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End-of-Summer Food Preservation Guide

Explore the many techniques that can help make the bounty of local and homegrown foods last all year.

| September/October 2014

  • Consider visiting u-pick orchards or farms at the height of harvest season for good deals on local, organic produce. Some farms may also offer discounts on bulk buys of less-than-perfect produce. Then get together with friends for a food preservation party.
    Photo by Axel Bernstorff
  • Have no fear! There are many resources for beginner canners.
    Photo by Romulo Yanes

Food preservation was once integral to humanity’s survival-strategies toolbox. We had to have something to eat when nothing fresh could be picked. As such, our ancestors invented numerous simple ways to keep foods fresh well into winter. Today, in the age of electric refrigerators and freezers, food preservation is more often aligned with the renaissance of conscientious eating—making use of locally grown or homegrown ingredients.

Ever since people began to look for ways to make food edible over a longer period of time, we’ve turned to the handy techniques and ingredients that follow to make it possible. Often two or three of these techniques are combined into one preservation recipe. (For example, pickles may be preserved by combining salt, sugar, vinegar and heat. Smoked and oil-preserved foods also rely on cold storage to extend shelf life.)

Summer’s end, ripe with abundance, is the perfect time to try your hand at these old-fashioned skills. Eugenia Bone, author of Well-Preserved, says food preservation is “an act of optimism” that actually slows down her relationship with food. If you care to join Bone and thousands of others who are having fun making food last longer and taste better, take our tour of the ingredients we’ll call upon to do the good work for us.

Salt, Sugar and Oil

Salt, sugar and oil work by depriving oxygen from the microbes that spoil food. These methods have the added benefit of contributing loads of flavor and allowing microbes that preserve food to take hold.

Cover food in salt or a salty brine and the right microbes will thrive while spoilage-inducing bugs are suppressed. Almost any fruit or vegetable can be preserved this way. A byproduct of this fermentation process is that the helpful bacteria produce B vitamins and numerous, complex new flavors. In addition, these probiotic critters are well-documented to improve digestive and immune function. Examples include sauerkraut, brined cucumber pickles and preserved lemons.

Easy and Adaptable Kimchi Recipe

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