What You Need to Know About Preserving

The following post is from Kate of Modern Alternative Mama:

source: Kate

Three years ago, I was about to preserve my own food for the first time.

It was an exciting adventure.  And I was nervous.  I didn’t want to get burned, or break any glass, or mess anything up and make someone sick! But, I wanted high quality food, I didn’t want to pay a lot of money, and I’ve always been a “do-it-yourself”-er.  So, I jumped in.

It seemed like a lot of work that year to do just a few jars.  I think we did 40 – 50 jars of a few different food items.  In our third year canning, we did about 300 jars, and it didn’t seem so hard!

I’ve learned a lot about canning since then (and freezing — I freeze a fair amount too, and dehydrate some).  I want to share a bit of that with you!

Here’s a guide if you are a total beginner.

Make a plan now.

My first year, I kind of jumped in without a plan.  I somehow thought that I would save so much money (I do) that I would be able to get all the food I would need for $50 or so (I can’t). Take a realistic look at what you really want to put up and what the prices are on the fresh food items.  I can get tomatoes and apples for $0.50/lb. or less.  Other things, like blueberries, simply cost $2.50/lb. even you-pick, in season (it costs twice that at a store though).  Look around your area and find your best prices and do some math.  Set aside money.  Do it now, before you jump into preserving.

Grow your own…if you can.

My yard is too shaded to grow much besides a few pot of herbs, although we hope to move and change that soon.  If you can grow a garden, do it. If you don’t have space, do a few pots of herbs or a basket of strawberries.  It’s something, even if you never really get enough to put away.  It’s significantly cheaper to spend $50 up front to buy some plants than to buy all the food.  I’ve done the math, and I was amazed!

Get the equipment.

You don’t need to buy a fancy pot and canning kit.  Often times, what you have around the kitchen will work.  I use a big stock pot and a quilted pot holder instead of a canning pot and jar rack.  You will need jars, lids and rings for canning and that will be your biggest initial expense, but you can reuse the jars and rings year after year.  Try to get them used if you can, but check prices; I found some at Good Will that weren’t cheaper than buying new!  You can read more about the equipment here.

As for dehydrating, you can do that in an oven on low, by hanging herbs upside down (wouldn’t work so great for meat, though!), or laying outside in the sun on trays.  Or you can use a “real” dehydrator. I do love mine.  For freezing, you only need large cookie sheets and bags.

Start with just a little.

Don’t try to preserve everything your family will eat in the first year.  And don’t get caught up in delicious and beautiful foods that your family won’t eat.  I love the idea of strawberry jam, but it’s not something my family eats.  Choose two or three things your family eats a lot of and can that first.  It’s tomato and applesauce for us.  It will seem like a lot of work as you are learning, but will eventually become easy.

Don’t be afraid.

A lot of people are worried about making people sick if they can improperly, or getting burned during the process, or making the canner explode. I have used both water bath and pressure canners and as long as you follow the directions, you will not do this.  In three years and hundreds of jars, I have never made anyone sick, and I have never had a jar break.  

I did get burned once when I did something stupid.  (I tried to force an empty jar down into a pot of still-very-hot water, figuring when it got low enough, it would fill with water…it did…but the hot water sort of “exploded” and splashed all over my hand.  Don’t do that.)

Have common sense, follow directions carefully until you feel confident, but really — it’s not that hard!

Do you preserve food for your family?

Kate is a wife and mommy to 4 and is passionate about God, health and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and is planning to release more in 2013. When she’s not blogging, she’s in the kitchen, sewing, or home schooling her children. You can find her at Modern Alternative Mama or contributing to Keeper of the Home.