It may still feel like summer, but according to our calendar, fall is upon us. And while Texas weather may not be intuitive, the in-season produce is a clear sign of the fall transition. But fear not—there are still ways to hang onto your peaches, cucumbers, and tomatoes (and the rest of your summer favorites).
Food preservation ensures you have access to your seasonal favorites all year round. Plus it’s both cheaper and more nutritious than buying canned goods at the store. With seven different methods to choose from, the opportunities are endless.
Dehydrating is the oldest method of food preservation. It can be done in the oven, or more conveniently in a food dehydrator. This process removes all moisture from the produce, often giving it a denser texture. It’s important to make sure that the food is completely dry, or else it won’t stay edible for long.
Pro Tip: Which method preserves food the longest? “It really will depend on the fruit or vegetable. Drying is the most simple and intuitive, but hot processing can last for years,” according to Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due.
Canning is often considered one of the healthier methods of preservation because it doesn’t add any outside components (salt or sugar) to its contents. The canning method applies heat to contents in a closed-glass mason jar, removing air from the jar to create a vacuum seal. This is best for highly acidic foods such as tomatoes, berries, chutneys, and salsas.
Pro Tip: “It is critical to leave headspace in the jar when canning. Improperly canned items can be dangerous for consumption,” Griffiths says.
Pickling preserves food through fermentation, by submersion in brine or vinegar. This process can take anywhere from one to four weeks and is best for vegetables with tough skin such as cucumbers and peppers, or root vegetables like carrots and radishes.
Pro Tip: Want your pickled veggies extra crisp? Trim the ends off the vegetable before putting it in the jar, mixing certain leaves like cherry or grape and adding alum (found in the spice section of the grocery store).
If anyone knows how to master the art (and science) of food preservation, it’s Jesse Griffiths, executive chef and owner of Dai Due, a local Austin butcher shop and supper club that focuses on using local ingredients year round.
What are some popular seasonal items to preserve right now in Austin?
We are really at the peak of canning season in the summer; tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, garlic, and peppers are all at their peak and are preservable in many different methods like drying, pickling, fermenting, and smoking.
What is your personal favorite food/preservation combination?
I love a smoked pepper that's then been dried. It keeps its flavor very well, and can be rehydrated later. The smell of a good, sweet pepper that's smoked and dried is incredible, like chocolate and leather.
Curing is often used to preserve meat and fish, and focuses on drawing moisture out through osmosis. There are two different types. Dry curing involves coating your meat/fish in a salt and spice mixture and then storing it in a humidity and temperature controlled space. It is time-consuming and can take years in some cases. This is how prosciutto is made. Wet curing requires submerging the item in a cure (chilled liquid with salt, nitrites and water) and allowing it to soak for a certain time, typically a week or two. Wet curing gives you control over how much salt you add, which is a bonus.
Pro Tip: While dry curing is great, wet curing promises an equal salt concentration on the entire surface.
Smoking is another ideal process for meat and fish, in which the chemicals in smoke dry the food out, removing moisture in which bacteria could grow. It can be done in a hot environment for a short period, or at a lower temperature for a longer time.
Pro Tip: Smoked meats and fish can be kept three to four days in the fridge after being cooked, or two to three months in the freezer.
Candying, although not the healthiest, might be one of the most delicious methods. Typically done with fruit, the item is placed in a heated sugar syrup; that sugar saturation discourages the growth of spoilage microorganisms.
Pro Tip: Candied fruits have a shelf life of about a year.
Freeze drying preserves food through sublimation, the process of turning ice to vapor. Food is frozen, then placed in a strong vacuum; the water in the food then sublimates, removing all moisture. This method tends not to alter the taste of the original contents and affords an extremely long shelf life. It works well with items like coffee beans and fruits, especially apples and pears.
Pro Tip: Make sure your vacuum bag remains sealed and intact—a punctured bag will result in a botched freeze dry!
With seven different methods to choose from, there is one for every meat, fish, fruit, and vegetable. Start preserving and find out just how easy it is to have your summer all year long.