The ancient history of food preservation traces back to antiquity, where sun-warmed farmlands dotted the shivering river basins of the first civilizations. The early settlers of America relied on food preservation to stave off the impending dearth of winter. With the invention of the refrigerator in the 19th century, people were easily able to preserve their food and prevent spoilage.
Since then, the practice of preserving your harvests has been delegated to a quaint hobby, but it also serves practical purposes. In addition to helping the environment, preserving your harvests can help you cut down on costs. Greenhouse gases are emitted every step of the food transportation process, and the thousands of miles required to transport produce generates large quantities of carbon dioxide. Many foods that are carelessly tossed away can be used as compost or repurposed.
Rather than throwing away excess produce, extend your summer harvest into the winter months by canning, freezing, or drying your fruits and vegetables. Further reduce your carbon footprint by serving your produce in Vego Garden’s elegant, minimalistic serving bowls, which brings the freshness of your crops straight from garden to table.
A Word of Caution
There are some inherent dangers associated with preserving your own food. The last thing you want is food poisoning from a botched home canning. Bacteria and mold can proliferate on foodstuffs that have not been properly processed, so it is important that you do careful research and reference legitimate sources. Michigan State lists some unsafe food preservation methods.
Preservation Methods for Vegetables
The most common way to prolong the shelf life of vegetables is through freezing, though there are other methods, such as canning and pickling, that require more effort. While the pickled taste of vegetables may not be appetizing to everyone, pickled vegetables, especially kimchi, are a good way to expand the palate.
- Freezing: In general, freezing is the quickest method for preserving vegetables. You can either place it in an airtight bag in the freezer or blanch beforehand. For more details, check out the various ways to keep your produce fresh for longer.
- Canning: Great care should be taken when canning vegetables. Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that can become malignant in low-acid and moist conditions, giving rise to the dreaded botulism disease. To kill off the spores, the vegetables must be heated 240°F using a pressure canner. Because of its time-consuming nature and difficulty, consider whether this method is right for you.this method is not very popular.
- Pickling and Fermentation: The image of decapitated appendages and eyeballs lurking in a miasma of dark liquid is a hallmark of freakshows and horror movies, yet pickling is usually much less sinister. Despite their similarities, pickling and fermentation are not the same. Pickling involves immersing vegetables in vinegar or brine while fermentation naturally occurs without any acidic input. Most firm vegetables, including beans, zucchini, and beets, can be pickled.
- Turn into Sauces or Marinate: If you’ve been inundated with a glut of tomatoes or other prolific crops this season, then marinating them in olive oil is another viable way to extend your harvest. You can also use tomatoes to make salsa or tomato sauce.
- Store onions and potatoes separately. The ethylene gas emitted by onions can speed up the ripening process and cause potatoes to spoil quicker.
- Freezing, canning, and pickling ensures that your produce lasts up to a year or more. Freezing is the simplest method as it doesn’t entail special equipment.
- Pickling and canned vegetables can spoil if not maintained, so make sure to follow directions closely from a reputable source.
- A water-bath should only be reserved for foods with high levels of acidity. Items commonly water-bath canned include jams, jellies, salsa, fruit, and marmalade.
Preservation Methods for Fruits
Like with vegetables, many of the methods – freezing, drying, and pickling – can be applied to fruits. Bagging fruits in an airtight (or vacuum-sealed) storage container and placing them in the refrigerator is the recommended option. Fruits can also be dehydrated into pliable fruit leather; almost any fruit will suffice, though berries and stone fruits are recommended.
Preservation Methods for Herbs
Which Herbs to Freeze and Which to Dry
Herbs are one of the easiest crops to preserve, with minimal risk – food poisoning is not an issue, though the quality may deteriorate. While they may not retain their flavor as well as fresh herbs, they can still add vitality to lackluster dishes. Here is a list of herbs and their preferred method of preservation.
Many gardeners encounter the predicament of having an overabundance of herbs and not knowing what to do with them. One of the easiest ways to preserve herbs is to hang them in bunches in a dry, shaded place. They can also be frozen in ice cubes or made into pesto.
- Drying Herbs: There are many ways to dry herbs, from hanging them in bundles to drying them on a rack. Sturdy, low-moisture varieties can be tied into small bundles and hung upside down in an airy, well-ventilated place. For herbs with thick leaves, such as basil and parsley, it is recommended that you dry them using a food dehydrator.
- Freezing Herbs: When herbs are frozen, they tend to lose their color or become limp. As a result, frozen herbs are recommended for cooked dishes instead of as garnishes or decoration. Freezing is suited for leafy herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro.
- Turn into Pesto: Known for its piquant taste and versatility, pesto is a beloved flavoring that can be added into pastas, ravioli, and sandwiches. Leafy herbs such as basil, chives, and parsley are best suited for pesto, but you can also add other leafy greens and nuts.
- Harvest herbs in the morning, once the morning dew has evaporated.
- Do not dry herbs in the sun, as they can lose their potency and flavor.
- Make sure to label containers with name and date to keep track of your herbs.
A Low-Effort Combat to Reduce Food Waste
If all those methods don’t appeal to you, or you find yourself limited by a lack of time, then consider disposing of donating your food scraps in to the vermicomposting bin. Vermicomposting is a low-intensity activity that involves harnessing the digestive power of worms to turn kitchen waste into organic matter. Vego’s in-ground worm composter, designed to fit Vego raised beds, streamlines the process of traditional composting while also eliminating the hassle and smells associated with it.