Guide to Fall Food Preservation

Extend the life of your fall harvest with these basic guidelines and easy recipes, and enjoy homegrown flavor and nutrition all year long.

shredded cabbage

Ferment cabbage to enjoy fresh, health-promoting throughout winter.

Photo by iStock

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A mastery of simple home preservation techniques is key to delicious, healthy eating and efficient cooking. The home preserver controls the quality of the foods she puts up and, by having fine preserved foods on hand, increases her ability to make tasty meals quickly. Building your own stock of flavorful preserved foods is easier than you might think and well worth the time to learn the simple arts of food preservation.

After all, if you have a jar of July’s homemade marinated peppers in the pantry, you’re halfway done making dinner in January. Preserving decreases our carbon footprints, keeps dollars local year-round, plus it just feels good to be self-sufficient.

But how do we incorporate preserving into our already-full cooking repertoire? There’s nothing wrong with marathon canning, but I recommend putting up small batches of foods while you’re cooking them fresh for dinner anyway. It’s just one more burner on the stove. The most diverse pantries are built one delicious pint at a time.

The key to kitchen efficiency is to build a pantry that reflects your taste and region. If you buy canned tomatoes often, give tomato preserving a whirl—every time you make a dish with those home-canned tomatoes, it will be qualitatively better. Don’t bother canning stuff that’s imported or you don’t love to eat. Additionally, the learning curve for preserving is a lot more tolerable when you are putting up bountiful foods you crave.

When building your pantry, consider the byproducts of the foods you preserve. These are often wasted flavor opportunities. Learning to use the whole food not only cuts down on waste but also bumps up the flavor of the foods you make with them. The bones of poultry, fish and red meat, and the peels and stems of vegetables become stock. Citrus rinds can be zested and frozen to flavor dishes, and the tops of many vegetables that are usually discarded (such as carrots and radishes) are delicious in their own right. Even the marinade, pickle juice or fruit syrup at the bottom of the jar can have a role in your kitchen.

What to Can, What to Freeze, and How to Use It

Use this handy guide to put up all that autumn has to offer. To learn more about the various methods of food preservation mentioned here, and to try a heap of tasty recipes, visit our preservation collection page.

Berries

When we think about berries, making jams and sauces is obvious, and freezing them whole is an incredibly simple way to preserve them if you’re short on time. But don’t overlook the many other options for these highly nutritious fruits—consider making them into tasty fruit leather, drying them to use in granola or baked goods throughout the year, or even making your own homemade wine with them.

Can: Water bath can jam, jelly, whole fruit, sauce, juice

Freeze: Freeze washed berries on a cookie sheet, then pack into freezer bags or containers

Ferment: Sauce, soda, wine

Other Preservation: Dehydrate whole or halved berries at 135 degrees until leathery, or make fruit leathers; preserve in alcohol

Uses: Canned or frozen in baked goods and ice cream; cooked with poultry and meats (especially good with duck and game); dried in granola and baked goods

Byproducts: Leftover fruit syrups flavor tea or soda; poaching liquid for other fruits

Cabbage

Fermented foods are highly nutritious and digestible, according to fermentation expert Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation. Fermentation predigests foods, making nutrients more bioavailable, and in many cases fermentation generates additional nutrients or removes anti-nutrients or toxins. Because they contain live, lactic acid-producing bacteria, sauerkraut and kimchi are especially supportive of digestive health, immune function and general well-being. Having these on hand is also an easy way to continue eating local green vegetables throughout winter.

Can: Water bath can sauerkraut (Note: This will kill the live bacteria.)

Freeze: Shred, boil 90 seconds, chill, then pack into freezer bags or containers

Ferment: Sauerkraut, kimchi

Other Preservation: Root cellar late-harvested heads at 32 degrees for five to six months wrapped in newspaper or cotton fabric; to dehydrate, slice, boil four minutes, then dry at 135 degrees until brittle

Uses: Sauerkraut and kimchi as a condiment; cooked with meats, pasta and in savory tarts; dried in soups, stews and casseroles

Byproducts: Outer leaves and core make stock base for vegetable soups

Carrots

Most people love the mild sweetness of carrots, cooked or raw. Unfortunately, most people discard the green tops, but you can use these in place of parsley in soup recipes or in place of basil in pesto. To make carrot-top pesto, blanch 1 bunch of greens, then blend with a few tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of nuts, a squirt of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a couple of garlic cloves.

Can: Water bath can pickles and carrot jam; pressure can trimmed, whole carrots packed in water

Freeze: Boil two minutes for slices, five for whole; cool and pack into containers

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate; in kimchi mixtures

Other Preservation: Root cellar unwashed at 32 degrees for seven to nine months with greens removed except 2-inch stub, packed in straw; to dehydrate, slice, boil four minutes, then dry at 135 degrees until brittle

Uses: Pickles (vinegar and fermented) as a condiment; jam as a cheese condiment (great on a mozzarella sandwich!); canned as a side dish and in soufflés; frozen as a side dish and in soups, stews and baked goods; dried in soups and stews

Byproducts: Greens can be used raw, or blanched and made into pesto

Carrot Jam Recipe

Corn

Normally discarded, corn husks can be dried to use to wrap up homemade tamales, and corncob stock can become the basis of lightly sweet concoctions from soup to ice cream. To make corn stock to use in vegetable soups, simmer half a dozen corncobs in 2 quarts of water for about 40 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. As with any stock, it’s good to toss in an onion, a small handful of peppercorns, and a few each of garlic cloves, bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, celery ribs (with leaves) and carrots.

Can: Water bath can pickles; pressure can packed in water

Freeze: Boil whole ears, small for seven minutes, large for 11; cool, pack in freezer containers; for kernels, blanch on cob five to six and a half minutes, cool, remove kernels, then pack into containers

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate; in whiskey

Other Preservation: Boil whole ears four minutes, remove kernels, then dry at 135 degrees until brittle

Uses: Pickles (vinegar and fermented) as a condiment; canned and frozen corn in any application you would use commercial kernels; dried in soups and stews

Byproduct: Cobs make stock that’s used to make corn ice cream, corn jelly, and as a base for vegetable soups (especially creamy soups)

Cucumbers

Almost everyone knows what a vinegar pickle tastes like, and what would a good sandwich be without one? But the lactic-acid flavor of fermented pickles is not known as well in the U.S.—except of course in the pickle heaven of New York City delis. Try your hand at this Old World preservation method and you’ll be amazed by the incredible depth of flavor. And save that pickle juice! You can use it almost any time you would use vinegar, especially in salad dressings. Plus, it’s great as the whiskey chaser known as a “pickleback.”

Can: Water bath can pickles

Freeze: Freezer pickles, freeze juice up to six months

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate; pickles, relish

Other Preservation: None

Uses: Pickles (vinegar, freezer and fermented) as a condiment; sliced and fried; in salad dressings

Byproducts: Pickle juice can replace vinegar in any capacity except canning

Versatile Veggie Pickles Recipe

Green Beans

A home-canned jar of green beans beats a store-bought can any day, but canning is not the only way to enjoy green beans year-round. Dried beans can be tossed into soups and stir-fries, and make a healthy snack, as well.

Can: Water bath can pickles; pressure can packed in water

Freeze: Boil three minutes, chill, then pack into freezer containers

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate

Other Preservation: Boil cut beans four minutes, then dry at 135 degrees until brittle

Uses: Pickles as a condiment or in a salad; canned and frozen in any way you would use commercial beans; dried in soups

Byproducts: Pickle juice can replace vinegar in any capacity except canning

Peaches and Plums

The sweet taste of stone fruits screams summer. Of course, peaches are perfect eaten fresh or drizzled with cream, but they are to-die-for prepared in the simple Italian way of soaking slices in wine. Plums are sweet, too, but their additional sourness pairs perfectly with savory foods, from beef to duck.

Can: Water bath can jam, jelly, whole fruit or slices, sauce, juice

Freeze: Pack whole or in slices in cold, 40 percent sugar syrup with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or lemon juice; pack purée with ascorbic acid or lemon juice into freezer containers

Ferment: In simple syrup; wine

Other Preservation: Dip slices in ascorbic acid solution or honey syrup, dry at 135 degrees until leathery

A note on drying in the oven: If your oven cannot be set low enough to mimic the action of a dedicated food dehydrator (usually around 130 degrees), set it to “warm” for half an hour, then turn off the heat but leave the light on. Use baking sheets lined with silicone mats or parchment paper as your drying trays. Using an oven thermometer to guide you, remove trays and reset oven to warm as needed.

Uses: Canned or frozen in baked goods and ice cream; cooked with poultry and meats; fermented as a condiment; dried in baked goods

Byproducts: Leftover fruit syrups flavor tea, soda; poaching liquid for fruits; peach peels and pit make jelly

Universal Low-Sugar Jam Recipe
Homemade Fruit Leather Recipe

Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are a food every fridge should house—roasted, peeled and marinated in olive oil. These marinated peppers can be used in many ways (think pimento cheese or puréed as a sauce). Try the leftover oil as a chicken marinade.

Can: Water bath can pickles and marinated peppers (recipe must have correct acidity); pressure can in water

Freeze: Boil raw for two minutes, or blister over a hot flame; chill, remove skins, then pack into containers

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate

Other Preservation: Boil strips four minutes, dry with skins on at 135 degrees until leathery to brittle; make dried pepper pesto, cover with oil and hold in fridge for 10 days

Uses: Pickles (vinegar and fermented) as a condiment or in salads; canned and frozen in cooking, pasta sauces, and savory tarts and quiches; marinated in salads, dips and cooking; dried in pesto and cooking

Byproducts: Marinade can replace oil and vinegar; pickle juice can replace vinegar, except in canning

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an essential ingredient in zillions of recipes. All homemade versions are nearly always better than store-bought versions—whether it’s ketchup or pasta sauce. Did you know you can even use the water that drips from tomatoes when you cut them, known as tomato water? Try this martini combo: 5 ounces each vodka and tomato water, 1-1⁄2 ounces dry vermouth, 1⁄4 teaspoon minced jalapeno, a pinch of salt, and 1 small garlic clove, minced. Shake with ice and strain. Refreshing!

Can: Water bath can whole, crushed, purée, salsa, juice, ketchup, paste

Freeze: Whole on baking sheets, then pack into freezer bags or containers; purée raw

Ferment: Whole, halved in crock and refrigerate

Other Preservation: Dry sliced Romas at 135 degrees until leathery to brittle; to make dried tomato pesto, cover with oil and refrigerate 10 days

Uses: Canned whole, crushed, purée and paste in all capacities as commercial; fermented in salads; dried in pesto and cooking

Byproducts: Tomato water from slicing tomatoes can poach fish and flavor soups, sauces and cocktails

Herbal Heirloom Tomato Pickles Recipe

Zucchini

People rarely use zucchinis for their water and flowers. The flowers are incredibly tasty tempura-battered and fried. The water that drains from salted zucchini is nutritious and can be used to cook other vegetables.

Can: Water bath can pickles

Freeze: Shred and blanch, or slice and boil four minutes, chill, then pack into containers

Ferment: In crock and refrigerate

Other Preservation:  Slice in strips, steam-blanch four minutes, dry at 135 degrees until brittle; preserve in oil

Uses: Pickles as a condiment and in salad dressings; frozen in cooked zucchini dishes; dried in soups and stews

Byproducts: Pickle juice can replace vinegar, except in canning


Eugenia Bone is an award-winning food author whose books include Well-Preserved and The Kitchen Ecosystem.