Category Archives: Preserving

Storing winter squash

We’ve still got quite the supply of pie pumpkins and butternut squash.  We love them both very much and started the winter off with a vanload.  See the picture from Courtney’s post a month ago.

Storing them was easy.  We brought them home from our friend’s house and cleaned them up with a wet rag and a bucket of water.  I let them dry in the garage overnight, because I didn’t want excess water soaking in to the top of our kitchen cabinets.  The next day we arranged them on top of the cabinets.  Done.  I didn’t do anything else to them.  I’ve read that it might be a good idea to dip them in a clorox/water solution as a way of preventing mold, etc but I didn’t do that.

I wondered how long they would keep.  Now I know it is about five months.  At the beginning of February I went through and inspected each one.  There were two or three that were getting soft and a few more that were developing a small amount of white fuzzy mold at the bottom.  All of those were thrown away.  That was a tough one for me, because you all know that I don’t like to throw things away.  Having a food scientist for a wife helps keep the gray areas of what is acceptable to eat or not well defined and very narrow.  I was tempted at first to simply cut out the bad spots and cook the rest as a way to salvage the pumpkin.  Courtney says “no” because fungi usually have very extensive root systems, meaning that if we see a little surface mold then the flesh of the pumpkin is likely full of mold roots.  As an interesting side note, see this Wikipedia article on the 2200 acre fungus patch in Oregon.

Today I see that there are a few more showing signs of wear, so we’ll have to do another wave of winnowing.  It is probably time to bake the last of them and freeze as much as we can.

Here’s a picture of a good one and a bad one.  Its pretty easy to tell them apart.

I should also mention, though, that the butternuts keep much longer.  We only threw one away so far and it was because the skin was scraped and therefore weakened.  They are good keepers.

Thanks, Robert.

Dehydrating 101: The taste and texture of dehydrated fruits and veggies

Okay, here’s another one in the dehydrating series.  Check out top 10 reasons why I love dehydrating, how to dehydrate and how to rehydrate.

Today it’s all about taste and flavor.  My personal fav being a sensory scientist I could go on all day about the differences in the taste and flavor but here’s my summary.  Basically everyone seems to want to know, does the fruit taste the same as fresh?  The short answer is no.  They taste the same as cooked though.  Here’s why, during the dehydration process the fruit heats up, low and slow, but still it gives the fruit a slightly cooked flavor.  The vegetables are pretty much the same.

The apples we dried to a crispy finish.  This turned out to be a good thing because the variety we dried was red delicious and so they were very sweet.  When dried long enough, they turned crispy and crunchy like the apple crisps you can buy in the store.  They were nothing like the chewy, squishy dried apples you normally think of.  I actually really preferred the apples crispy.

Someone asked if you could rehydrate the apples to make apple pie all year long.  I think this would be a great idea, we didn’t dry baking apples, nor did we peel them, so I don’t think it will work with ours but I think it’s a clever idea.  Maybe partially rehydrate them, in apple cider perhaps.  The trick will be to get just the right amount of water and not to overcook them so they don’t cook down to a mush.

As far as the veggies are concerned, the zucchini and tomatoes had exceptional flavor.  Once rehydrated in soup the texture of the zucchini and tomatoes was very similar to the cooked variety.  The cucumbers we read can be eaten like potato chips and dipped in your favorite chip dip.  I never tried them but Robert said they tasted great, better than eating them fresh.  The dried bell peppers and jalapenos plumped right up.  I haven’t used the cayenne peppers but I think I may crumble it and use it in place of my red pepper flakes.

I think this may be the last in the series, unless anyone else has some questions.

Thanks,  Courtney

Dehydrating 101. How to dehydrate fruits and vegetables

Here is another installment in my dehydrated foods series. Check out my other posts in the series,  Top 10 reasons why I love dehydrated fruits and veggies and how to rehydrate fruits and veggies.

We dehydrated our veggies using an Oster dehydrator this past summer.  We dehydrated zucchini, cucumbers, green bell peppers, hot wax peppers, cayenne peppers, anaheim peppers, strawberries, apples, peaches and tomatoes.  Anything we had left over or couldn’t eat before it went bad, we dehydrated it.

Robert and I used the Ball Book of Canning as a guide for how to cut the fruits and veggies, how to dip them to prevent browning and how to tell when they are done.  I wish we had written down how long it took for everything to dry, but we did not.  I do remember everything taking a really long time though.

We tried to dry everything until it was crispy because we figured it would keep better and longer that way.  For instance our peaches were cut thin and are dry enough that you can snap them in half.  Yeah, we all like the store bought variety that is soft but we wanted these to last… forever.

Fruit leathers are another great way to use your dehydrator.  The only downside is that some recipes say to refrigerate the leathers.  This defeats the point of having something shelf stable in our opinion.  But they do taste great.

We have also dehydrated tomatoes in the oven.  We followed a recipe but it went something like this.  Turn oven to lowest temperature, insert a spoon or fork in the door of the oven to keep it slightly ajar, cook tomatoes for something crazy like 24 hours.  We really enjoyed the tomatoes made this way, but it was a hot option especially in the summer.  It is necessary though when you have a bumper crop of tomatoes all ripe at the same time.  You can really fill up your oven, more than will fit in the dehydrator.

Make sure to have a well ventilated space for your dehydrator because some of the vegetables get quite stinky.  The hot peppers for instance will not only make your house stink but burn your eyes as well.  We do these in the garage.  The fruits are much more pleasant so the basement or spare room works great.  The dehydrator is also kinda noisy so finding just the right spot can be tricky.

Thanks,  Courtney

Dehydrating 101: How to rehydrate dried fruits and vegetables

I recently wrote a post about why I love dehydrated fruits and veggies and someone asked how we do it, what do they taste like, etc.  So I thought I would start a little series on the subject.  I am by no means an expert or that experienced.  But it’s pretty simple, so I will pretend to be an authority on the subject.  First up, how do you rehydrate those dried vegetables?

Here’s what I have done and made so far.  I haven’t actually rehydrated anything in boiling water alone.  I try to incorporate it into my brecipes.  I do this for two reasons, it’s faster and I think the flavor is more intense if rehydrated in my yummy soup rather than boring ol’ water.

Zucchini, sliced thin – at least 20 minutes in a simmering soup, longer than a couple hours and they break down

Tomatoes, Romas sliced in half – at least 20 minutes in a simmering soup, longer is better but no maximum time.  I usually snap these into 2 or 3 pieces before putting in soup.  In homemade spaghetti sauce, tossed in whole and simmered in sauce 30 minutes.  I still need to explore making a sauce from only dried tomatoes.

Bell peppers, sliced into thin ribs – simmered in soup for 30 minutes, plus they were crisp enough to cut into bite sized pieces

Hot peppers, thinly sliced into rounds – simmered in tikka masala sauce or soup for 30 minutes.  Usually canned peppers mellow over time but these guys packed a serious heat punch, good to know.

Apples, sliced thinly with the skin on (cause I was too lazy to peel) – a hard boil for about 20 minutes in a Morrocan sauce that I was reducing.  Worked great.  Not tough, almost exactly like a freshly cooked apple.

Check out my other post top 10 reasons why I love dehyrated fruits and veggies and hopefully more to follow in this series.

Thanks,  Courtney

Chalkboard labels for canning jars

I must start out by giving my sister the credit for this idea and for doing all the prep work.  That being said, aren’t these the cutest.

Any idea how she did this?

Okay, I’ll tell you.  She painted contact paper with chalkboard paint.  Then she cut out pieces and stuck them on the canning jars.  Easy.  Now you try.

Thanks,  Courtney

Update:  Okay guys and gals, my sister, the one who did all the work for these, left several more tips in the comments section below.  She uses this chalkboard stuff on everything, she’s a teacher, go figure.

Drying Foods

We usually have more zucchini at our disposal than we can handle and that was the case this past summer, too.   I started cutting them up and putting them in the dehydrator .  We’re now reaping the benefits of this foresight.

They actually taste great once dried.  Courtney has also been tossing them into soups, etc and they plump right back up again and are quite tasty.  They’re even great just for snacking.

Jalapenos and cucumbers were also in abundance, so I cut them up and put them in the dehydrator.  We store them in ball jars in our cool, dark basement using our Tattler reusable canning lids.  We don’t do anything like a water bath to create a strong vacuum seal, just tighten down the rings.  I have read that you can heat the jars in the oven before adding the product.  When the jar and contents cool down it will create that vacuum and hold the lid without the ring.  We may want to keep this in mind for next year because we have now discovered we have a shortage of rings for apple butter season.

At one point this past summer, I just went crazy.  I bought a 25 pound box of roma tomatoes and dried them all.  It took almost a week to run them all through the dehydrator, but they yielded six quarts of dried product.  Eliot Coleman, in his book Four Season Harvest, was a big proponent of drying because it saves so much on time and energy.  He makes sauces throughout the winter with them and so we’re going to give it a try too.

Drying is one of the oldest ways of preserving food.  The removal of moisture inhibits growth of anything that might deteriorate the food.  I dried our stuff much further than anything you buy in the store.  Think about raisins: they are sticky and still have moisture in them.  The dried foods I’ve made this summer are all like baked chips.

Thanks, Robert.

Inaugural Cider Batch

We’ve done it!  We gathered up a whole bunch of granny smith apples on Saturday morning (for free!) and turned them all into wonderful cider.

So, here’s how the process works:

Start by washing your apples.  I used the bottom section of the 55 gallon tub I used to make my chicken plucker, filled it with water and Courtney and I sat around while the kids were napping and inspected all the apples.  We sorted them into two buckets, one for good apples and one for those that had a moldy/wormy spot.  We rubbed each apple with our hands to knock off any dirt, etc.

Halve or quarter all of the apples.  This is so that they fit into the grinder.

Grind away!  The grinder will chew up the apples as fast as I can feed them in there.  It is amazing.

The ground up apple pulp is collected in a food grade bucket.

Another view of the grinding in action.

Filling the pressing bags.  The bottom three inches of a five gallon food grade bucket acts as the form.

Tie the bag with a piece of kitchen twine.

Loading the press.  Put a bag in the bottom, then a pressing disc, then another bag, and so on.  A lot of juice will come out into your catching basin before you even begin pressing, so have that in place first!

Start pressing.  On the ground is the scissor jack from our mini van.  You start with that and once there is room, switch to the 6 ton bottle jack.

The final product.  One sip and you’ll know what the “Wow” factor is all about on this fresh squeezed cider.  It is comparable to nothing else I’ve ever had.  Courtney and I drank a large pitcher of it over the next few days.  The rest was split between a few half gallon Ball jars to make vinegar with the balance put into a fermenter to make hard cider.

Thanks, Robert.

Other Apple Grinder/Cider Press Posts:

Project Introduction

Status Report

Cutting a Keyway


Being Bold: Apple Collecting

Apple Cider Vinegar (future post)

Hard Cider (future post)

Using the Tattler Canning Lids

Over this past weekend, we tested out the Tattler Reusable Canning Lids for the first time while making our peach jam.  The worked like a charm.

You start out placing the rubber rings and plastic lids in scalding water, just like you would if you were using the traditional metal lids.

Put the lid and the rubber gasket together and place on top of the jar.  Then screw on the ring the same way you would with the metal lids.

Process as your normally would and then you’re done.   I must say, it is hard to tell by looking whether they are set or not.  With the metal lids, you can usually glance at them and determine quickly if one of the seals failed.  The Tattler lids are thicker and more rigid.  I had to take the rings off to tell if I had a good seal.  All were good!

Thanks, Robert.

It was a peachy weekend

Its high season now and you’ve got to put away as much food as you can while things are at their peak stage of ripeness.  On Saturday morning, Courtney and I bought two 18 Lb boxes of peaches at the nearest farm stand.  Once we got home we immediately began cutting and and prepping the fruit. Personally, we both agreed that we have had better peaches, but these would be good enough for preserving.

We started with boxes like this and washed each peach in the sink with a rag, to rub off the excess fuzz.

We made 22 half pints of peach jam and the rest will be dried.

To dry, we used the Oster food dehydrator that I received as a gift from my mother in law.  It works great.  (Thank you!)  Twelve peaches will fill up the dehydrator and it yields two and a third quarts of finished product.  It only takes ten hours to dry four trays of peaches.  Once dry, we put the slices in quart size ball jars and tighten the lids.

I tried drying outside in the sun too.  That was a much slower process.  I draped a sheer nylon curtain over the trays to keep bugs out.  Between the breeze, the dogs and a toddler, that method wasn’t going to work.  I brought the trays in and rotated them into the dehydrator for the next batch.   This renewed my interest to build a New Mexico style solar dehydrator.  You can see a diagram in the image gallery of this article at Mother Earth News.

Thanks, Robert.

Eating food that’s alive

I’m not getting all vegan, raw food crazy here but I am starting to think about an idea I read about in Four Season Harvest.  And that is eating fresh food, not embalmed food.  You’ve probably seen my review of the book but now I keep revisiting the idea of eating fresh food all year.

A quote from the introduction of the book sums it all up.  “We adore fresh food, what we call “real food,” the fresher the better. We have never considered the many-month-old embalmed remains of last summer’s harvest, whether canned or frozen, to be real food.”

Yikes, that seems radical and somewhat offensive to us canners doesn’t it?  But I have to admit that I agree.  This is an idea that has popped up in my conversations with Robert over the last year or so.  Should we be using our time and resources to can our food or should we be choosing crops that store better in their natural state, potatoes, carrots, squash, parsnips, wheat, etc.  Robert has shared examples with me from blogs he follows about those who never can their summer harvest.  In fact they avoid growing tomatoes, scandalous I know.  It always seemed impossible but now that I have read Four Season harvest I am beginning to think again.  Instead of growing 27 tomato plants, yes we did that, use the ground to plant more sweet potatoes and devote some space to the winter garden or cold frames.  Don’t worry I could never give up tomatoes and I find they are the most used and rewarding canned vegetable.  But I am considering altering how we plant our garden, which foods we grow and how we store them.

Here’s what I am thinking (I always think in bullet points so bear with me, right brainers):

  • Summer crops stored in the field – carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, plus so many more
  • Summer crops stored in the root cellar – potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, wheat, oats, sunflower seeds, plus so many more
  • Summer crops canned – tomatoes, pickled this or that, jams galore
  • Winter crops eaten fresh – mache, scallions, endive, spinach, baby lettuce, plus so many more

This would be a pretty radical shift from almost all of our summer crops getting canned or pickled and only a small holding of potatoes and sweet potatoes in the root cellar.  But oh how freeing this new plan is.  Don’t get me wrong I love to can as much as the next sweaty, exhausted gal but I could use a break.  Plus I am not all that fond of pressure canning, it scares me.  Now all we need is a place to grow the food and we are set.  No more dead, embalmed food for us.  What do you think?

Thanks,  Courtney