Yes! We Can!
Whether you're a gardener, have come across a great deal at the market, or have friends who love giving you tons of their homegrown goodies, canning, dehydrating or freezing will preserve the foods you love, including eggs! So, don't let the thought of preserving food scare you. It's fun, easy, nutritional, and it saves money! Keep reading, and I'll walk you through the process.
Now, I'm sure y'all know someone with a "glass thumb" who always comes up with a homemade jar of something or other. Unfortunately, since you didn't go to the same school where they got their degree in food-preservationology, you're certain that your own attempts will end up making you or someone you love sick. Well, let me tell you, the method of preserving food has been around forever, so if you can read, boil water and tell time, you can learn to preserve.
The reasons for preserving food these days are different from years past. More and more people are turning to backyard gardening in an effort to save money, get that fresh-picked flavor and nutrition, minus commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, you and your family won't be affected by the many food recalls.
There are several ways of preserving food: Hot Water Bath Canning, Pressure Cooking, Dehydrating and Freezing. Once you choose your method, always be sure to label the container with the name of the contents and date it was preserved.
Hot Water Bath Canning
This happens to be the most popular means of food preservation, but it's pretty much limited to high acid foods like fruits and fruit products, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, juices, pickles, barbecue sauce, salsa, hot sauce, etc. If you want to water bath tomatoes or tomato sauce, you'll need to add an acid like lemon juice.
Water bath canning is done by heating filled jars to a temperature of 180 to 212°F (depending on the recipe), which destroys germs and creates a vacuum seal. You'll know the seal has been created when, after removing the jars from the hot water and setting on dishtowels to cool, you hear a "ping" as the lids suck down on the jar, creating a small indentation. If you push on the lid and it pops back and forth or makes a sound, it's not sealed and needs to be reprocessed with a new lid.
Water Bath Canners are inexpensive and can be found in almost any grocery or hardware store. Each canner includes a large cooking pot with a tight fitting lid, a rack that holds and keeps the jars separate, a jar lifter, funnel for filling the jars, and an instruction and recipe booklet that will give you specific time tables and directions for a large variety of food. Using the jar rack is very important in allowing the boiling water to flow completely around and under each jar for even processing.
Pressure canning is considered the only safe method for preserving low acidic foods like vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, soups or stews. The pressure canner includes a specially-made pot with a sealing lid that can be closed steam tight allowing the contents to heat to a temperature of 240°F. The lid has a vent (or pet-cock), a dial or weighted pressure gauge, and a safety fuse. The pressure canner also comes with a rack to hold the jars, jar lifter, funnel, and an instruction and recipe booklet. Both water bath and pressure-canned goods last about twelve months if kept in a dark place at a fairly cool temperature of 50 to 70°F.
The two most reliable canning jar brands are Mason and Ball, which are specifically designed for home canning and come in a variety of sizes from half-pint, pint, quart on up to half-gallon. The jar size you use depends on the food or amount of food you're preserving. Foods like pickles fit into quart jars best, while a jam or jelly is best canned in half-pints or pints.
Do not use leftover mayonnaise, baby food or other jars that you've saved; these jars don't have the proper sealing lids or heavy glass needed to withstand the heat used for canning. If properly used, the Mason and Ball jars can be reused as long as they remain in good condition. The flat-lids need to be replaced each time you preserve food, but the screw rings can be reused many times if they haven't been damaged. New flat-lids and screw rings can be bought separately from the jars.
Drying or Dehydrating
Drying and dehydrating takes a little longer to complete, but is very simple to do. Herbs and spices can be cut with long enough stems that enable them to be tied in individual groups and hung upside down in paper bags until dried. Herbs, fruits, vegetables and meats can be dehydrated using inexpensive dehydrator units that have several trays, and come with easy-to-follow instruction booklets.
Once dried, many of these foods like dried fruit chips, tomatoes and jerky taste great just as they are, can be stored for later use or re-hydrated. The best way to store these items is by vacuum packing and placing in a cool, dry place, which will give them a shelf life of six to eight months, or one year if frozen. You can also store the food in plastic bags, but the shelf life is only about two or three months.
Freezing is another form of preserving that many people don't think about, and can be used for all foods including fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and more. The process involves using jars, plastic containers, ice cube trays, or freezer bags. One freezer technique for herbs and spices is to rinse them, pat dry, and chop or place whole into labeled freezer bags, removing as much air as possible and placing in the freezer where they will keep for six to eight months. Another method for herbs and spices involves chopping each into small pieces and placing about one-tablespoonful into individual compartments of an ice cube tray. Each compartment can hold about 2-1/2 tablespoons with room to finish filling the compartments with water, then place in the freezer until the ice is solid. Remove the cubes and place into labeled and dated freezer bags and return to the freezer.
You can even freeze eggs, but only out of the shell. Eggs can be freezer preserved for up to six months. How you use your eggs will determine how you pack them for freezing, but remember that most recipes require large-size eggs. Begin by deciding whether you want to pack egg yolks, egg whites, or whole eggs, using freezer bags. Here's a handy chart for reference:
- 8 Egg Whites
- 1 Cup
- 12 Egg Yolks
- 1 Cup
- 5 Whole Eggs
- 1 Cup
- 1 Egg Yolk
- 1 to 1-1/2 Tablespoons Yolks
- 1 Egg White
- 2 Tablespoons Whites
- 1 Egg
- 3 Tablespoons Whole Egg
Although egg whites can be frozen by themselves, you'll need to add 1/5 teaspoon salt per whole egg or yolk to prevent the texture from changing. To begin the freezing process, crack the number and portion of eggs into a bowl, adding salt if required, and stir well (do not beat). Label the freezer bags with content name, amount (such as "5 egg yolks & 1 teaspoon salt") and date. Be sure not to freeze too many eggs in one package because once thawed, they must be used immediately. Before you plan to cook, place the frozen egg bags in the refrigerator and allow a thawing time of about nine hours per cup.
For great information about preserving food, check out the following website: USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Kosher Dill Pickles
- About 2 gallons of 4-inch cucumbers
- 8 wide-mouth Mason or Ball brand quart jars
- 1 garlic clove, cut in half, per jar
- 1/8 teaspoon mustard seed per jar
- 1 fresh dill sprig per jar
- 1/8 teaspoon alum per jar
In a large pot, make pickling brine by combining the following ingredients and bringing to a boil:
- 3 quarts water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 quart apple cider vinegar
- Wash cucumbers and let stand overnight in cold water.
- Sterilize jars, lids and rings in boiling water for ten minutes.
- Pack cucumbers into quart jars and add the garlic, dill, mustard, and alum.
- Pour brine mixture into the pre-filled jars and seal each with a lid and ring.
- Using a large canning pot, bring water to a boil and heat to 180 to 185°F.
- Set jars into the jar rack and place into the pot, making sure that the water is at least 2 inches over the tops of the jars.
- After 20 minutes, remove the jars from the water and place on a dishtowel to cool.
- Fifteen to twenty minutes later, the lids should make a popping sound, signaling a tight seal.
- You can check the seal by pushing on the lids. If they pop up and down, remove the ring and lid, place on a new lid and ring and re-process.
- For best flavor, allow at least three to four weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening jars.
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