What to do with your garden harvest
When you have two gardens including about 60 tomato plants and at least a dozen cucumber plants, there is only one thing to do this time of year.
And, of course, those scrumptious veggies can be frozen.
For Misty Mason her two gardens and dozens of vegetable plants in Warren Township aren’t quite enough. She attends the Chesterhill Produce Auction to buy more.
Although it’s just her, her husband, Dean, 27, and their two children, McKensie, 4, and Devon, 2, she said canning does save her money.
“I love doing this,” said Mason, 27. “It saves so much on grocery bills. I can’t stand eating green beans in the can out of the store anymore after doing it yourself.”
She said it’s difficult to determine how much home canning saves her, but she estimates about $200 in just vegetables during the season.
Mason attributes her love of canning to her mother-in-law, Becky Mason, 52, who lives “just a stone’s throw away.”
“Find somebody you trust who has canned before, and listen to their advice,” said Becky. “Get a Ball Blue Book. It’s your canning bible. You follow it, and you can’t go wrong. Don’t be scared to try something new. If in doubt, ask, ask, ask.”
Some of Becky’s creations come about accidentally.
“I canned caramelized onions just a couple of weeks ago,” she said.
Her other recent creation occurred when she was canning venison and ended up with a partial jar. She threw in some carrots, potatoes and onions.
“My family has gone nuts over it,” Becky Mason said. “My son came up with a name: Stew in a Jar.”
Both Becky and Misty swear by the produce auction in Chesterhill.
“The stuff is picked that day, and you buy it that evening,” Becky said. “It’s good quality goods.”
From her garden or other sources, Misty, like Becky, prepares some meats, sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, peaches, sweet cherries and all sorts of tomato-based products, including whole tomatoes, pasta sauce, homemade salsa, pizza sauce, chili base and ketchup.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a few new guidelines for home canning, said Kristen Corry, family and consumer sciences extension educator for Ohio State University Extension in Noble and Monroe counties.
“(Home canners) are encouraged to acidify each jar of tomatoes,” Corry said. “The pH (acid level) has changed. They have become more basic.”
When the jars are in the water bath, home canners should add lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid.
Also among the new guidelines are not having to sterilize jars for most produce and other products, Corry said. Sterilization of jars is necessary only for jams and jellies because of the shorter processing time (10 minutes) in a hot water bath. Jars for vegetables, such as green beans, don’t need to be sterilized because they process for 15 to 30 minutes in a pressure canner.
Another veteran canner, Missy Reed, 45, of Waterford, said she has canned for about 26 years.
Like most home canners, it allowed her to save money at the grocery store and know what goes into each one of the jars.
“It’s saving money and the satisfaction you can do it yourself,” Reed said. “People are dumbfounded and ask, ‘Do people still do that?'”
Of course, Corry said.
“Around here, it’s very much alive,” Corry said. “A lot of first-time canners around the area are interested. It’s a new DIY (do-it-yourself) phenomenon. Lots of people are interested because they grow their own food or buy locally. They want to preserve that food.”
Reed also uses what she can as Christmas gifts. One year, she made a pecan syrup and presented it in a basket.
However, she said she wasn’t exposed to canning when she was growing up but learned later in life through some older women she worked with. Reed said she bought all her supplies and invited one of the women to teach her to can.
She said she typically cans anything that doesn’t walk. That even includes some items that used to walk.
Her shelves are filled with jars of green beans, tomatoes and 100 pints of salsa.
After all those years sweating over a pressure cooker or hot water bath, Reed has figured out organization is important.
“Sterilization is the No. 1 key,” Reed said. “Get everything ready. You always need hot water. If you are organized and stay on track, you have no problem.”
Reed advises first-time canners to find somewhere to do it other than your own home because it heats up the house so much, even with air conditioning.
She eventually came up with the idea to use the burner part of a turkey deep-fryer in the garage. That allows her to have two canners going at the same time.
Corry said just about any food can be frozen to preserve its flavor and nutrients. However there are a few foods that cannot survive the experience, including sour cream, salad dressing, cooked pasta, cabbage, lettuce, gelatin and fried food.
“It’s the easiest as long as space is not a problem or you aren’t concerned with power outages,” Corry said. “It’s economical.”
For Misty Mason, deciding whether she will freeze something is a matter of space.
“If we have freezer room, we’re freeze some of it,” she said.
She said she has found some success with applesauce, corn and strawberry jam.
Freezers should be kept at a temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit or colder, according to The Ohio State University Extension Service. Keeping cool is all about air flow, so reduce the number of items in the freezer, and add shelf space. This will allow the air to circulate in the freezer more efficiently for a more thorough freeze. Keep foods away from the back vent. Blocking this vent means blocking the air circulation and a warmer freezer.
“It’s a matter of quality,” Corry said. “Blanching stops the breakdown of food and preserves nutrients. Produce should be vacuum-packed with an inch of head space to allow for expansion (in the container).”