While we hungrily scavenge our local farmer’s market for the freshest, ripest, most delicious fruits and vegetables this season has to offer, there is often a hint of sadness as you bite into that perfectly ripe plum or ear of corn. Eating locally and in season is child’s play during the summer and as the days get shorter we all know we’ll have to resort to “fresh” produce from halfway across the world in just a few months. That is unless we preserve it ourselves. From canning and jamming to dehydrating, there are many ways to save the summer harvest for chillier months.
The only time dehydration is a good thing...
As perfect as a juicy peach is, that moisture doesn’t keep it safe for consumption for very long. One of the most basic and least time-consuming methods of preservation is dehydration. Senior Education Specialist and dietitian Kim uses a tray dehydrator to manage the abundance of summer vegetables. “I bought my dehydrator because I had extra fruit laying around, loved dried fruit, and wanted to be able to control how much sugar was added to it. My favorite things to dry are zucchini, mangos, apples, strawberries, bananas, and kale. I slice them really thin (using a food processor), lay them on sheets and dehydrate for a couple hours 115 degrees. It’s so easy. For apples I sprinkle cinnamon on them. On vegetables I add nutritional yeast and spices. For kale, I make a dressing out of cashews, lemon juice, salt, and vinegar, massage kale with it, throw it into dehydrator, and get amazingly delicious kale chips. I love dehydrating because you’re so in control of all of your ingredients. It also helps me to get extra servings of produce in. I wouldn’t sit down and eat a ton of kale, but kale chips are the perfect snack.”
We be jammin’!
Whether it’s a PB&J or just over an afternoon scone with tea, homemade jam is a condiment with a touch of nostalgia. Supply Chain Quality Manager Lynette mastered the art of homemade jam through a course at the Vancouver Pastry School. “Making jam shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, especially if you’re making a quick refrigerator jam. And even if you want to preserve it longer with canning, it’s less than an hour of time. The best thing is, jams don’t have to be made in quantities to last you until the apocalypse. You can make small amounts of jam quickly, easily, and experiment with different flavors. All you need is just 1 to 2 cups of fruit! Berry jams are a staple, and next I’m going to experiment with apricot ginger. Thanks to this course, there are several tricks I’ve learned to make jam making a success:
- Yes, you really DO need quite a bit of sugar: Luckily it’s less sugar than commercial jam. I find recipes work best with a 50:50 ratio of sugar:fruit.
- DO try chunky jam: If you’re like me and personally like chunks of fruit in your jam, I’ve discovered a handy trick. Sprinkle sugar on the fresh fruit before you make the jam, and let it sit overnight. On really soft fruit, like berries and rhubarb, and it forces the water out of the fruit in a gentle manner, so that it doesn’t immediately turn into mush.
- DO try the frozen plate trick: To check the consistency, put a plate in the freezer. When you think you’re done making jam, take the plate out of the freezer and put the liquid jam on it. Tilt the plate, and if it doesn’t run off the plate, it’s a good texture.
- DON’T forget an acid: Without the right acid ratio, you won’t get the texture you want. Citric acid or lemon juice work well to help firm up the pectin.
- DON’T make jam in a stock pot: Getting the right consistency requires a really wide, flat bottomed, sauté pan (copper is best). The larger the circumference the better, because you want to get the jam as hot as possible, as fast as you can.
- DON’T stir your jam constantly: Stirring cools down the jam which negatively impacts the texture. Often you get a foamy white layer on top, and it’s common to think you have to keep stirring, but actually you have to minimize the stirring. When it’s at ideal consistency the foamy layer is actually gone. It naturally boils away!”
Canning: make your Grandmother proud.
Former Vega Chef Morgan cans not only because she loves zucchini relish, but because she doesn’t want this art to be lost. “Not a lot of people know how to preserve, but it’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s a nice process; it’s very Zen, and gets back to old school.” While fears of botulism may keep some people away from canning, when done properly it is the most versatile way to preserve most produce.
With pickles beloved by Vegatopians, Vega Content Marketing Manager Amber has been canning since she was a child. “My grandmother and mother canned—mostly cherries, peaches and pickles. One of my first jobs as a kid was stuffing cucumbers into the jar because I had small hands (or so my mom convinced me). I stopped when I was a teenager, but started again with friends when I was in college. For 10 years I did peaches, pears, cherries, pickles and pickled vegetables. Canning was great when I was a student because the finished product was a really nice gift and it meant that I could have fresh fruit on a student’s budget in the middle of the winter. For me, canning is not just putting summer in a jar; it’s putting love in a jar. It’s nice to know what’s in the food you’re eating and to share that with those you love.
“After my son was born I stopped canning fruit, but I still make pickles religiously. They are a great intro to canning: less labor intensive, lower processing time, and can be done in small batches.” While canning requires strict adherence to recipe and instructions you can still play around with some of the seasonings. Like Amber says, “where I improvise is things like putting a cinnamon stick and ginger with peaches. Just don’t throw cardamom into peaches unless you want peaches that taste like cough syrup.”
If you’re curious about canning fruit, former Vega Chef Morgan has some tips for you:
- You can can what? “Any fruit can be canned with the exception of bananas and avocados (which are both too thick for the heat to permeate the fruit and destroy potential bacteria). The best kinds of fruit to can are local ones at the peak of freshness. Peaches are my personal favorite!”
- Low-sugar? “If you try to minimize sugar in your diet, it can be safe to can fruits without lower amounts of sugar. Sugar acts mostly as a flavor enhancer and does not have any preserving function. Try replacing up to half of the sugar with agave syrup or maple syrup. Fruit juices are also used to preserve fruits – apple, pineapple or grape juices are the usual suspects.”
- Follow the recipe! “You can’t really make a recipe unless you’re an expert. You have to follow it exactly to make sure it’s acid enough.”
Before you head into the kitchen:
Be sure to check out more of Chef Morgan’s top 4 ways to preserve the summer harvest. For more information about drying, jamming and canning, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There you’ll find the ratios of sugar, salt and vinegar needed to safely preserve different fruits and vegetables, as well as the heats and times required to processed canned goods. Curious about what types of jars to use, or if the food is safe after canning? They can help with those questions and more! Canada’s Food Guide also offers quick tips and guidance.