This is the 3rd blog post in a series about food preservation by HDFFA guest blogger, Mary Lowe. Mary has been a certified Master Food Preserver volunteer with Oregon State University Extension for 10 years and will be sharing up-to-date, research-based information and tips for safe food preservation at home. Happy preserving!
Preserving food means to take a food and treat it in such a way that you can eat it later. After preserving it, you can eat it any time between tomorrow and a year or more. There are many ways to preserve food, from the very very simple, like popping tonight’s leftovers in the fridge to eat for lunch tomorrow, to the outrageously complicated and time consuming, like cutting up elk meat and pressure-canning it to eat during the winter months. All ways to preserve food are relevant. The reasons to preserve food are many: to save money, save time, plan ahead, make something delicious or to enjoy a great hobby.
In this blog I’m going to give you an overview, a teaser, of 3 preservation methods that can be used to preserve many fruits and vegetables. I’m just going to use peppers. For complete details and recipes, I have listed resources at the end of this article.
Peppers are available, in many varieties, almost all year round in almost every grocery store. Delicious to eat fresh, whole or chopped up and put into a salad, stir fry, soup or chili. I’m sure you can think of other great ways to use them fresh.
Last weekend I purchased three random varieties of fresh peppers (jalapenos, anaheim and sweet minis) and in one afternoon preserved them in 3 different ways, just to demonstrate to you how easy it can be and how delicious and useful the results can be.
Freezing the peppers was by far the easiest and quickest method. Gently rinse them in cool water, cut the tops off, take out the seeds and cut into little pieces. I put them in tiny little freezer containers and put them in my refrigerator freezer. Done. It took me about 10 minutes from start to freezer. Some fruits or vegetables need to be pre-treated in some way, like blanched, before freezing. Peppers do not require pretreating. The color of the peppers is still brilliant and freezing retains much of the nutrition and flavor. They will last in the freezer for up to 6 months and can be used in many ways; soup, stew, chili. They can also be used in canning recipes that call for peppers. Keep in mind that a frozen food requires a year-round energy source to keep it frozen. If, for any reason, there is a loss of power, frozen foods could be lost.
Drying peppers takes a little more work. Gently rinse in cool water, cut the tops off, take out the seeds and slice into ½” rings or strips. Place the pieces in a dehydrator, set the heat to approximately 130 degrees and turn the dehydrator on. The drying process, in an electric dehydrator, is complete in about 8 hours. The peppers should be crispy and brittle when done. They’re still beautiful. The color hasn’t changed much. Keep them in a moisture proof and bug resistant container. Let them “proof” a couple of days. That means to keep the lid loose and shake the pieces around a little bit. This distributes whatever moisture is left throughout the container and allows a little more drying or cooling off to happen. Store in a cool, dark location. The only energy use required is what is used in the actual drying process. Dried foods will last almost indefinitely as long as moisture or bugs don’t get to them.
Canning – Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
This method definitely takes more time, more ingredients and more equipment. I chose to make jalapeno jelly with some of the peppers. There are many other canning recipes for peppers to choose from. I hadn’t made pepper jelly for awhile so that’s why I chose this recipe. The process took about one and a half hours from preparation to completion. I let the jars sit, without touching them, overnight. The next morning, I sampled a little on a cracker with some mild cheese. It tasted amazing! My recipe source is listed at the end of this article. Electric energy is used during the cooking and canning process. If stored in a cool, dark location, canned foods will last for years but are best if consumed within a year. They will lose color and nutritional value over time. Always check the seal on a jar before you open it to make sure the seal is still viable. The canning process creates a vacuum within the jar. When you lift the lid there should be an audible pop when the seal is broken. If leaking has occurred during storage, or there is a bad smell or mold, discard.
Are you intrigued or inspired? Great! Need more help or information to get started? Then check out some links below or email me for more suggestions. When we can gather together again, food preservation is one of those things that can be done with family or friends. It can take less time and there’s more laughter.
Preserving Foods: Peppers SP50-454 by Oregon State University. Great information on freezing, drying and canning peppers as well as several recipes are in this short publication. It is available online at Publications | OSU Extension Service (oregonstate.edu).
How to Dry Foods, Deanna Delong. This is a print only publication that has lots of background information as well as instructions for drying and recipes for all kinds of foods.
Jalapeno Jelly recipe is from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, 2014. This is a print only publication that is available at many locations, such as grocery stores, Bi-Mart or Lowe’s.