How to freeze produce from your Alameda garden
ALAMEDA, CA – For centuries, gardening has been a proven way to bring fresh, grown fruits and vegetables to your kitchen table. And for those who are food insecure in Alameda, gardening can be an inexpensive alternative to buying expensive organic produce sold in many local grocery stores.
The coronavirus pandemic has deeply affected hunger in Alameda County and many other communities across the country.
Before the pandemic, 8.4% of people in Alameda County were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America, the country’s largest network of food banks and pantries. The continued economic fallout from the coronavirus has pushed that number to 10.9% of people on the verge of hunger.
Unfortunately, while many may turn to gardening to lower their grocery bills, fresh fruits and vegetables grown in your garden tend to have a short shelf life.
As a result, nearly 11.5 billion pounds of garden produce becomes food waste each year, according to a two-year study by Abundant harvest, a national nonprofit that works to connect gardeners with local pantries.
However, garden produce should not be wasted. With a little time, effort, and education, a large majority can be preserved for your family to enjoy in the year to come.
Here’s a breakdown of two of the most common methods of preserving garden produce: canning and freezing.
Why canning works
The high percentage of water in most fresh foods makes them very perishable, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Fresh produce will spoil or lose quality for several reasons, including:
- Growth of bacteria, molds and yeasts
- Food enzymes
- Reactions with oxygen
- Moisture loss
Canning essentially eliminates these risks by removing oxygen, destroying enzymes, and preventing the growth of bacteria. Canning does this by creating a high vacuum in the jars, aided by tight seals that keep liquid out and air and microorganisms out.
Best Canning Practices
Pressure canning is specifically used for low acid foods such as vegetables and meats. Pressure canning is almost the same as water bath canning, but the device differs. During this time, canning in a double boiler should only be used for foods with high acidity, such as fruits and tomatoes.
Pressure canning is the only safe method of canning vegetables. If low-acid vegetables are not properly preserved or canned in a boiling water bath, botulinum spores can survive and cause foodborne illness if you consume them.
Here are some tips if you are considering keep products from your garden, according to Better Homes & Gardens:
- Know which canner to use. Recipes will usually specify the type of canning you need.
- Use the right pots. Buy jars specifically made for canning, such as these Ball Mason jars. Avoid jars with chipped edges and use those specified in the recipe.
- Use the lids correctly. Canning lids consist of two parts: the ring and the lid. While the rings can be reused, the lids cannot.
- Pick the right recipe. Always use tested recipes from reliable and current sources. Follow the recipe exactly and do not modify the ingredients.
- Keep everything clean. Wash and sterilize the jars and package hot foods in hot jars one at a time.
Want to know how to can certain types of fruits and vegetables? The National Center for Home Food Preservation has step by step instructions on canning everything from apples and salsa to fresh lima beans. The resource provided by the Ohio State University Extension also walks you through the basics of canning of certain fruits and vegetables.
Why freezing works
Freezing is a great way to keep vegetables and herbs fresh. Although freezing does not sterilize food, extreme cold will slow the growth of microorganisms and modify
affect the quality or cause spoilage, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
The quality of frozen vegetables also depends on their freshness and how the vegetables are handled from the time they are picked until they are ready to eat. Freezing will not improve the quality of the product.
Best Freezing Practices
There are two main methods for freezing vegetables: dry packaging and container packaging. Dry-packing vegetables involves wrapping blanched, drained vegetables in meal-sized freezer bags or containers, leaving as little air space as possible. Tray packing involves freezing well-drained vegetables in a single layer on shallow trays or pans before packing them in bags or containers.
Before we get into this part, there are a few other best practices to keep in mind, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
- Choose the right containers. They should be resistant to moisture and vapor, durable and easy to seal, and should not become brittle at low temperatures.
- Use vegetables with the best flavor and texture for freezing. If possible, harvest in the cool part of the morning and freeze within a few hours. Wash the vegetables thoroughly in cold water before freezing them.
- Blanching (burning vegetables in boiling water or steaming for a short time) is an absolute must for freezing vegetables. Bleaching slows down or stops the action of enzymes which can lead to loss of flavor, color and texture. This can be done with water, microwave, or steam bleach. Learn more about money laundering.
- After blanching, immediately cool the vegetables by immersing them in plenty of cold water.
- Label all containers with the date of freezing. Usually, vegetables can stay frozen for eight to 12 months.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a comprehensive list of how to correctly freeze different types of vegetables.
Do you have an abundance of fresh herbs to store? Fortunately, freezing fresh herbs is quick and easy, and retains much of the taste, smell, and nutrients.
Here are some ways to keep herbs fresh, according to HGTV.com:
- Freezing Bare Herbs: Hardier herbs such as rosemary, dill, thyme, bay leaf or sage can be frozen directly on the stem and stored in an airtight container.
- Freeze herbs in water: Tender herbs like mint, parsley and cilantro can be removed from their stems and frozen in ice cubes.
- Freezing in Oil: Although basil freezes best when first made into pesto, this practice works well with other herbs such as oregano or thyme.
- Rolled Herbs: Flat leafed herbs such as Italian parsley or sage can be compressed and rolled for space-saving storage.
Donate your garden products
If you find yourself overwhelmed by a massive amount of leftover garden produce, consider donating them to a pantry or local charity.
Ample Harvest works to connect producers with the pantries of their communities. The organization also has a searchable database to locate pantries that accept fresh produce.
You can also check with other local pantries to see what policies they have in place regarding donating fresh produce.
Feeding America serves 200 member food banks that serve and deliver 60,000 pantries, kitchens and meal programs across the country.
Find your local food bank
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Donate to Feeding America*
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Patch has partnered with Feeding America to help educate the millions of Americans facing hunger. Feeding America, which supports 200 food banks across the country, estimates that by 2021 more than 42 million Americans will not have enough nutritious food to eat due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This is a Patch Social Good Project; Feeding America receives 100 percent of donations. * Find out how you can donate in your community or find a pantry near you.
– Written by Megan VerHelst with additional reporting by Bea Karnes