How To Freeze Fruits and Vegetables

Photo by Flickr user leibolmai

Freezing foods is just about the most boring food preservation method. It’s also the easiest and best way to preserve nutrients. But, when it comes to freezing fresh vegetables from the garden there is one important step: blanching. Blanching slows down enzymatic activity that can deteriorate the quality of what you freeze. How much to blanch depends on the vegetable in question. Thankfully there’s a handy publication from Oregon State University, Freezing Fruits and Vegetables, that covers blanching times and many of the other particulars in freezing foods.

One thing not covered in that pamphlet is that some foods like berries, green beans, peas, diced onions, whole-kernel corn etc are more convenient to cook with if you can just pour them out of a freezer bag without having to break them out of a solid mass. To do this you’ll individually quick freeze IQF them. To IQF:

  1. Wash, blanch (veggies) and cool .
  2. Spread in one layer on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for four to six hours.
  3. Pack in sealed containers or in freezer bags.
  4. Label with date to avoid freezer mystery bag phenomenon.

Now when the zombie apocalypse arrives and everything goes Beyond Thunderdome, freezing will not be the best option (unless, like Tina Turner, we figure out how to turn pig waste into propane to power our refrigerators). But I digress.

Nasturtium Powder

Around this time of year Nasturtium becomes a kind of massive monocrop in our yard. We’re always trying to figure out uses for it. Of course it does well in salads, both the greens and the flowers, and we’ve made capers of the pods. Also, the flowers make a particularly beautiful pesto. But this year, inspired by the culinary experiments of forager Pascal Baudar and his partner Mia Wasilevich (friend them in Facebook if you want a daily dose of foraging greatness) I decided to make a nasturtium powder. It’s simple:

  1. Dry the leaves. Here’s a fast way: take a bunch of nasturtium leaves and spread them in a single layer between two paper towels. Microwave for two minutes.  Or use more conventional methods. Just don’t let them get so dry they lose color. (Important note from Mrs. Homegrown: Careful with this microwave trick! It’s a new one for us. It worked perfectly for Erik when he dried a whole bunch of leaves, but today I tried to dry just one leaf, a celery leaf, as an experiment and it burst into flame after about 30 seconds. Scary!!!!! We think it success has to do with mass and moisture: lots of leaves, not just one.)
  2. Put the dried leaves in a spice mill or coffee grinder and pulse until ground.

Think of nasturtium dust as a kind of zombie apocalypse pepper replacement. Or as a salad dressing ingredient. It is surprisingly tasty–better than fresh nasturtium, and without that bite. It would be fantastic combined with a little good salt. We’re still trying to figure out exactly how to use this magic powder. We may just keep it on the table and sprinkle it on everything.

What do you like to use nasturtium for?

Food Storage as Art

Artist Jihyun Ryou’s work uses food storage techniques from the pre-refrigerator era in a way that’s both useful and beautiful. Her goal is to, “Try to bring your food in front of your eyes” to counteract that tendency we all have to make our refrigerators unintentional composters.

The techniques she demonstrates include:

  • Evaporation
  • Sand, both to keep vegetables vertical and to decrease humidity
  • Using the ethylene gas in apples to keep potatoes fresh

Ryou’s website is: www.savefoodfromthefridge.com

New National Center for Home Food Preservation Blog: Preserving Food at Home

Pumpkin leather. Image from the blog of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

When I’ve got food preservation questions–about food safety or I need a reliable recipe–I go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The Center provides science based food preservation advice and is funded by the USDA.

They launched a blog in November, Preserving Food at Home that is now in my blog reader. Recent holiday-centric posts have covered tips on freezing leftovers, how to ship homemade foods and what to do with a pumpkin surplus as well as the dangers of pumpkin butter.

Home food preservation is very safe but, to be honest, I’ve been alarmed at a few of the questions I’ve received while interacting with the public as a Master Food Preserver. Preserving Food at Home is an important food safety resource and I’m looking forward to reading their weekly posts.

Do you have a favorite food preservation blog? Leave a comment . . .

Hoshigaki Success!

I’d estimate that one out of ten new homesteading projects succeeds. Which is why I’m especially happy that the long process of drying persimmons the Japanese way (hoshigaki) has been a big success. The white powder that looks like mold is sugar in the fruit that has risen to the surface. The result is, incidentally, very different from drying persimmons in a dehydrator (which also tastes good but has a much firmer texture–hoshigaki has the texture of a gummy bear).

It took about a month. One observation is that the persimmons that got the most sun also developed the most “frosting”.

Hoshigaki sells for upwards of $35 a pound–I just saw some at a Japanese market and they did not look as good as the ones I made. This is definitely a project I’ll be repeating next year. They would make a great gift along with some green tea.

You can read our blog post on how to make Japanese dried persimmons (hoshigaki) here.

Note from Kelly:

I thought we should say something about flavor here. They are not as sweet as I thought they might be. Which is not to say they’re not sweet, they’re just not super-sweet. They have a sort of meaty richness to them–in a strange way, they remind me a little of Fig Newtons, minus that seedy texture. The sugar dusting (sucrose powder?) is very delicate and a bit floral. I can only taste it if I touch my tongue to it.

These are traditionally served with green tea, and I have to say that tradition nailed it–that’s a perfect combo of flavors. Other than eating them ceremonially with tea, they are a very nice dried fruit and can be used any way you usually use dried fruit.

How To Make Hoshigaki (Dried Persimmons)

Hoshigaki image from Wikipedia

Hoshigaki are a Japanese delicacy made by, believe it or not, gently massaging persimmons while they air dry. I took a workshop this weekend taught by Laurence Hauben on how to make this remarkable fall treat. It’s persimmon season right now, so if you want to try this at home you better jump on it. While a lot can go wrong in the month it takes to make Hoschigaki, the process is not complicated.

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What Mountaineering Accidents Can Teach Us About Food Preservation

Would you eat pickles made by these two?

Each year the American Alpine Club publishes a book detailing all the mountaineering accidents in North America. The club’s goal is simple, as they put it, “to help you learn from the mistakes of others.”

I’ve often thought that the same approach should be applied to many of the activities we love in the homesteading movement, especially food preservation. Now, I think that home food preservation is very safe. Indeed, it’s much healthier than eating commercially processed foods. But I find mistakes to be one of the best ways to learn. In the case of food preservation, like mountaineering, I’d prefer to learn from the mistakes of others rather than experience them myself.

As it turn out, food safety scientists do keep a close eye on, especially, botulism. With the increased popularity of home canning there have been a few botulism outbreaks in recent years. Botulism is very rare, but you definitely do not want to get a case of it (just read about the symptoms and treatment here if you don’t believe me). Periodically, the Center for Disease Control publishes a review of all the cases. The last one looked at botulism incidents between 1990 and 2000.

The CDC’s botulism review is informative. The majority of cases in the US are related to traditional meat fermentation practices of the Inuit in Alaska, compounded by the inappropriate use of modern materials such as plastic and glass. The leading cause of botulism in the lower 48 is, however, improper home canning. All incidents were low-acid foods, such as asparagus, canned without following proper procedures. I suspect most of these cases were people using a boiling water bath instead of a pressure canner. Other home cases involved storing low acid foods at room temperature (which is just plain dumb).

Four cases that stand out are related to storing garlic in oil at room temeprature. The National Center for Home Food Preservation now recommends the following if you want to preserve garlic in oil:

Garlic-in-oil should be made fresh and stored in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower for no more than 7 days. It may be frozen for long term storage for up to several months. Package in glass freezer jars or plastic freezer boxes, leaving ½-inch headspace. Label, date and freeze.

The take home from the botulism review is that the problem is rare and that home food preservation is very safe assuming you follow standard procedures, most notably using a pressure canner to can low acid foods. None, zero, zilch of the incidents were related to high acid foods such as jams and jellies.

Now go pickle something (and you won’t need a pressure canner to do that!).

How To Ice Glaze Fish

Frozen fish
Photo by Portable Soul

Ice glazing is a process of creating a thin layer of ice to help preserve foods, usually chicken or fish. Ice glazing prevents freezer burn and helps preserve texture and flavor. The big processors do it, but it can also be accomplished at home.

To ice glaze fish you need to do some pretreatment. You dip fatty fish in an ascorbic acid solution. Lean fish are pretreated in a brine. Once treated, you then put the fish in the freezer. Once frozen solid, you take them out of the freezer and dip them in ice water and put them back in the freezer. You repeat this process until there is a thin later of ice around the fish. Alternately, you can use a lemon-gelatin glaze. Full instructions for ice and gelatin glazing can be found on the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, an excellent resource for reliable, science-based recipes.

Ice glazing is a somewhat laborious process, so it’s probably best reserved for that special catch. If you’re in a hurry you can just freeze fish in a solid block of ice but, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, this will result in poorer quality. But it’s better than just throwing fish in a plastic bag to dry out in the freezer.

Thanks to fellow Master Food Preserver Jake Mumm for this tip.

How To Dry Food With the Sun

Drying Apricots in Southern California–early 20th century style.

Dehydration is one of my favorite food preservation techniques. Drying food concentrates flavor and is a traditional technique in our Mediterranean climate. Best of all, drying food is one of the best applications for low-tech solar power. In many places, you can simply set food out under cheesecloth to dry in the sun.

But there’s a catch to sun drying: humidity. Food dries best when temperatures are above 85º F and below 60% humidity. If you live in a desert, humidity isn’t a problem. But in most other places in North America it’s simply too moist to set food out under the sun. It will rot before it dries. In Los Angeles, due to the influence of the ocean, it’s slightly too humid most of the year for sun drying to work well.

But there’s an easy way to overcome humidity: convection, i.e. hot air rises. Most solar dehydrators take advantage of the passive movement of hot air to lower humidity enough to dry food. Here’s a couple of solar dehydrators that harness this simple principle to dry food without electricity:

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