What to Do With Fresh Produce
By: Janice Fields, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent
N.C. Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center
It’s here! It’s the time of year for all “food preservation buffs” to sharpen their skills and tools for the 2014 fresh produce season. Proper working equipment, up-to-date research-based recipes, food safety knowledge, and fresh high-quality produce are keys to delicious-tasting meals on your kitchen table throughout the year.
The three main ways to preserve food include canning, freezing, and drying. The method you choose depends on several things. First and foremost, is there an available, safe, tested recipe for preserving the foods your family will eat? No matter how much fun you’re having in the kitchen, it doesn’t make sense to waste your time and money preparing food that will not get eaten. Consider how you will store the finished product. Freezing is easier to do, but the electricity increases storage costs. Drying is a safe and simple way to preserve your food for later use. Canning is more labor intensive but costs less to store. Jams and pickles, well, are just delicious. No matter which method you choose, be sure to follow research-based, tested recipes.
I have heard stories from a few folks who think they are canning safely, only to discover they could make their family members deathly ill using their current canning recipes. Their intentions are good, but they need to know the safe way to preserve food. Canning green beans in a water bath is an example of a food safety disaster waiting to happen. Summer squash is not recommended for canning, because there is uncertainty on the processing time to destroy the bacteria that causes botulism. Botulism rarely occurs, but kills 35 percent of those who get it and can leave its victims paralyzed. Why take the risk? It is better to pickle or freeze summer squash.
Canning your own produce has several benefits. Canning can be a source of pride and enjoyment. I enjoy cooking in the kitchen. I take pride in being able to feed my family good, quality food during the winter without having to buy it at the grocery store. Canning at a time when produce is plentiful can also save money over buying commercially canned food. You do have to initially purchase the basic equipment and also disregard your labor costs. It boils down to whether or not you enjoy having food you preserved and if you are willing to put forth the effort to make it happen.
Asparagus is plentiful now. I ate my first two spears of fresh asparagus from the garden just this weekend. If you want to take advantage of extra asparagus, try pickling them with this tested recipe found at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_asparagus.html. It sounds yummy! If I can get my hands on 10 pounds of asparagus, I’m going to try out this recipe. Don’t forget strawberry season is almost here. My youngest daughter has put in a special request for freezer jam. You can find that recipe at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/uncooked_berry_jam_powder.html.
With all this talk about risk and cost, it may sound like I am trying to talk you out of preserving your own food. Quite the contrary, I think there is nothing better than food on the table preserved from your garden, your neighbor’s garden, a local farm, or the farmers market. I would love the opportunity to show you how to preserve food safely. We have publications on the topic and will offer classes this summer.
For more information, please contact Janice Fields, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at Janice_Fields@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at https://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.