Bountiful Harvest

Time for Rim Country gardeners to reap rewards

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August comes to a close this week and Rim gardens are going great thanks to the moisture-heavy air of monsoon season. Gardeners are harvesting the rewards of their summer labors left and right.

Now it’s time to decide what to do with all the goodies.

The organizers of the Payson Community Garden, just east of the Church of the Nazarene on Tyler Parkway, presented a program on preserving vegetables, fruit and meat Aug. 22 at the church. The program will be repeated at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 29.

Food preservation options presented included freezing, canning with a water bath or pressure steamer and dehydration.

Probably the easiest is freezing — after all everyone has a refrigerator and all refrigerators have freezer compartments.

Linda Kreimeyer presented the information about freezing fresh produce at the Aug. 22 program on food preservation. She focused on zucchini, since everyone participating in the Payson Community Garden has so much of it this year.

She said if zucchini is harvested when it is between six and eight inches in length it is best for slicing for preservation purposes. If it gets larger, there are a lot of seeds, so shredding/grating it is the better process prior to freezing.

The equipment needed for freezing are a couple of big pots; one of these needs to have a colander insert or be big enough in which to place a metal or heavy plastic colander and also have a tight-fitting lid; plastic freezer bags or other containers suitable for freezing; a food grater; and a good, sharp kitchen knife.

Before most fresh produce can be frozen, it needs to be blanched — placed briefly in boiling water and boiled for a few to several minutes, then put in cold water to stop the “cooking.” Blanching cleans the surface and kills the organisms that will lead to spoilage; it also helps retain the color and most of the nutrients.

Using the knife, slice the zucchini into relatively even pieces about 3/8-inch wide.

Put enough water in the pot (with the colander and lid) to come to a depth of about an inch or two and bring to a boil. Place the sliced (or grated) zucchini in the colander and lower it into the water. If the water does not return to a boil within a minute, there is too much produce in the colander. When the water comes back to a boil, cover the pot and start timing. It takes about three minutes to blanch sliced zucchini and about 1-1/2 minutes to blanch grated zucchini.

Keep the blanched produce in the colander and place in cold water for the same amount of time it was blanched. Once the produce is cooled, drain it well before you place it in a plastic freezer bag. Kreimeyer likes the Ziploc® brand of bags.

A good online resource for blanching times, as well as comprehensive information about all home food preservation is the Web site of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, nchfp.uga.edu.

Canning

Stephanie Jenkins presented the program on traditional canning. She said some of the best information on canning is in the publications by the two major manufacturers of canning jars, Ball and Kerr. Any fruit or acidic food (pickles, relish, etc.) can be canned, she said.

Using the traditional water bath method — putting produce-filled sealed canning jars in boiling water — requires unblemished, hot canning jars, lids, rings, a properly-sized funnel, a bubble popper, a lid lifter and a jar lifter and a covered pot big enough in which to place several pint or quart jars at once.

Jenkins said real canning jars need to be used, not recycled, jars that once contained commercially produced pasta sauce or mayonnaise. The canning jars and rings, which are screwed over the top of the lids can be recycled, so long as they are blemish-free. The lids used to seal home-canned goods must be new with each processing.

The canning jars must be hot when the produce and accompanying liquid are placed in them. When the jars are filled, the bubble popper is run round the inside of the jar to make sure there are no bubbles in the contents.

The lids must be hot when placed on top of the jars, this keeps the rubber seal pliable when the ring is screwed on and as it cools it tightens. Because the lids are hot, the lid lifter, which contains a magnetized end, keeps you from burning your fingers.

The sealed jars of produce are then placed in a hot water bath (not boiling), with the water coming up an inch over the top of the jars. Bring the water bath to a boil, cover and start timing. According to the information on the NCHFP Web site, at our elevation, the time for canning (in the boiling water bath) is from 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of jar being used. Once the appropriate time has elapsed, remove the jars from the water with a jar lifter, dry them off and set aside to cool before storing.

“The only thing hard about canning is the time it takes,” Jenkins said. “Nothing is more rewarding.”

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Metro Services Photo

Dehydrating

Patti Cotney and Ruth Newton presented the program on dehydrating (drying) food. Newton said it is the oldest form of food preservation.

Equipment needed can be as simple as several hot, dry days (at least 85 degrees and less than 60 percent humidity); a couple of cinder blocks; and two fine-mesh (food safe) screens — or one screen and enough cheesecloth to cover it. Called solar drying, this method is best only for fruit, it is not recommended for vegetables or meat.

Blanching, with some lemon juice concentrate added to the water, is needed when preparing food for electric drying. Cotney said the lemon juice helps the processed food retain some of its color.

“When it (the food) starts to shine, it has been blanched enough,” Cotney said.

Almost everything can be dried, but it is especially difficult to dry potatoes because of the high starch content, she said.

Foods to be dried need to be sliced (diced, chopped, etc.) to a uniform size and spread on the drying tray in a single layer, close together, but not touching to make sure the air flows freely.

Dried food has a very long shelf life, whether it is dried at home or available commercially.

“The ‘use by’ date is really only applicable to commercial meat and dairy products,” Newton said. Canned goods are fine unless the container begins to bloat, she said.

Among the books Newton recommended: “Recipes for Self-Sufficient Living;” “Cookin’ with Home Storage;” “Stocking Up.” Again, the NCHFP Web site has a great deal of information.

The round dehydrators that can be purchased at big box stores require rearranging (flipping) the food to assure complete processing; with boxed dryers the food is just placed on the trays and the structure assures full circulation of the warm air, these also have temperature control features.

One thing to keep in mind when drying food — it takes a lot of fresh product to produce a usable amount of goods. To get four to five pounds of dried squash, you would need to start with 50 pounds fresh. It is also takes a lot of time — that 50 pounds of fresh squash would need 12 to 16 hours to dry down to that four to five pounds.

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Metro Services photo

Learn about canning and preserving

Participants and the public can learn to preserve fruits, vegetables and meat at the Community Garden Food Preserving Class planned for Wednesday, Aug. 29 at the Church of the Nazarene, 200 E. Tyler Parkway, Payson. A set of three classes starts at 6:30 p.m.

Offered for free, the classes will include information on freezing fruits and vegetables, pressure canning meats and vegetables, water bath and dehydration.

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Metro Services Photo

Pressure canning

Suzie Hintze gave the program on pressure canning. She said anything that you could preserve with a water bath can be canned with a pressure cooker — really big pressure cooker, big enough to hold about seven quart jars at a time, or, for the very industrious, big enough to hold 21 quarts — three stacks of seven jars.

However, smaller units will also work.

Pressure canners should be deep enough for one layer of quart or smaller size jars, or deep enough for two layers of pint or smaller size jars. The USDA recommends that a canner be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars to be considered a pressure canner for the USDA published processes, according to the NCHFP Web site.

The steps to prepare foods and jars for pressure canning are the same as those for water bath canning. However, pressure canning is the only process recommended for canning vegetables and meats.

Zucchini recipes from Linda Kreimeyer

Zucchini Bread

2 cups grated zucchini

3 eggs

1 cup of oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup nuts chopped

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine sugar, oil and eggs. Add spices, baking soda and baking powder, flour and zucchini. Mix well. Add nuts. Place parchment or wax paper in bottom of three large or seven small loaf pans, then fill two-thirds full with batter. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 cup oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups grated zucchini

3-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup nuts

3 squares unsweetened chocolate or 1/4 cup powdered baking cocoa

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup chocolate chips

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Mix ingredients. Place parchment or wax paper in bottom of three large or seven small loaf pans, then fill two-thirds full with batter. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.

Zucchini Pineapple Bread

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup oil

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

3-1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup chopped nuts

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups grated zucchini

1 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 cup raisins or coconut flakes

Combine all ingredients and beat well. Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Zucchini and Tomato

Side dish and/or soup

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium zucchini, sliced thin

1 medium yellow squash, sliced thin

1, 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Sauté onion about 5 minutes or until clear. Combine with other ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until squash is cooked.

Serve alone as side dish or add cooked ground beef, diced cooked chicken, etc. and/or noodles to make complete main dish.

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