Last week, we focused on harvesting fruits and vegetables and ensuring products not needing processing were stored appropriately to maintain the quality for as long as possible. It is extremely important when harvesting anything to ensure that the field heat is removed from the harvested produce as soon as possible. Also, it is best to pick prior to the heat of the day so that the produce is as cool as possible.
Some fruits and vegetables do not have a long shelf life and to ensure having these products available to you throughout the winter, it is important to process these fruits and vegetables in order to store them for any length of time. As with any storage, produce should be carefully picked to ensure the products are free of nicks, bruises and other damage, so that you are putting away the best quality of food. If there is damage to the fruit and vegetables, then those should be consumed at the dinner table as soon as possible rather than processed and stored for winter.
During any type of processing, it is important to preserve the colour, flavour, texture and nutrition while also prolonging the shelf life. Fruits and vegetables can be stored, canned, frozen, dried, juiced or fermented. Due to modern lifestyles and diet preferences, we have developed many methods and procedures for preserving our harvest.
Heat treatment and sterilization is one of the most traditional methods of preserving fruits and vegetables. During this process, heat is used to sterilize, pasteurize or blanch the products and then using hermetically sealed packaging that is metal, glass or plastic. After washing the product, we often trim, slice or chop the product and then blanch them using steam or water for a specific time period that is dependent on the product. A rapid cooling then occurs, and the product is most often bagged and frozen. Life of the product essentially is ended due to the high heat and thus the produce no longer respires, which does not happen when using a variety of storage options that do not involve processing.
I have fond memories of my mom blanching and freezing huge amounts of vegetables in order to feed the family over the winter months. She would tally up the total number of bags and weights of what she processed which helped to plan for next year’s garden and ensured the family had quality food throughout the year. However, sometimes freezer space is limited, produce is plentiful and needs to be processed appropriately in ways other than freezing.
The next most common way of preserving raw vegetables or fruit is to use a pickling process to ensure a long shelf life. Often the produce is again subjected to a heating process, then cooled and placed into jars with a pickling solution (which contains some type of vinegar/acetic acid) which fills the container to the required level thus limiting the amount of oxygen in the jar. The container is sealed to ensure no contamination occurs and the products have a lengthy shelf life.
Last but not least, many fruits and vegetables can be dried using either the sun or other mechanical methods, ensuring that the products are available throughout the winter.
Watch next week for tips on using fermentation.
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