With an abundance of fresh produce available year-round, canning and freezing, or "putting up" food, as Southerners often refer to it, is a practical and cost-efficient practice. All it takes is following a few simple steps.
According to Betty English, the Family Consumer Sciences agent for Columbia and Richmond counties, methods of canning and freezing used during our mother's and grandmother's times aren't recommended today.
"When we talk about food preservation, we are talking about canning procedures, freezing and drying," English said.
"Whether you are canning or freezing, you need to consider two things: Do you have enough storage, and do you have the correct equipment?"
For those who are freezing vegetables, the single most important factor is to be sure that the food is water-blanched. Blanching is a process in which the food is exposed to boiling water.
"Blanching helps food maintain its flavor and color," English said, adding that blanching is essential for top-quality frozen vegetables. "Blanching is important for quality, color fastness and to destroy micro-organisms on the surface of the vegetables that you haven't washed off."
If freezing fruit, using a fruit-fresh product or ascorbic acid will help the product maintain its color.
Finally, using freezer-quality storage is vital to long-lasting goodness.
"Hard plastic containers or freezer bags are recommended," English said. "A whipped margarine container is not proper quality."
Frozen foods should be labeled and dated properly, and used within a year of being preserved.
"We always recommend the FIFO -- first in, first out -- rotation," English said. "This means that the oldest food is used first."
Canning, unlike freezing, can be costly. It is considered the most expensive food preservation process. When canning food, it's necessary to determine which method -- pressure canning or water bath canning -- to use.
"You have to have the correct canning equipment," English said. "All canned goods need to go through the canning process."
Again, proper storage equipment is essential. A well-fitting lid and canning jars should be used.
"Canning jars can be found at any and every grocery store in our area," she said. "The screw lid and jar can be reused, but the rubber lid with the sealing compound cannot be reused. Doing so could lead to a food safety issue."
The amount of acid in the food determines whether it should be pressurized or if the water bath method is OK.
A book detailing all aspects of food preservation is available through the county extension office.
To order the 375-page book, which sells for $18, call English at (706) 821-2356.
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