Sunday, August 29, 2010

Canning and dehydrating

Oh, how I love this time of year! The abundance of affordable fruits and vegetables makes me happy and I'm ready to start canning or dehydrating anything in sight. Are you a canner? If not, find a friend who is and get started. It's a great way of saving money, of controlling what you feed your family and it's fun. If you don't know anybody who cans, find a class at your local Extension office. Canned and dehydrated foods add a large variety to your food pantry.

Canning jars are expensive to purchase at first, but they are well worth the price. If you browse yard sales, thrift stores and online auctions, you will often find canning jars for sale. Make sure they are Ball or Kerr brand, as mayonnaise jars or other glass containers will not withstand the pressure or maintain an airtight seal. When you do find canning jars, run your finger carefully across the rim. It should be smooth, with no knicks or chips. This will affect the airtight seal and may compromise the strength of the glass. Many a jar has broken while boiling in a canner because of a hairline crack in the glass.

Canning is fun, but should also be taken seriously. Make sure you understand what should be canned in a pressure canner and what can be canned in a water bath. Oven canning is not recommended, nor is steamer canning. Educate yourself (even if you are an experienced canner, you may want to look into the Extension courses, they share the latest on food safety information!) and familiarize yourself with requirements, safety issues and recipes for the foods you love. Use recipes from an approved source such as the Extension office or the Ball Blue Book.

Dehydrating is literally taking all the water out of food so you can store it dry. It also greatly reduces volume and weight, but not necessarily flavor. Dehydrated tomatoes, for example, have a wonderful deep tomato flavor, because all the water has evaporated, but all the flavor stays.

Today, I canned peaches that were soaked in a star anise/cinnamon stick syrup (see above), and I dehydrated several pounds of tomato chunks. Fresh from the garden, I washed, chopped and drained red and yellow tomatoes, then laid them on the dehydrator for approx. 9 hours on 135F. Once dried, a handful added to a stew or a soup this winter will be a wonderful reminder of summer.

Another dehydrated staple in my pantry are dehydrated zucchini chunks: they too can be added to winter dishes to add bulk and color. Take advantage of all those gardeners that have zucchini coming out of their ears and crank up the dehydrator, this winter you will be glad you did!

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