5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning
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Easier ways to preserve food without canning

By Megan Cain of the Creative Vegetable Gardener

For many of us gardeners, late summer and early fall signals the peak of the harvest season. Although filling up baskets and bowls full of vegetables from your garden can feel exhilarating, it can also be overwhelming and stressful.

If you find yourself giving away or, even worse, composting extra produce, consider trying your hand at food preserving this season. Contrary to popular belief, food preserving doesn’t have to be difficult, take up a lot of time, or require lots of fancy equipment. In fact, I’m a big advocate super easy food preserving.

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5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

Simple and quick preserving

Instead of spending a full day in a sweltering kitchen, easy food preserving means using the simplest and quickest method for putting each vegetable, fruit and herb away for use in delicious meals all season long. Let’s take a look at the options.

Fresh Storage

Whenever possible I like to store my vegetables in their natural state. This requires the least amount of work and preparation. It doesn’t get any easier than this. Each year I grow 300-500 onions and 220 garlic. After getting cured in my garage they all get packed in boxes and crates and stored in my basement. This year we were still eating the previous year’s onions until July.

5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

Fridge Storage

Using your fridge is another way to store vegetables without processing. Each year I grow a big crop of fall carrots and beets. I harvest them straight from my garden into late fall, and just before we get a deep freeze I’ll harvest whatever is left. I remove the tops, keep the soil on the roots, and load them into plastic bags. The bags get stored in the bottom of my fridge and we eat our own carrots and beets all winter long.

Freezer Storage

There are many vegetables that can be easily frozen for long term storage. Some need to be blanched or steamed first, and some can be frozen raw. If you’re going to be doing a lot of freezing I recommend investing in a chest freezer. Because it doesn’t have the natural defrost cycle of a kitchen freezer, the food quality remains high for about a year.

Two of my favorite vegetables to freeze raw are kale and red peppers. Both can be chopped fresh from the garden and put directly into freezer bags or containers. When you’re ready to use them in a recipe you can just grab a handful and throw it directly into the pan.

5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

More involved ways to preserve the harvest

The above three methods of food preserving all fall into the category of super easy food preserving. You’ll find that it doesn’t get much easier than these techniques. They’re what I primarily use to stock my pantry each season. We rarely buy produce from the grocery store during our long Wisconsin winters.

There are also a few other methods I use with less frequency, but sometimes they can be the best way to preserve a particular vegetable you want to have in your pantry.

Fermentation

I’ve dabbled in fermentation in the past, but this summer I decided to get more serious. Fermented foods can be stored in your fridge for up to a year and it retains much more of the nutrients than canning (and adds beneficial bacteria that’s good for your gut).

So far I’ve used cabbage, carrots and onions to make curtido (a spicy version of sauerkraut), and pickling cucumbers to make sour pickles. After checking this book out of the library and reading about the process, it took very little work to make both recipes.

Dehydrating

Although I prefer quicker methods of food preserving, I have been known to dehydrate some of my garden harvest in the past. The easiest things to dry are herbs – you can simply hang them up in a dark place (I use a laundry room with no windows) and transfer them to jars when they’re brittle to the touch.

I’ve also dehydrated cherry tomatoes, apples and pears. While it’s possible to build your own solar dehydrator, they take a bit of monitoring if you live in a humid area. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of drying you may want to invest in an electric dehydrator.

5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

Canning is also an option

Because I like to keep things simple, canning is my least favorite way to preserve food. It’s time consuming, messy, and you need to follow an exact process to keep it safe. We eat a lot of salsa in our house, so we do have one canning session each season and make as much salsa as humanly possible. Some people love canning, but in my opinion there are much easier ways to preserve most vegetables.

Where Do You Start?

My advice (as with all things gardening related) is to keep it simple. Take a look at the meals you eat and the groceries you buy on a weekly basis and come up with a list of five things you’d like to have as ingredients for cooking during your garden’s off season. That’s where you should start. Eating your own garden produce on a cold winter night (when your garden might even be buried in snow) is such a satisfying and delicious experience. You’ll feel like you’ve cheated the season somehow, and you’ll definitely be getting the most from your garden.

Megan Cain of the Creative Vegetable Gardener blog

Megan Cain is setting out to create a legion of gardening addicts that successfully and passionately grow their own food. Through her gardening education business, The Creative Vegetable Gardener, she helps people get more from their gardens by first mastering the essentials and then indulging in the colorful details that make gardening not just a favorite pastime, but a lifestyle. Get a free sample of her book, Super Easy Food Preserving, featuring the full directions on how to preserve some of the vegetables mentioned in this post here.

5 Easy ways to preserve fresh produce without canning

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3 Discussion to this post

  1. lovelygreens says:

    Thank you for this guest post Megan! Canning and bottling food can be a daunting challenge for both the beginner and those who already have a lot of canning on the agenda. These alternative ideas on how to store food can save both time and effort. I’m a big fan of dehydrating fruit and flowers for beauty products myself. Thanks again 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing this post. I had used onions not more than three to four months by storing it in the basement. I’m going to store more onions and garlic this time and use it throughout the year.

  3. Morgan says:

    Great post! Will definitely be using your tips for onions.

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