Preserving My Harvest

Alright y’all, preserving your harvest can be one of the best things that happens at the end of a growing season, but it can quickly becoming an undertaking.

This year I grew a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers, but I also picked cherries at a family friend’s house and I’ve gotten other local produce. This has landed me with more produce than I can eat before it would spoil. Thankfully there is a plethora of ways to save excess harvest for the cooler months of fall and winter.

When I have extra tomatoes or fruit I always freeze them. By freezing them just as they begin to get overripe I can put them on hold until I am prepared to preserve them. Freezing is an important first step to not only not wasting the produce you’ve worked hard to grow, but also it’s the first step to being able to enjoy your homegrown produce year round.

When freezing my fruit I always wash it first. After I pat the fruit dry I place it in quart freezer bags to store in my freezer. It’s important to use a freezer bag and make sure it is completely zipped shut so that your fruit is less likely to develop freezer burn. If it does, it’s not the end of the world. The fruit is still good and can still be used in canning and baking.

With tomatoes I usually don’t wash them before freezing just because I don’t spray my plants and the produce is usually clean when I pick it and while it’s sitting on my kitchen table. Additionally, when growing heirloom varieties they can get very soft when they reach the overripe stage. (That’s when I typically freeze mine)

However, before freezing, I do core and score them. This is very simple. All you have to do to score is cut a small “x” on the bottom of your tomatoes. This cut doesn’t have to be super deep, it just needs to cut the skin. To core you take a small paring knife and carefully cut the core (where the stem was attached) out of the tomato.

Taking this step first makes it easier to make sauce and salsa out of your tomatoes, because they don’t have to be blanched in order to remove the skins. Defrosting will usually be enough for the skins to slip off.

I don’t freeze my cucumbers just because they have such a high water content and, because I’d rather just make pickles and relish as they come in (instead of trying to make one huge batch at the end of the season.)

One of the things that really helps me with my yearly preserving is my canning recipe book. I have so many recipes marked and note cards inserted of adjustments and alterations I’ve made to my favorite recipes. I’ve had this book for several years and it has really received some love.

Blogs and recipe websites can also be great resources for finding inspiration. If there’s ever something I’m looking to make that I just can’t find a recipe for in my book I always search what I’m looking for in Google and check out the blog posts that come up in the results.

I have a toolbox of supplies that I use each year when canning. This includes a kit that includes a funnel, a bubble pusher/head space measure, and a jar lifter. While a funnel is not required, I like it just because it cuts down on the messes I have to clean up. The head space measure and bubble pusher is good for when I’m making jams and jellies, however it is not as essential when making things like relish or pickles. The jar lifter however is a must. While I have a jar caddie that works well for lifting my full jars out of the water, when it comes to lifting empty cans out of the water from sanitizing I prefer using my jar lifter to avoid spilling boiling water on my floor or cook-top.

As I mentioned, I have a heat-resistant plastic caddie that I use when I’m canning. This goes into my water-bath pot and it keeps the glass jars off of the bottom of the pot where they can be prone to cracking. You don’t have to use this caddie. If you have a circular metal grate that fits in your pot, you can use that instead.

I also have miscellaneous canning supplies like Pickle Crisp (keeps cucumber products like pickles and relish from getting mushy or soft), Fruit Protect (this just keeps your fruit looking more like it’s fresh picked), pectin (this is used in making jams and jellies), and canning salt (used in anything including a brine.)

There’s also three essential supplies for actually storing your produce for long term storage. They are the glass canning jars, metal rings, and canning lids. There are several brands of glass mason canning jars, but the largest is Ball. These jars (and lids and bands) can be found at regular grocery stores, big box grocery stores, as well as most crafting stores. (They can also be found online!)

However, at the time that I’m writing this (September 2020) there is the supply (of lids especially) is a bit strained. The covid pandemic has caused a few things essential to homesteading a bit harder to come by. This includes seeds and canning supplies.

While glass mason jars and rims can be reused (given they’re not rusty), canning lids cannot. They will only seal a jar shut once. They can still be used for short term refrigerator or short (and long) term freezer storage, they will not seal and therefore cannot keep food safe over long term shelf storage.

So what am I canning this year?

So far I’ve canned a couple jars of dill pickle relish, a jar of corn relish, about ten jars of various pickles, a few cans of pickled beets, mint jelly, cherry pie filling, and mixed berry jam and syrup. I’m looking forward to the beets, mostly because it’s my first year making them. I tasted the extra corn relish and pickle relish from when I was making it and it was so good so I’m excited for that. I make pie filling and jam every year so that’s pretty routine by now.

Later this year I’ll be making some pasta sauce with my tomato harvest. Right now, in Delaware, my tomato plants are still very much alive and producing so I won’t be making my sauce until into the fall.

I love having the opportunity to can my excess produce, because it means that when it’s the cold and dreary winter months I can still enjoy the produce I grew in the warm months. Additionally, it lowers my dependence on grocery store produce which is brought out from warmer states or from a greenhouse in some other state. I’m a big advocate for eating local, and canning can really help with that in the off-season.

Even if you’re canning fresh, local, produce you bought in the spring, summer, and early fall it still helps. Local produce often tastes so much better, because of how fresh it is and that taste holds on in canned goods.

Preserving your harvest is just one way to become more dependent on yourself and better your diet, health, and life. I recommend doing your research and find out what you’d like. It’s not too late to start canning!

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog! Whether you stay for a day, a week, a month, or a year, I appreciate you. -Kate

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Published by k.emerso00

20 year old blogger and online business owner located in the small state of Delaware, USA.

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