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Preserving the Summer Harvest; Canning, Freezing, Fermenting and Other Ways to Relish Summer.

Ah, September. It’s a season of abundance, of golden afternoons and bittersweet farewells to the vibrant warmth and the unmistakable nostalgic aroma of late summer. Whether your fingertips have been stained by the juices of tomatoes from your backyard oasis, or you’ve spent Saturday mornings weaving through the farmers market, marveling at the cornucopia of fresh crops, the summer bounty is something to be celebrated. But, all good things come to an end. But maybe we can hold on to these moments a little bit longer. 

Enter the magic of preserving. A timeless dance of sealing in those vibrant flavors, sunny memories, and letting them warm our souls during the colder, grayer months ahead. So, as we bid adieu to summer, let’s embark on a journey to extend its delicious embrace.

The Basics of Food Preservation

The art of food preservation is a study in time, history, science, and art, all at the same time. Our ancestors had an inherent wisdom (and necessity) about sustaining themselves through nature’s unpredictable cycles. They developed methods to ensure that the summer’s abundance could nurture them through the barren winters. So, why preserve? Beyond the immediate thrill of capturing the essence of fresh produce, there are tangible health benefits:

Foods sealed at their peak retain vital nutrients, offering us a wholesome bite even in off-seasons.

Economically, preservation offers significant cost savings, curbing the need to splurge on out-of-season, imported foods (Strawberries in January?). 

Environmentally, it promotes sustainability by reducing reliance on the transportation of produce across vast distances. 

Furthermore, embracing preserved foods encourages seasonal eating, aligning our diets with nature’s rhythms and fostering a harmonious relationship with the Earth’s bounty.

Getting Started: Preparation Steps for Beginners

Are you embarking on the food preservation journey? Let’s set the stage for success! First and foremost, always remember: that freshness is paramount. Produce that virtually sparkles with life promises the most delightful and robust flavors once preserved. As you dive in, arm yourself with essential tools: think glass jars that gleam with possibility, sturdy lids, and handy funnels to guide your creations into their new homes. But, as with any culinary venture, safety is of the essence:

Prioritize sanitizing your equipment, ensuring each jar and utensil is free from any contaminants.

Understand the potential risks associated with preservation, like botulism, and be vigilant.

For more information on these things, which can feel incredibly scary, check out the USDA website, the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), Ball® Fresh Preserving and The Old Farmer’s Almanac

And, friendly reminder: Dive into the world of preservation (and any new thing you’re trying out) with an experimental spirit! Play with different techniques, explore how the same food transforms with varied methods, and discover what tantalizes your taste buds the most. Let your kitchen become a laboratory of flavors, and delight in every unique outcome (and possible failure). Armed with knowledge, the right tools, and a batch of fresh produce, you’re all set to capture the vibrancy of nature in a jar. 

Don’t Sweat the Technique

There are many ways to preserve your food, and as we said before, we encourage you to try multiple - even, especially, with the same food! Let’s do a brief overview of the options:

  • Canning: Dip your toes into the warmth of water bath canning, ideal for those high-acid delights like zesty berries or tangy citrus. But for heartier, low-acid treasures, pressure canning reigns supreme. Hungry for a maiden voyage? Embark with a bright summer tomato salsa that dances on the palate.
  • Pickling: Traverse the fascinating landscapes of brines - will it be the sharp tang of vinegar or the earthy touch of salt solutions today? From the classic cucumbers to adventurous carrots, the world of pickled veggies awaits. Dive in with a classic dilly pickle recipe, but brace yourself for an unexpected twist. 
  • Drying and Dehydrating: Savor the intense flavors that emerge when moisture bows out. Whether wielding a state-of-the-art dehydrator or simply using your trusty oven, the results can be astonishing. Picture it: sun-kissed tomatoes transforming into rich, sun-dried wonders. Also, fruit leathers.
  • Freezing: Celebrate the cool embrace of freezing, a method that locks in both flavor and nutrients. But before you tuck your produce into its chilly retreat, remember the gentle caress of blanching. From the plump sweetness of berries to the crispness of green beans and the golden allure of summer corn, a galaxy of choices awaits the freezer’s kiss. We also love this method for making little herb ice cubes!
  • Fermenting: Delve into the bubbly world of fermentation, where probiotics dance and confer their many health boons. Start your journey with the humble sauerkraut, a testament to the transformative power of time and bacteria. And if you’re feeling adventurous, venture further into the effervescent domain of kombucha, where tea finds its wild side.

Tips and Tricks for Maximum Freshness:

When you’re embarking on a food preservation journey, it can be tempting to rush, letting the beat of excitement carry you away. But take it from us, ease into the groove, and take it slow. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; it’s all too easy to get carried away by the allure and then find oneself in a whirlwind of overflowing jars and bubbling pots. As you prepare to delve into this flavorful art form, we’ve laid out some hard-learned lessons and nuggets of wisdom. Dive in, but remember, sometimes the best rhythms are the ones you ease into.

Labeling and dating is more than mere organization; it’s the golden ticket to remembering each handcrafted delicacy. 

Let your preserves bask in the tranquil embrace of a cool, dark place – the sanctuary where they retain their vibrant essence.

Rotate your stock to ensure every jar gets its moment in the spotlight, letting you savor the very essence of summer in every bite, all year round.

As the golden hues of summer fade, there’s unparalleled joy in standing back and relishing the satisfaction of preserving its bounteous glory. Every jar, every packet, is a sunbeam captured, allowing us to embrace the cold months with a pantry that whispers tales of sunlit gardens and bustling farmer’s markets. And speaking of the farmers market - if this feels like all too much for you, head on over there! Folks who’ve mastered these arts are selling their wares - support them and their good work!

A Few Local Resources:

Second Mile Marketplace: Just off of I-5 in Salmon Creek is Second Mile Marketplace, a shared community space open for food producers, food businesses and everyone who just loves good food! You can use their licensed facility to make your own treats or shop their on-line local food market from the comfort of your home. They teach lots of workshops on food preservation! 

WSU Extension course: WSU offers a 12-week class series presenting all aspects of home gardening for food production as well as seed saving, perennial food forests, and fruit production, eco-cooking/waste reduction, and preserving the food after harvest.

AirBNB Experiences: Ok, AirBNB Experiences has got to be one of the most underused tools out there for finding cool stuff to do near you. Just one example is that you can learn how to can with Sarah of Marshall’s Haute Sauce just over the river in Portland! And if you’re not local, check out classes or events near you!

We’d love to hear from you! Share your preservation successes, the stories they tell, and the recipes that have worked wonders for you. 

Here’s to a winter warmed by the heartbeats of summer. Shine on, and until next time, keep preserving those sun-kissed moments.

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