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Gardening: Preserve your harvest for winter months

What do you do when you have more tomatoes, beans, corn, peppers, squash, eggplant, peas or cabbage than you can eat in a few days? Preserve it for the long days of winter when we are buried in snow. Freezing, drying and canning like our mothers and grandmothers used to do is making a comeback in this world of prepackaged food.

Freezing is probably the easiest way to store the harvest. It requires a freezer and plastic bags or cartons to keep the vegetables air tight. If you want to get serious about freezing, purchase a chest or upright freezer that stays colder than your refrigerator freezer. The vegetables will keep longer.

To freeze most vegetables, wash and blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes to stop the aging process. “Blanching inactivates the enzymes that cause deterioration in the freezer,” says Anna Kestell, the food preservation specialist at the WSU Spokane County Extension Office. Fill zipper-top plastic freezer bags or plastic freezer cartons with enough for a meal or a recipe and seal. Remove as much air as possible in the process. Immediately place them in the freezer to enjoy later.

Drying is much like freezing. Wash and blanch the vegetables and cut them into pieces no more than a quarter of an inch thick. Place them in a dehydrator and follow the directions for your machine for drying time. Once done pack them into plastic bags or jars and store in a cool dry place. Don’t use your oven for drying. “Most modern ovens are too hot even on the lowest settings,” Kestell says. “Dehydrators dry at 130 degrees while an oven won’t go below 200 degrees.”

Lastly, you can preserve your vegetables in jars by pressure canning them. However, it is crucial you do it correctly. Vegetables are a low-acid food and improperly canned vegetables can develop botulism toxin that can kill. It is odorless and tasteless. If you are using an older canner, have the gauge checked to make sure it is reading correctly and replace the gasket. Choose canning recipes carefully. Read your canner’s manual. If you don’t have it, look for one online. Kestell recommends going to the National Center for Home Preservation (https://nchfp.uga.edu/) for recipes as they have been thoroughly tested.

Tomatoes are in a gray area when it comes to canning. When our grandmothers canned them, they were high enough in acid they didn’t need to be pressure canned. Many of the newer tomato hybrids are fairly low acid. You need to pressure can them or add a tablespoon of full strength lemon juice to each quart before you water-bath can them like you do fruit.

Kestell is running a series of vegetable canning and pickling classes starting Saturday at WSU Spokane County Extension Office, 222 N. Havana St. Check them out at https://extension. wsu.edu/spokane/food- and-nutrition/ food-preservation/. Some classes will have two sessions. If you have other food preservation questions call the extension’s Food Preservation Hotline at (509) 477-2195, 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Saturday. Kestell at the Extension Office can test gauges for pressure canners.


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