The Thrifty Housewife: Freeze Your Greens!

We’ve talked before about how fresh produce is a beat-the-clock race for a lot of smaller households. Fresh vegetables are important, but they do turn into sludge faster than many of us can get through them. If you want to win at produce, you need some food preservation strategies. One of the easiest of these is freezing vegetables.

Frozen vegetables are very nutritious and usually affordable. Unfortunately, issues in the supply chain during this pandemic have made storebought frozen vegetables a bit of a hot (heh) commodity. The first time I went to Aldi during the early, early days of COVID-19 warnings, the freezer case was completely empty. It was startling. Tumbleweeds could have rolled through, unimpeded.

Since then, my local market has consistently had a few things, but not much variety. I’m trying to cut down even further on my grocery trips, which isn’t a problem except for the aforementioned produce issue. So it’s time for DIY Frozen Vegetables.

Most frozen vegetables benefit from a simple process–blanch, shock, drain, freeze. You can also cook them before freezing, but I prefer the versatility of a plain vegetable product. (Note: Tomatoes, winter squash, onions, and peppers don’t need blanching).

So here’s how you do it.

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How Can I Tell If A Canning Recipe Is Safe To Use?

“Aren’t you worried about poisoning yourself?”

Whenever I talk about canning with people who don’t do it, it never takes long before they ask this question.

I always say, “No, safe canning is easy, don’t be scared.”

But the fact is, I’m definitely concerned about poisoning myself and others. That’s why I follow safe practices. Improper canning procedure can result in ruined food, sickness, and in some extreme cases, death. (We all remember those green beans from East of Eden, right?)

1940s woman holding arm full of mason jars filled with food, text: "Am I proud! I'm fighting famine by canning food at home" She probably wasn't using safe home canning practices.

So how do we know if a recipe is safe? It’s not hard, but you do need a little know-how.

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There are too many jam puns to choose from…

This year, I’ve had the great fun of participating in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. Each month, I undertake a themed food preservation project with the goal of learning something new. We’re already halfway through! Here’s what I’ve made so far:

  • January: Citrus–Cara Cara Orange and Meyer Lemon Marmalade
  • February: Fermentation–Failed Fermented Carrots (oh, so bad!) and Amish Friendship Bread (oh, so good!)
  • March: Herbs–Compound butters (sage and smoked salt, rosemary and shallot)
  • April: Use Up Preserves–Barbeque sauce, raspberry jam bars, various tomato dishes (I also took a canned goods inventory, and discovered that we need to be more diligent about eating tomatoes, because at that point I wasn’t through the 2017 ones).
  • May: Berries–Strawberry Balsamic Jam
  • June: Jam–Strawberry Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (I then went into July with Rhubarb Rosemary, Strawberry Peach, Brown Sugar Peach, and Strawberry Maple Butter)
  • July: Stonefruit–Aforementioned peachy jams, canned cherries, cherries in bourbon
Two jars of jam on a potholder
Small batch strawberry balsamic. Yowza.

The Highlights

Other than learning new things, the most enjoyable part of the challenge is seeing what people all over the world do with it. The themes are pretty broad, so people are creative. I never would have thought to do compound butters without other people doing it, for instance, and now I’m in love.

Favorite recipes so far include:
Strawberry Balsamic Jam (I made this twice. One small batch was not enough).
Sour Cherry Preserves with Bourbon
Rosemary Shallot Compound Butter (There is no recipe. Mince about a tablespoon of shallot. Crush about the same amount of dried rosemary. Beat it into maybe a quarter cup of softened butter. Store in the freezer. Use to saute sugar snap peas, lose your composure.)

In the coming months, I’ll tackle: Tomatoes, Pickles, Relishes, Chow Chows, or Piccalili, an October Wild Card, Apples, Pears, Quince or Persimmons, and Holiday Giving. Some of these will be easier to do something new (what have I ever done with quince?) than others (what else can I do with a tomato, at this point?).

The only problem is I’m running out of jam jars.

Canning Without Death and Destruction

canning strip

Many people don’t can food at home because they think it will kill or sicken them.

This is a kind of extreme position.

Yes, indeed, it is possible to can at home very unsafely. However, following basic precautions and using common sense goes a long way towards keeping your canned food safe to eat.*

I think we can relax a little. I can a lot, and have not yet been poisoned. While this evidence is anecdotal at best, there’s also science on my side. Short story: if you heat things enough, and the acid is high enough, the bacteria will be dead. DEAD. Because of SCIENCE.

Safe canning is not a mystery. We know a lot about bacteria and how to prevent them from hurting us. Loads of research has been done, and basic precautions have been developed because they work. If you follow the accepted safety standards, you’re going to be fine.

The elephant in the room is botulism, of course. Botulism is fairly rare, but what it lacks in frequency it makes up for in deadliness. Unlike some other kinds of bacteria, Clostridium Botulinum, which can trigger botulism, flourishes without oxygen, in low-acid environments, and loves temps from 40-120 degrees. So food that is canned inappropriately is a perfect combination of factors to encourage it to blossom into poison. Your canning must be hot enough and/or acidic enough to knock it out, or you’re in danger. Neurotoxic danger.

Some foods are safely canned in boiling water baths, because they are high in acid. Clostridium Botulinum does not like acid one bit. If your food is low-acid, it must be pressure canned. Even if your grandmother canned green beans in boiling water for years without poisoning a single person, it’s still not safe. Don’t do it.

Botulism is at the high end of risk. You’re way more likely to ruin your canning with some other thing. Other risks include mold, yeast, and other kinds of bacteria. These may not give you deadly neurotoxic food poisoning that inhibits your breathing and disturbs your vision, but they can still make you sick or ruin all your hard work.

Reduce this risk by:

  • Canning things in the appropriate manner. Pressure can anything low in acid.
  • Using good, not rotten or over ripe produce.
  • Using clean jars.
  • Keeping your work area clean.
  • Canning for the recommended length of time.
  • Check to make sure your jars sealed.
  • If anything looks or smells weird when you open it, don’t eat it, silly!

The nice thing about home canning precautions is none of them are hard. It’s not like you need to follow elaborate procedures with a centrifuge only under a full moon to be safe. Just be clean, heat things up, follow directions and pay attention to the acid content. You’ll be fine.

*These are all my opinions, and not a substitute for legitimate safety advice. Check out your University extensions advice for canning safely in your location and altitude.

You can can!


can all you can edit

Canning at home is one of those things that makes you seem like magic.

Making your own jams and spreads, pickles and chutneys, sauces and delicious things, and preserving them for another season is a fantastic combination of art and science, frugality and fanciness, and demonstrates your mastery over death and decay. At least of the fruit and vegetable variety.

Basically, home canning relies on a couple basic scientific processes–sterilization and oxygen removal. Heat and water are the mechanisms by which these processes work. Whether you’re canning by boiling water bath or pressure canner (the only two methods recognized as safe in the United States), your goal will be to create an environment in which bacteria, including good ol’ deadly Clostridium botulinum which can trigger botulism and KILL US ALL, just like in East of Eden, when Kate covers up her slow poisoning of the madam at the brothel by making it look like the home canned green beans weren’t safe. Canning is Steinbeckian, y’all.

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