It happens every year---the delightful bounty of fresh produce from your garden suddenly becomes a nightmarish mountain of food which must either be preserved immediately or lost forever. Fortunately, making that summertime bonanza last all year can be achieved in several ways. Food preservation options include canning, freezing, dehydrating and even a few old-fashioned tricks. For safety's sake, read instruction manuals and recipe instructions thoroughly before embarking on on any of these methods, especially canning.
Boiling Water Canning
Choose this method for whole fruit, jams, jellies and marmalades, tomatoes canned with lemon juice or vinegar (unless the recipe specifies pressure canning) as well as vegetable-based preserves which contain lemon juice or vinegar, including relishes, pickles and chutneys.
Place a canning rack or basket at the bottom of the canner.
Pour enough water into a large open kettle or pot to cover the jars by 2 inches, and set the stove burner to high.
Sterilize the estimated number of jars and lids (or lids and rings, depending on the brand used) needed for your recipe by boiling them for 10 minutes.
Prepare your produce according the recipe. Some call for "hot pack" method---filling the jars with precooked food---while less often cooks prefer the "raw-pack" technique for smaller fruits. Most involve some kind of simple syrup, vinegar base or other cooking liquid.
Fill the jars with the produce, and leave one-half inch headspace for most fruits and tomatoes, but one-quarter inch for jams and jellies. (Pressure canner foods need 1 to 1.5-inches headspace.)
Set the jars in the pot, making sure the jars do not touch each other. If necessary, pour additional boiling water on top to cover the jars by 2 inches. Cover the pot.
Boil for the specified time, remove the jars and allow them to cool before storing them.
Invest in a pressure canner for preserving most vegetables, because regular hot water canning methods will not kill botulism spores that can affect vegetables.
Follow steps 4 through 7 above.
Pour 2 to 3 inches hot water into the pressure canner and place filled jars into the canner, making sure to first set a canning rack or basket at the bottom.
Place the lid on top, and set the weighted gauge for the time indicated on the recipe.
Let the jars sit in the canner for the amount of time indicated in the recipe, then remove the lid, take out the jars, and store them when they are cooled.
Decide on what you will be using to store your food. The newer freezer bags are strong enough to handle even hot vegetable soup, and save space in the freezer.
Prepare your produce according to your recipe. Most vegetables must be blanched before storing, while many fruits can be quickly frozen on cookie sheets before packing them into freezer containers.
Many herbs can be blended with butter and frozen, or preserved in the form of pesto and frozen in ice cube trays.
Label your container or bag with an indelible marker stating the contents, date made and "best consumed by" date.
About this Author
Melissa Jordan-Reilly has been a writer for 20 years, both as a newspaper reporter and as an editor of nonprofit newsletters. Among the publications in which she has published are, "The Winsted Journal," "Taconic" and "Compass Magazine." A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Jordan-Reilly also pursues sustainable agriculture techniques and tends a market garden at her Northwestern Connecticut home.