Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Preserving

Wow, no way has it been a month already since I posted! Time flies, especially when you're busy. Farm work is definitely an all-day affair. Since Myrtle Glen is a homestead, rather than a production-based operation, there's a lot of other responsibilities that come along with living here: cooking, cleaning, timing the use of the solar and cob ovens just right during the day, taking care of the animals, and of course, putting food up! Taking the excesses of summer and turning them into the staples of winter is a time-consuming and important task. We've been mainly using four methods.

Cool Storage
Some vegetables keep better than others, but need to be provided with the right environment. Winter squash, potatoes, onions, and apples are being tucked away into the newly finished tile-art cave. A stable temperature and dark, dry conditions prevent molding on these vegetables, which if harvested in the fall, will keep well into the winter.

Blanching/freezing
Perhaps the most versatile and fool-proof way of putting things up is to blanch and freeze. Blanching involves dipping the veggies into frozen water for about 1 minute, and then cooling them quickly in cold water before freezing. This halts all the enzymes in the vegetables and prevents them from breaking down, preserving nutrients and color. The disadvantage of freezing of course lies in limited space, and energy needed to keep the freezer running all the time.

Canning
I canned my first pickles last night! Canning is a great way to put food up, since they can sit on pretty much any shelf and just wait until you're ready to use them. Pickles are also a safe choice, since the brine can usually prevent bacterial growth even in the absence of a sterile environment. Here we have to use the wood stove to heat up the large canning pots, so we have to do it in either the early morning or late evening to prevent giving ourselves heat stroke in the middle of a summer day. What I like about canning is how once you have all the supplies, they can mostly just be re-used over from year to year. The exception to this is the lids, which must be new to create a solid seal. I'd be interested in finding a way around this somehow...

Drying
Dehydrating is another easy way to store things in the pantry. The catch being that you need a dehydrator, which uses electricity. But when you don't have time to can things like beans and carrots after a particularly big harvest, drying is a great alternative to freezing, since it takes up less space and can be reconstituted into soups and such during the cold months.

Of course, certain foods do best with certain methods of preservation. Like diversified farming, using a variety of storage methods also covers your ass if something goes awry with one of them (such as the freezer being left open, tsk tsk!).