food Icon

5 PRESERVE LOCAL FOODS FOR THE OFF-SEASON

This action focuses on maintaining a supply of local foods to be eaten during the non-growing season by canning, freezing and dehydrating.

  • Autumn Icon

why?

Many Hands

Eating local food may be an easy task in the summer months in Midwestern states such as Minnesota, but when our short growing season reaches its inevitable close during the fall, other strategies of food preservation must take effect in order to take advantage of the bounty of the seasonal harvest and support local food diets year round.

Learning to preserve food allows Minnesotans the ability to supplement their diets through the winter and early spring with locally produced vegetables (whether purchased at farmers markets, CSAs or food co-ops, or grown in a backyard or community garden). By preserving enough foods to last a few months we can essentially ‘extend our growing season’. If not completely providing the vegetables for your diet in the off-season, supplementing it with preserved local foods could help create a semi-local diet all year round.

Many people consider canning and preserving food to be a ‘fringe’ practice. However, A nationwide telephone survey conducted by the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCFHFP) between October 2000 and January 2001 with over 500 adults from randomly selected households, proved otherwise. They found that 27% of those interviewed canned food at home in 1999. Most commonly, people were canning vegetables (71%), followed by tomatoes (60%) and lastly fruit products (47%). Almost half of those asked reported that they obtained their canning instructions from friends or relatives (48%) while 19% consulted cookbooks for this purpose.

how to do this action:

There are various methods of food preservation; dehydrating, blanching and freezing, canning and storing. Different methods are more appropriate for different food types because of the characteristics of each process. While we have provided brief descriptions of the process of dehydrating, canning and blanching, we encourage you to expand your knowledge through the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCFHFP).

DEHYDRATING
Dehydrating

"The water content in most fresh foods is what makes them very perishable." -NCFHFP

Most fruits are best dehydrated when dipped in a honey or lemon dip before drying (to avoid browning). Anything you dehydrate needs to be soaked in water for 10 minutes before cooking with it. If doing rice with vegetables, you can simply put the dried vegetables in with the rice water (National Center for Home Food Preservation).

There are different kinds of dehydrators: convection-only, convection with a fan, and solar powered machines. Convection-only dehydrators have heat coils and air is pulled through the trays as it cools to dry the food. This cuts down on energy and is totally silent, but can take quite awhile (half a day for herbs and about a day for bell peppers/fruit).

A first experience dehydrating foods will reveal that foods that are already fairly dry (herbs, hot peppers and apples) often dry better (and faster) than foods which contain quite a bit of water (bell peppers, cranberries).

Cut all vegetables down to 1/2" thick slices and arrange on each tray so they are not overlapped. The vegetables which are on the lowest trays (closest to the heat source) will dry more quickly so it may be necessary to rotate trays and keep an eye on different trays within the stack.

When vegetables are dried, be sure to keep them in an air-tight container such as a mason jar. This supply should last for up to 6 months.

CANNING
Canning
Step 1 -

Educate yourself about the risks of botulism: There is some serious risk of botulism when canning. Botulism is a bacteria that can only grow in anaerobic (no air) environments and is a very serious form of food poisoning. There are botulism bacteria on almost all fruits and vegetables even if you wash them, but they only become an issue if they are not exposed to air.

Because of this, sanitizing jars and peeling the skin off of produce is important when canning.

Step 2 -

Sanitize canning jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes.

Step 3 -

Put tomatoes in boiling water for 30-45 seconds (until skins crack) and then dip in a waiting ice bath.

Step 4 -

Slide skins off of tomatoes and compost them!

Step 5 -

Halve (or you can leave whole) tomatoes.

Step 6 -

Choose whether you want to 'hot pack' or 'cold pack' tomatoes:

At this stage you have a choice. You can either put the tomatoes directly into the sanitized jars -cold packing. Or you can boil them for 5 minutes-hot packing. The advantage of hot packing is you get all the air out of vegetables (there is always at least 10% air in produce). This air can potentially cause problems with spoiling.

Step 7 -

Strain boiled tomatoes and pack into jars. (They lose quite a bit of water in the boiling process.)

Step 8 -

Ladle boiling tomato water to fill the space in the jars up to 1/2" from the top.

Step 9 -

Free any trapped air bubbles by squishing a small spatula around in the jars.

Step 10 -

Screw lids on snugly (not too tight because you want air to be able to escape while boiling (this is how the cans pressurize), and place jars into a large pot of boiling water.

Step 11 -

Make sure the water level is at least 1” above the jars. Cover and boil for 45 minutes (time starts when the water starts boiling). While boiling, be sure to watch that the water level doesn’t get too low. If more water is needed make sure the water NEVER stops boiling, so add little amounts of water at a time.

Step 12 -

Remove jars with a jar lifter and cool on a rack.

Step 13 -

Listen for the pop! This is the most exciting part about canning! When the cans cool to the point where the pressure outside is different from the pressure in the cans, they seal themselves by pulling the can lids down, making a 'popping' sound.

Step 14 -

After 12-24 hours of cooling test for the seal (unless you already heard them pop) by pressing on the center of lid. If it pops back up, the can isn't sealed and you will have to do it over again or eat the contents before they spoil.

BLANCHING/FREEZING
Blanching/Freezing

"Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture" -NCFHFP

Almost anything except herbs and milk products can be frozen fairly effectively. The best way to preserve nutrition in frozen foods is to blanch them first.

Blanching can also clean vegetables so they preserve longer, helps to slow the loss of vitamins, and makes them easier to pack (slightly softer).Over-blanching, however, has the opposite effect and can cause flavor and nutrient loss. To blanch, use 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables and begin the count when water is boiling. A list of blanching times can be found on the NCFHFP website.

Step 1 -

Clean all veggies and cut to the size you want.

Step 2 -

Boil water according to the amount of veggies going in. Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables (this is easy to determine if you look at your grocery store receipt to see how many pounds you bought.

Step 3 -

Put all veggies in the boiling water. A good way to do this is to use a wire mesh basket and lower it into the water, this way you can quickly get all the veggies out when the time is up and put them in the ice bath. When you put veggies into the water the water should return to a boil within 1 minute (or you don't have enough water).

Step 4 -

Start counting the blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. "Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size. Under blanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching. Over blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals." (NCHFP website).

Step 5 -

When blanching is done, quickly transfer veggies into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Step 6 -

Lay veggies out on a towel to get the water out. This helps them not stick together when frozen.

Step 7 -

Put in jars, let sit for a few minutes, and drain the water. Leave at least 1/2" of head space (room between veggies and top of jar).

Step 8 -

Fruits and vegetables which are frozen can last 8-12 months at 0°F.

PLANNING FOR EATING A PRESERVED LOCAL FOOD SUPPLY:

In addition to learning how to preserve foods (method(s)/of choice), another part of this action is creating a 'preserved food plan'. This can be flexible and depends on how you or your family are choosing to eat preserved foods:

  • (1)How long you would you like this food supply to last?

  • (2)How much local produce do you have available to you (if preserving your home-grown foods)

  • (3)How many meals per week will you use preserved foods?

An example of a food plan is seen below, showing different vegetables itemized and how many are needed depending on how long the food supply is expected to last. As you can see, according to this plan 6 tomatoes are eaten each week, meaning 24 would be needed if the supply were to last a month, and 216 would be needed if the supply were to last through the off-season into the next growing season.

Planned for Preservation

what will be measured?

KEY QUESTIONS

QUANTITATIVE QUESTION: How can transportation of food be reduced by creating a supply preserved local foods for use in the off-season?

QUALITATIVE QUESTION: How does the experience of preserving and eating local foods for the off-season affect your happiness, convenience, health and costs?

BASELINE WEEK TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
During the baseline tracking week before the project begins, use the corresponding spreadsheet (F5_BASELINE) to track your produce eating and purchase habits. Keep track of how many vegetables you (or your family) eats per week and what type. Identify what vegetables could be purchased (or are being grown) locally which have potential to be preserved as a food supply for the off-season.

QUALITATIVE


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria on the spreadsheet (F5_BASELINE) as it relates to your current food consumption habits.

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

IMPLEMENTATION PHASE TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
Use the corresponding spreadsheet (F5_QUANTITATIVE) to inventory all food items which are going be preserved and length of time you expect this supply to last. Decide which method of preservation should be used for each vegetable type. Preserve these vegetables according to the method chosen.

QUALITATIVE
Part 1 - Ranking


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria, every IMPLEMENTATION day on the spreadsheet (F5_QUALITATIVE). Your answers should not be rated in comparison to your baseline week, but in general as a reflection of how you are feeling.

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

Part 2 - Blogging
Keep a narrative log of your experiences changing this action in your life. What experience have you had preserving foods, if at all, and what are any interests or hesitations you have about this process. Document your experiences learning this process as well as how the preserved foods were used in meals. Analyzing how this lifestyle change affected the quality and enjoyment of your meals.


resources

National Center for Home Food Preservation
ACTION SPREADSHEETS

The spreadsheets referred to above can be found in the Excel file at the following link:

F5_Preserve Local Foods for the Off-Season Spreadsheet

If you prefer to enter your responses by hand, printable PDFs of each spreadsheet can be found at the following links (at the end of the project, all data will have to be entered into the Excel spreadsheet):

F5_BASELINE
F5_QUANTITATIVE
F5_QUALITATIVE