It’s a wonderful thing to grow your own food, but even with the best planning you will always end up with a glut of something at harvest time. So, what to do with it all?
Well, there are several options – keep eating it every day to use it all up; swap with friends and neighbours for other goods or services, or preserve them.
We’ve done all three to some extent 😂. Believe me, there is only so much cabbage two people can eat! Our lovely friend and neighbour, Pepe, dropped over some beans the other day, and we were delighted to give him a massive cabbage in return. Before we had fresh produce to share, we would give him a jar of homemade chutney or marmalade in return for the veg he brought us. It’s a great system!
Now I’m really getting into preserving food. There’s quite a lot to learn as there are so many ways you can try – freezing, pickling, canning and dehydrating to name just four. There are loads of excellent books and information on the internet, and I am creating my own recipe book as I try new things – if they go well they go in the book. If they’re not so good they get tweaked, tried again, and when they’re perfect they make the book.
Freezing isn’t really an option for us. Because we have a gas fridge freezer, the freezer part is really small. It’s actually quite unusual to get a fridge freezer that runs on butane, and as far as I’m aware there’s just one company that makes them – Butsir, based in Brazil.
Dehydrating using just the sun is on my wish list for this year. We will have to make a frame that is covered with netting and off the ground to stop the beasties getting at the tomatoes whilst they’re drying. The process takes a couple of days, but there’s something really appealing about making your own sun dried tomatoes! Many people use a drying oven, which takes around 24-48 hours – again, not an option for us on limited solar power.
That leaves pickling and canning, and I have dabbled since we moved here with quite good success. I have ordered a pressure canner from the US, but due to the pandemic, the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand, so it’s likely to be months before it arrives.
So, what does a pressure canner do, and how are they different to a pressure cooker – the two are not to be confused! A pressure cooker cooks food quickly. A pressure canner will also cook food, but it’s designed in a slightly different way in order to seal preserving jars, like Le Parfait and Mason Jars. Without sealing the jars, nasty bacteria can cause serious illness! With a pressure canner, pretty much any food can be preserved. They come in lots of different sizes and can be pretty expensive, but it’s likely to be a once in a lifetime purchase. The pressure required and the length of time that you put the jars in for are based on what you are canning and the altitude you live at – most good preserving books will have charts in them.
Then there’s pickling and chutneys. Because vinegar is used in these, any nasty bugs get finished off in the cooking process, so don’t need canning. Today though, I have pickled our harvest of beetroots using Le Parfait jars, and finished off with a water bath – yes, yet another method 😂. A water bath seals the jars, but not to the extent a canner does – this method is fine for acidic foods, like pickled beetroot or tomatoes, and just means the shelf life is extended. A water bath is very simple to do – you just need a large saucepan that enables you to cover the jars with water, bring it to the boil and boil for 20-30 minutes. I always put a cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to ensure the glass jars don’t crack. If you’re using a twist lid (jam) jar rather than a preserving jar, then no water bath or pressure canning is used (things will explode!), but the jars must be sterilized thoroughly before filling.
It was with some trepidation that I started preserving food – if you get it wrong you can get quite ill! You do get the odd jar that goes off because it didn’t quite seal right – making sure everything is sterilized properly is so important – that, and having a good look and sniff when you open a jar of course! The slightest hint of mold and it has to go straight in the bin!
When it goes right it is a very satisfying thing to do, and I love seeing the rows of jars in the bodega that we can enjoy throughout the year!
When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!