"Home canning puts the pleasure of eating natural,
delicious produce at your fingertips year-round."
When the harvest comes in, we switch to a full week of Home Economics and learn about food preservation. What the kids don't know is that they're also doing math, handwriting, science, and nutrition while helping to put up the harvest. Yes, it would be considerably easier for me to tackle the whole shebang by myself, but that wouldn't help them very much, would it?
Take your children to gather, or buy, the food you want to preserve. You want to preserve the freshest fruits and vegetables. That means using what is in season and, when possible, using local produce. A good u-pick farm or farmer's market should offer the local and fresh produce you want.
Patiently prep your produce for preservation. (I feel like that girl in Mr. Popper's Penguins !) Snap the beat, pit the cherries, slice the fruits & veggies... The children can do some of these things, but follow behind them (eg, be sure all the cherries got pitted). Make sure that they have clear instructions and budget extra time. We usually do these tasks the afternoon / evening before our big canning day.
You need to look at what you've got to preserve and then create a game plan. Not everything is meant for canning. The cute little watermelons we've been growing are perfect for a single-serving, but not preserving. Whenever possible, though, we can, dehydrate, and freeze. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each...
- Advantages: Dried fruits take up considerably less space and are ideal for hiking / camping since they are a fraction of the weight. Dried vegetables can also be added to soups and casseroles in the wintertime when fresh produce is not in peak season.
- Disadvantages: Nutritionally speaking vitamins A and C will be destroyed by the heat and air during this processing. Water is necessary for making most items usable in future recipes.
- Advantages: Freezing is one of the top preservation methods to protect nutritional value. Using frozen produce can be huge time saver in a crunch. Just add frozen veggies to a casserole or stir-fry for a quick dinner, or use defrost frozen fruit for a quick dessert. Nutritious and quick!
- Disadvantages: Freezing expands the food's natural water, and can result is ruptured cell walls and a softer texture when thawed. Additionally, there is some research that thawing will also degrade vitamin C, so go ahead a cook your veggies frozen or toss some frozen fruit into a smoothie for a healthy treat.
- Advantages: Fruits and vegetables can make tasty gifts, provide year round decoration and may be the main ingredient in your pizza or pasta sauce. Almost all fruits and vegetables can be canned, but for low-acid vegetables, pressure canning is the safest method to reduce the risk of botulism, a type of food poisoning associated with canned foods.
- Disadvantages: The process of pressure canning usually involves first heating the food product to destroy bacteria and then placing food in a sterilized container. The contents are then sealed by using high heat to generate pressure that causes steam to push the remaining air out of the cans. Unfortunately, these are steps that cannot be skipped and both heating and boiling result in loss of water-soluble nutrients. Commercial canning usually involves even more processing and can lead to further nutrient loss.
We did the easy stuff first - freezing is super easy. The fruit was cut into small slices and frozen on a pan, then transferred into a large freezer bag. This helps prevent the fruit from sticking together and turning into one large lump. The vegetables took a bit longer, since they needed to be blanched (dropped in boiling water for a couple of minutes) first and then frozen the same way. The kids can help with freezing and drying, but I only let them watch the canning process.
Next, we tackled the hardest task, canning. Today, we were making pickles and jam. We did the pickles first (don't cook them - they'll be mushy). We 'cheated,' using a mixed spice pack in our brine. While they were soaking in the water bath, we cleaned up the pans and started boiling and mashing the fruit for jams. Once the strawberry jam was in the water bath, it was on to peaches!
I highly recommend using the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for directions on how long to put the jars in the water bath. A pressure canner would work well, also, but we use the bath. Make sure that there is space under the jars, and at least an inch of water above the jars, for circulation.
It's already hot in the house in August, and canning makes it that much hotter. Yes, I'm wearing a sport bra and an apron! Look - the apron matches these cute little jar rings and lids that we picked up for pennies on the dollar last winter. I like to switch jar lid patterns each year so that we make sure all the old stuff is used up first.
After removing the jars from the water bath, place them on a cooling rack and wait for the joyous POP POP POP of the lids sealing. (If you don't hear the pop, they still might be sealed, but check each one before storing.)
On to the drying! A few years ago, I picked up a dehydrator for a song at an estate sale, and then found several additional trays and accessories the following week at Salvation Army. God really wanted me to have a food dryer! We have used it excessively, preserving anything and everything. My husband even makes jerky with it every winter!
After trying three or four different brands of dehydrator, this one is definitely my favorite. It works very quickly and effectively, puts out minimal heat and noise, and has various accessories, such as the fruit roll-up trays and mesh inserts for smaller foods.
Twenty-four hours later, we had dried apples, bell peppers, cherries, blueberries (and we tried some raspberries, but they didn't turn out as hoped), salad topper mix (all sorts of veggies mixed with chickpeas and nuts), and mango chips. Most will be used in future recipes, but the apple & mango are just for snacking.
Home Canning unit study (covers Home Economics, Math, Science....)
- Pick Your Own (site gives specific preservation instructions for many types of produce)
- Homestead Blessings: The Art of Canning
- Homesteading for Beginners Volume Two
- Homesteading for Beginners Volume Three
- Beginner's Utensil Set
- Waterbath Canner, Chrome-Plated Rack & 4-Piece Utensil Set
- The Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Home
- The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling
- Preserving Summer's Bounty: Freezing, Canning, and Preserving, and Drying What You Grow
- The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food: Instructions for Freezing, Drying, and Canning
By the end of the day, I was wiped! My wonderful son decided to cook dinner for us. He cooked pasta with jarred sauce and some pre-cooked sausage, and sided it with frozen green beans. I'm glad to see that he's been paying attention and picked up on some basic skills already. He won't ever starve! And, the presentation was pretty awesome, too...