Shelf Life: The food preserving guide

Harvest season is almost up, and it's time to get market-fresh local fruits and veggies preserved while the gettin' is still good. Which methods do the trick with minimal headaches?


SMOKING

If you’re trying to stockpile locally raised farmers’ market meat or Great Lakes trout for a long winter, keep in mind that smoking will mean absorbing “large amounts” of tar that, according to the Canadian Cancer Society can contain carcinogen bad boys like PAH. Those levels seem to be higher in home smokers. You can avoid the situation and shrink your environmental footprint by smoking veggies instead – cabbages, potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, you name it, though remember that wood-burning smoker is emitting polluting soot and carbon dioxide. Sorry.

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CANNING

This one’s definitely the most ambitious of the food preserving techniques, and you’ll need to get all the basic canning tools. You can score a home canning starter kit complete with giant canning pot, grippy jar lifter and, naturally, jars and lids from Canadian Tire for about $50. The big problem with home canning is that the jar lids may contain BPA. The good news is Bernardin (which sells most of Canada’s jar/lids) says all its lids are now BPA- BPS- and BPF-free, and tells me the replacement resin is food-grade polyester. To be safe, keep a good inch of space between the food and lid and keep jars upright when boiling them to minimize food contact.

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DRYING/DEHYDRATING

It may be too late in the season to make your own backyard sun-dried tomatoes, but you can still do your own apple and pear leathers, dehydrated veggies and veggie chips. To make dried mushrooms for later use in soups, sauces and stir-fries, pop thin slices in the oven at 150°C for two hours, flipping half way. To hydrate, pour boiling water on them and soak. Raw foodies are big on electric dehydrators, but a lot of these are made with BPA-based polycarbonate plastic. Investigate before buying. 

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FERMENTING

This hipster preserving method is sort of like putting a cape on your veggies: it quickly turns them into super-foods since the fermenting process produces beneficial probiotics as it breaks the veggies down. No boiling, blanching or heating necessary, making this the most lo-fi preserving technique, along maybe with old-school salting (speaking of which, pink curing salt is laced with dodgy nitrites). Just submerge veggies in salty water in a glass mason jars (herbs optional) – for preserved lemons, just salt and fresh lemon juice – and let them ferment for a few days on your counter until they’re to your liking. That being said, I’ve managed to botch this super-easy process before, so seek out clear instructions if you’re a beginner. 

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FREEZING

My favourite preserving technique just so happens to involve the least effort (go figure). With fruit like berries, grapes, chopped up peaches, apples or pears (great for smoothies, compotes, pancakes or pies), just place on a baking sheet and freeze for four hours before tossing them in sealed glass containers or jars, stackable metal or collapsible silicone containers or pvc-free baggies (like Ziploc or Glad). You can do that with green beans, tomatoes and peppers, too, although most people recommend blanching veggies (including Brussels sprouts, broccoli and leafy greens) for two or three minutes before draining and freezing them. Want ready access fresh herbs in January? Freeze chopped fresh cilantro, basil, you name it, in a little water or oil in ice cube trays and you’ll have a burst of fresh flavours without having to buy ’em in plastic packs.

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