Follow these tips to best preserve your veggie bounty
ELKHORN So ...many ...tomatoes.
Beans coming out of ears.
Zucchini running rampant, squash vines enveloping family dog.
In a week or so, gardeners will be calling in sick to stay home and can, freeze or find some other way to handle their vegetable bounty.
The following tips, reminders and explanations from the Walworth County Extension will benefit both experienced canners and food preservation newcomers.
Masters of the canning universe
Based at the University of Georgia, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is the source for researched-based food preservation methods. Tattoo its web address, uga.edu/nchfp, over your heart—or at least add it to your list of favorite Internet sites. Along with "how to" articles on canning, freezing, pickling, making jams and jellies, curing, smoking and fermenting, the website features a free, online mini course, "Preserving Food at Home: A Self-Study."
After registering, participants have to wait a few days for their account login, so plan ahead.
The website also is a good place for recipes ranging from the ordinary—stewed tomatoes—to the unusual—tomato-mango salsa and cantaloupe pickles—and back again—spaghetti sauce with or without meat.
Gauging your kitchen
Dial gauge pressure canners should be tested every year, even if they're new, said Karie Lutz, nutrition educator for Walworth County Extension.
"We'll inspect the lid and make sure the gauge is calibrated for the right amount," Lutz said.
Gauges measure pounds of pressure per square inch and are crucial in determining processing times for non-acid foods such as beans, carrots, onions and other vegetables. Adjustments can be made for gauges that are slightly off calibration.
-- Excess green peppers? Cut off the tops, clean out the seeds, pop into freezer bags. Good for stuffed green peppers, spaghetti sauce or any other recipes requiring cooking.
-- Want herbs all winter? Mince herbs, stuff them into ice cube trays, add water and put in them into a freezer. When frozen, pop the cubes into freezer bags. Good for winter soups, stews and sauces.
-- Excess zucchini? Freezing zucchini is problematic. Thawed zucchini slices acquire a consistency that can only be described as lutefisk-like: slimy, unpleasant and something that should only be eaten once a year, if at all.
To get around this quandary, make zucchini bread and freeze it. When the bread cools, wrap in plastic wrap and pop the wrapped loaves into freezer bags.
Zucchini also can be shredded and packed, by cups, into freezer bags. After thawing, press out excess water and use. It won't have the same distinctive taste, but you'll get that satisfying, shredded coconut-like texture.
Freeze or can?
This is mostly a matter of preference, Lutz said.
Canning involves the upfront costs of jars, lids, rings, a pressure canner or large pot. Canned food lasts about a year. After that, its quality declines.
Frozen vegetables are best within the first six months.
Space and energy efficiency are other factors. If your freezer space consists of a tiny area above your fridge, canning is probably more practical.
If you have a separate, energy-efficient freezer, then freezing will save money, jars, lids and other canning paraphernalia.
Note: Energy efficiency is key. Few things cost more to run than an aging appliance.
Safety first, people!
Do not, under any circumstances, alter a canning recipe.
"Always follow a tested recipe," Lutz stressed.
Both hot water bath and pressure canning depend a specific pH—the amount of acidity or alkalinity the ingredients contain. Alter the pH, and you might end up with something poisonous.
And in other safety news: Lutz said that microwave, dishwasher and oven canning are not considered safe methods.