As our local markets bulge with the fall harvest, I feel a growing sense of urgency to capture the amazing variety and freshness that local food has to offer. Whether you’re an organics-obsessed foodie or enjoy hunting for the perfect pumpkin, autumn trips to market are bound to cause a twinge of the winter is-almost-here sense of anticipation.
Fresh organic food is always at its best price in the fall. With just a little knowledge of how to preserve food with freezing, canning, and dehydrating, you can enjoy these incredible flavours at a fraction of the cost you would pay for off-season imports.
“When you buy fresh local fruits and vegetables, you’re supporting our farmers by buying the good things that grow in Canada. You’re helping the economy and it’s also good for the environment,” says Joan Fraser of Foodland Ontario.
I have a fondness for canning because my wonderful Ukrainian grandma showed her love every year by making canned peaches and sauerkraut for us. Her mother arrived from the Ukraine in 1904 and they had to preserve the food that grew on their farm in Saskatchewan. If they did not do it right they would lose their cabbage harvest and its attendant health benefits.
To get started, here are some recipes that demonstrate methods of canning, freezing and dehydrating. They all take less than hour to complete, and if you make the effort you will have hours of tasty harvest memories all winter long.
Lacto-fermentation occurs when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid in the presence of a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. Sally Fallon explains, “Lactic acid not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Studies suggest that fermented cabbage may be even more healthy than raw cabbage because fermentation works to increase levels of anti-cancer agents such as isothiocyanates. My grandmother firmly believed that fermented cabbage kept her family free of colds and influenza because this sauerkraut provided natural immune-boosting probiotics and much needed vitamin C.
RECIPE: FRESH PICKLES
Re-use your pickle brine over and over again to save time and money. If you make homemade pickles, you should know that you can re-use your brine. Or if you eat store-bought pickles, you can use the brine from those. (My favourite brand is Bubbies; be sure to choose a sugar-free version.) Once you’ve eaten up your batch of pickled vegetables, save the brine and toss in new freshly cut vegetables. It’s a quick and easy way to extend your pickling!
2 cups of vegetables: cucumbers, asparagus, carrots, red onion, rainbow chard stems, etc.
2 – 3 cups of brine left over from a pickle jar.*
1. Place freshly cut vegetables into brine, making sure to submerge the veggies below the brine. Store in the fridge for 2 to 7 days and then the fermented vegetables are ready to consume. Will keep nicely for up to a month. (If veggies get shifted above the brine, they can grow mould and should be discarded.)
*If you don’t have leftover brine, you can make your own (makes one 16-ounce jar of pickles):
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, divided
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, divided
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons pink or grey unrefined salt
1-1/2 tablespoons garlic paste
1/4 cup honey or 1/3 cup coconut syrup (if desired)
1. Add celery seed and mustard seed to jar. Pack freshly cut vegetables tightly into jar.
2. Bring vinegars, salt, and garlic to a boil in a small saucepan until salt is dissolved. Add sweetener at the end to preserve the benefits of the honey (if using).
3. Pour liquid over the veggies. Let rest until cool, then place on lids tightly and refrigerate. Wait for at least two days before consuming to allow flavours to fully develop. Keep refrigerated and consume within one month.
RECIPE: LACTO-FERMENTED SAUERKRAUT
1) Clean the cabbage and remove three or four outer leaves from each head and set aside. Using the slicer attachment on your food processor, finely slice the three heads of cabbage. If you don’t have a processor, you can grate the cabbage with a box grater or use a mandolin (a slicer that cuts veggies very fine).
3) Place the shredded cabbage, carrots and/or beets into six to eight large wide-mouthed mason glass jars, making sure to allow an inch at the top for expansion, then attach lids. Cover with a towel and let sit three to five days to ferment in a cool dark place.
3) Your sauerkraut will be ready in 4 days to a week. To check if it’s ready, pull out a sample and see if it is softened to desired consistency Taste it and see if it is sour enough to suit your palate. When sauerkraut is done, it will stay fresh for several weeks in the fridge.
(*My favourite brand of sauerkraut is “Karthein’s Unpasteurized Organic Sauerkraut With Naturally Occurring Probiotics“)
Dehydrating food is a safe process because it removes moisture from fruits and vegetables so that mould and bacteria cannot grow – thus it will not spoil. There is, however, a loss of vitamins A and C in dried foods, due to heat and air. It usually takes vegetables six to 16 hours to dry, and fruit 12 to 48 hours.
Two Drying Methods:
OVEN DEHYDRATING – You really should get a dehydrator, but for now you can get the job done by using your oven with the door open, on the lowest setting possible. (If your oven cannot maintain temperatures below 200°F then you cannot use this method.) Use a ball of tin foil to prop open the oven door to maintain air circulation during the drying process. Most things need to be dehydrated for at least eight hours. That is a long time to have your oven on, so it is not very energy efficient.
The Drying Process:
When drying, food should be dehydrated between 110°F and 130°F.. Temperatures too low may result in the growth of bacteria on the food. Temperatures too high will result in the food being cooked instead of dried.
You will know your food is dried when you touch it. It should be leathery with no pockets of moisture. If you are testing fruit, you can tear a piece in half. If you see moisture beads along the tear, it is not dry enough. Vegetables should be tough, but can also be crisp.
The best storage containers are glass jars and plastic freezer bags. If storing fruit leather, wrap in parchment paper and store in an airtight container. Store your containers of dried food in a cool, dark, dry place – 60 degrees Fahrenheit or below is best.
Vegetable Drying Guide:
Dry vegetables in single layers on trays. Depending on drying conditions, drying times may take longer. Dry vegetables at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
GREEN BEANS: Stem and break beans into one-inch pieces. Blanch. Dry 6 to 10 hours until brittle.
BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER: Cut and dry 4 to 12 hours.
CARROTS: Peel, slice or grate. Dry 6 to 12 hours until almost brittle.
MUSHROOMS: Dry four to 10 hours until brittle.
ONIONS: Slice quarter-inch thick. Dry 6 to 12 hours until crisp.
PEAS: Dry 5to 14 hours until brittle.
SWEET POTATOES: Slice an eighth of an inch thick. Dry 6 to 12 hours until crisp.
ZUCCHINI: Slice an eighth of an inch thick and dry 5 to 10 hours until brittle.
Fruit Drying Guide:
Wash, pit and slice fruit. Arrange in single layers on trays. Dip your fruit in lemon juice or sprinkle with ascorbic acid for extra protection and a tangy flavour.
Dry fruit at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
APPLES: Core and slice into thin rings or cut into quarter-inch slices. Dip in lemon juice and dry 6 to 12 hours until pliable.
APRICOTS: Cut in half and turn inside out to dry. Dip in lemon juice and dry 8 to 20 hours, until pliable.
BANANAS: Peel, cut into quarter-inch slices and dip in lemon juice. Dry 8 to 16 hours, until pliable or almost crisp.
CHERRIES: Cut in half and dry 18 to 26 hours until leathery and slightly sticky.
PEACHES: Slice, halve or quarter. Dip in lemon juice and dry 8 to 20 hours until pliable.
PEARS: Cut into quarter-inch slices, and dip in lemon juice. Dry 6 to 20 hours until leathery.
PINEAPPLE: Core and slice quarter-inch thick. Dry 6 to 16 hours until leathery and not sticky.
STRAWBERRIES: Halve or cut into quarter-inch thick slices. Dip in lemon juice and dry for 6 to 16 hours until pliable and almost crisp.
RECIPE: KALE CHIPS – CRISPY, NOT FRIED
1) Put cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, honey, salt in the blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
2) Using your hands, spread cashew dressing on kale pieces right to the inside of curls.
3) Place coated kale pieces on parchment paper and dehydrate at 120 degrees for 8 to 16 hours, until coating is dry and very crispy. I know it seems like a long time but it is worth it.
With some know-how and a good freezer, you can preserve everything from apples to zucchini. Freezing storage time for most fruits and vegetables is six months to a year, depending on how new your freezer is. Make sure to store foods at -18C (0F) or lower, with little temperature fluctuation to avoid freezer burn.
It’s essential to blanch vegetables before freezing, since this will destroy the enzymes that cause a loss of colour, flavour, texture and nutrients.
To Blanch: Immerse prepared vegetables in a large amount of boiling water for a short time, depending on the kind of vegetable and size, for an average of three minutes. Then immediately drain and refresh in ice water. Dry well and pack in freezer bags, removing as much air as possible.
To blanch tomatoes and peaches: Dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to peel, then freeze in pieces.
(Note: No blanching necessary for peppers – just wash, stem, cut in half or quarter and remove seeds. Be sure to put a date on them so you know how old they are when you go to use them.)
Berries do not require blanching and may be frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet first, then immediately stored in bags or containers.
RECIPE: BUTTERNUT SQUASH PUREE
1) Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds and strings. Rub the insides with two tablespoons softened coconut butter; season with salt. Place on a roasting pan, skin side down. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until fork tender.
2) Remove the squash from the oven, scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor. Add the orange zest, honey, and remaining two tablespoons of butter. Puree until smooth. Add a pinch of salt and cinnamon. Pulse a few times to incorporate.
3) Freeze squash puree in silicon ice cube trays or muffin tins, and then transfer them to freezer trays to create perfect easy-to-thaw portions. Add the frozen puree to soups, smoothies, and casseroles for extra flavour and texture.
A long time contributor to Vitality Magazine, nutritionist Julie Daniluk has dedicated the last 15 years to breaking up with sugar. She confesses to being a full “Sugar Addict” in remission and is on a mission to help everyone give up the white stuff. Her new book, “Becoming Sugar-free” is available Sept 7/2021 and provides an in depth look at 25 alternative sweeteners and 85 anti-inflammatory recipes. Be sure to check out www.BecomingSugarfree.com for great support and book bonuses.
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