devices are not inexpensive to purchase new, costing $100 or more, but sometimes they can be found at yard or garage sales. Many years ago when I worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension, our Home Economics Division, offered the service of testing the pressure gages on these cookers. I still have the tool that we used for this way back when!

Alternative recipes

Some recipes call for boiling water baths instead of pressure canning and that can be accomplished in any pot that is large enough to completely cover the containers with water. Hot water processing is often used for foods that are acidic or sweet enough to resist bacterial infection. The culprit bacteria that we are trying to avoid is the source of botulism, which can be fatal if ingested. It is interesting that this deadly toxin is now used cosmetically as injections (Botox) and even to treat migraine headaches in some situations. This is an example of the truism that often “it is the dose that determines the poison”.

Freezing food is a bit less tricky, but usually the produce must still be blanched and carrying frozen food in my car for several days on my drive to Florida is pretty inconvenient. I also have never had good luck freezing green beans for some reason, but it is a great way to deal with an overabundance. Sweet corn is another commonly frozen item if you have a surplus. The key to all types of food preservation is to only preserve food that is in perfect condition. Half rotted tomatoes or overripe corn and beans will not taste any less rotten after being preserved! Of course some produce can be stored with little or no processing at all. Winter squash, pumpkins, dry beans, potatoes, onions and garlic are a few of these crops and all of them will accompany me on my travels south in a month or so. — By Bob Beyfuss

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