Getting Ready for Winter: Preserving Food, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Maggie Bonham
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I’m really not a fan of summer. Summer in Western Montana means long hot days without rain, wildfires, and the inevitable smoke. So, everything is drought-stressed, including me and my critters. Even so, there are some bright spots to the summer — that is the potential to get apples, plums, pears, and elderberries for free or darn near free either from wild trees or from people who just don’t want bears in their yards, eating their windfall fruit.

So, I’ve been drying apples, peaches, cherries and apricots for snacks (extremely important for the upcoming hunting season), and canning. Both are excellent ways to preserve excess foods that would normally go to waste if you didn’t do something with them.

The Necessary Tools

One of the best investments I made was a food dehydrator. I actually got it on a deep discount because the box was damaged. It’s a standard Nesco brand that has two trays and one fruit roll tray, but you can add on more trays as you need. I bought three more trays, and will probably buy more as the season continues.

When I got it, I was quick to try it out and once I did get some foods dried, I realized just how wonderful it is. If you do not have a dehydrator, either an electric one or a sun dryer, get or build one. You won’t regret it.

The other necessary item is a water bath canner. I have yet to pick up a pressure canner, but if you make jam or wish to preserve fruit or pickles, get a water bath canner. It’s a cheap alternative and you might actually find a second hand one in great condition at a thrift store. My mom used to can jams and preserves using paraffin wax, but they now say that’s unsafe. A canner will allow you to can high-acidic foods safely and if you use the rings and lids with seals, you’ll have food processed and canned.

Choosing Food for Preserving

I’m going to tell you a secret: most books will tell you to get the very best food to can or dehydrate. That’s not necessary as long as the food tastes good. I’ve used several fruit seconds and fruit that is almost too ripe with success. What’s more, this fruit is often cheaper than buying it as top quality. Unless you’re hung up about bruises or even bugs (some peaches get earwigs, for example), save money and get the seconds. Just be sure to remove the blemishes and avoid the nasty bugs. Mold is a no-no, but if there’s a small amount, I just cut it out and make sure the rest of the fruit is okay.

Watch out for unripened fruit and fruit that isn’t that flavorful. I have some strawberries somewhere that I dried that weren’t that tasty, and now the dried fruit is almost bitter. You can fix that by soaking them in a sugar water and redrying, but why? You’d do better with just getting ripe and overripe fruit and drying those.

Watch for my next post on dehydrating and canning.

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