Water & Canning

[note to the reader: i’m writing this while listening to the kinks]

At the last hands-on workshop with our food prof we learned about different forms of food preservation and the role that they can play in society.  As a person that has done a fair amount of freezing, applesauce making, and canning it was really great to get a refresher on these skills.  Especially, on the history of these methods.  To begin we learned about 4 forms of specific preservation: drying, freezing, canning, and fermentation.  We also learned about the best techniques for storing raw vegetables and fruit w/out any sort of preservation process.

I’ll start with that – generally you can store apples, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, and winter squash with very little preparation.  The most important thing is that they are kept in a dry cool location all winter – the best place is a basement or garage – they need to be kept at around 55 degrees.  To begin you should always wash and dry off all your fruits and veggies. Also, it’s important to eat the bruised and cut up ones first because they spoil much more easily when part of the inside is exposed to air.  I won’t get into all the specifics of storing them but here are a few:

apples: best to store them without touching each other! don’t have any bad apples with the bunch [they really will spoil all of them]

carrots: best to dig them up after the first soft frost because the sugars will have solidified, also it’s crucial to twist off the green top, because it will keep eating all of the delicious nutrients that you want yourself!

Potatoes/Parsnips/Beets/Carrots: always clean them first, but a really neat way of storing them is getting a couple small plastic boxes [one for each veggie] and then fill that box with a layer of sand and lightly mist it with water.  then put in the veggies.  then cover the veggies with more sand.  I know it sounds a bit weird, but our prof promised us that it was a great way to keep these root veggies fresh all winter long!  also you can spray some extra water in the box about once a month to keep them fresh [but not to much!]

Also! if you have a yard [which those of us in PVD don’t have…] you can dig up a hole in your yard and line it w/ burlap and then store the veggies in there all winter.  This works much better if you have a harsh winter where the ground stays frozen most of the winter – that tips for all you folks that live in wisconsin!

but on to a new method of food preservation: drying. Drying food is a bit time intensive in regards to the fact that the amount of product that you get out of a large quantity of fresh fruits or veggies is quite minimal.  But, it is an excellent way to make very flavorful seasonings.  For example, you can dry out tomatoes and they are an excellent way to add more flavor to a broth.  In that vein it’s really great to dry herbs and then last all winter long.

but how do you actually do the drying process?  the best way to do it is buying a basic food dehydrator.  You usually can purchase these for about $20 – 50 at the store or Craigslist.  It’s quite an energy sucking process – but is very self explanatory.  Just just place your sliced up fruits or veggies on the trays and stick them in.  The dehydrator will do exactly what it sounds like – suck all the water out of them.  A less energy intensive method is to use a solar dehydrator.  There was a really great book recently on how to make this:

Solar Food Dryer from Sunworks!

you can check out their website by clicking on the picture.  I’m hoping to have some time to make myself one this summer and if you make one let us know how it goes!

But moving forward: Freezing. We were VERY STRONGLY encouraged NEVER to EVER freeze both spinach and carrots. I wanted to make sure that our readers understood the urgency of this problem.  But for real, cooking these into a state in which they can be frozen just sucks all their nutriets out and really doesn’t benefit anyone.  But there are plenty of things that are awesome to freeze: raspberries, apple sauce, tomatoes, peaches, blackberries, blueberries, peas (make sure to flash cook before freezing them) and more.  Freezing is one of the easiest things that you can do – just make sure whatever you freeze is clean and then get a bunch of freezer bags [you can get them at any grocery store] and fill them up, make sure there is no air, and then stick them in your freezer!  If you get really into it you may have to get an chest freezer.  As a child I would always love when my mom would send me to the chest freezer to grab a bag of raspberries or applesauce to put over our post-church pancakes.

Onto one of the more historic forms of preservation, eventhough root storage is much more ancient, canning! Canning was made very popular during and post WW2 by none other than the USDA.  This class we spent a lot of time critiquing the policies of the USDA, so it was a bit refreshing to realize that just like the World Bank they are able to do some things well. The USDA puts in a lot of time and energy into making sure that people know how to can properly so that they don’t die of botchulism.  This is an interesting intersection of food safety, food security, and encouraging the local economy.  During WW2 the USDA realized how important it was that people knew how to properly can their food so that they would be able to preserve the food from their victory gardens – by growing their own food people were able to allow the larger farms to focus their energy on feeding soldiers and those conducting war.  A very interesting intersection between warfare and food systems [something that i’ll look into more later in this post].  But I’m am quite thankfully to the USDA for their dedication to this project.  One of the myths of canning is that it’s an old process, but really it only started in the 20th century when we were able to mass produce the materials needed to properly can.

One of the most important things about canning is that you can only use the lids ONCE.  you can use the rings and jars as many times as you want – but the lids only work once.  Also it’s crucial that you boil the lids and jars in water before you fill them w/ food, because otherwise there is a chance that bacteria could grow in the jars.  I’m not going to go into all the specific details of hot water bath vs. pressure canning.  But I recommend that you check out these resources:

Lastly, here are some GREAT things to can:

  • tomatoes! tomato sauce! tomatoes actually get healthier for you as you can them
  • all jellies and jams
  • applesauce
  • peaches
  • salsa
  • and really anything you want to… but those are the best to can

Okay – so we didn’t really spend any time talking about fermentation.  But just so you know the primary forms of fermentation are lactic acid and alcoholic fermentation.  Our prof told us that the BEST book ever for this is: Wild Fermentation: Flavor Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture foods.  So you should all check it out.

I’m going to shift quickly and talk a little bit about this idea of warfare and food systems.  I recently when to see Mustafa Barghouti speak about the current Israel/Palestine conflict.  As a leader in Palestinian civil society he had a unique perspective and it was an honor to hear him speak.  Regardless of your position on the conflict clearly there are issues in regards to water access and land in the occupied territories.  I don’t remember the exact statistics – but it was something like Israeli’s in the territories have access to 10X more water and water costs 10X less for them.  That is just unjust.  On top of that most of the farmable land is in Israeli hands, and traditional olive farms are destroyed on a daily basis.  As I said, no matter where you stand on this conflict I believe that part of having a just international agro-food system means that no matter where you are you have access to farmable land a clean water. period.  and clearly this is not just an issue in the conflict in israel/palestine – but most warring nations – in which the United States often has a huge role.  just food for thought…

signing off.



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