As we grew up, most of us were fortunate enough to learn many things firsthand from our mothers. I treasure the memories of learning how to can fruits and vegetables in our family kitchen.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to relearn many of those lessons after becoming a Master Food Preserver with the Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. I found that there was much more to the science of food preservation than water bath canning. I also learned that I needed to stop using my mother’s handed-down “Kerr Home Canning and Freezing” book, printed in 1975. It had to be replaced with the latest “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving,” printed in 2009. Techniques, times, temperatures, and equipment used to safely preserve foods at home have changed significantly in the last 35 years.
During the 48 hours of class time over an eight-week period, my Master Food Preserver classmates and I learned other processes by which foods can be safely preserved. Here are some of those processes.
Pressure canning: We received instruction on how to can low-acid vegetables such as green beans, carrots, beets and dried beans, as well as meats, seafood, poultry and wild game. A pressure canner can easily help us achieve the temperatures required to safely preserve these low-acid foods.
Pickling: From cucumber pickles to fruit pickles, chutney and flavored vinegars, we learned about the safe and delicious means of pickling to preserve food.
Fermenting: A fun element of preservation is the technique used to preserve some varieties of cucumbers or cabbage. Homemade sauerkraut is something many people enjoy, and nothing tastes better than crisp, right-out-of-the-jar kraut that you make yourself.
Freezing: We learned about foods that freeze well and foods that don’t. There are frozen convenience foods that make life easier for those busy weeknights and make-ahead desserts that can be frozen in batches for later use.
Drying: Dehydration of foods is a long-practiced method of food preservation and one of the most economical, especially when you consider long-term storage. Fruits and vegetables are the most common items dried during our class, but fruit leathers and gummy drops for children of all ages are other treats made with a dehydrator.
Smoking, curing meats and fish: In class we tackled smoking fish at home, making all types of jerky, curing and smoking poultry, and making sausage. Imagine making your own corned beef any time of the year.
Food storage, emergency preparedness: An important component of the Master Food Preserver class deals with safe and proper storage of food and water, especially for emergency use. The class teaches about proper storage containers, conditions and length of time to safely store food items.
The next series of Master Food Preserver classes will start April 1 and will continue on Tuesdays for the following seven weeks. Information and applications are available at Douglas County OSU Extension office, 541-672-4461, or at extension.oregonstate.edu/douglas.
Dave Helsley is a volunteer Master Food Preserver for Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. For more information, call the Extension Service office at 541-672-4461.