Preserving the Harvest

Was it a bumper crop year? Now that the harvest is in, the decision needs to be made as to what to do with the abundance.

Many years ago, homes had “root cellars,” a place to store winter squash and root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and carrots. Nowadays, it may be difficult for gardener’s to store their harvest this way. So, what can they do?

Here’s a quick little table to help you:

Vegetable Store Freeze/Blanching Time Can Dry Pickle
Beets X (2 min) X X X
Broccoli (3 min) X X X
Brussels sprouts (3 min) X X X
Cabbage (90 sec for wedges) Pickle first X X
Carrots X (5 min) X X X
Cauliflower (3 min) X X X
Celery (3 min) X X
Fennel (1/2 min) Pickle first X
Horseradish X (shred) Prepare as sauce X X
Kohlrabi (3 min) Pickle first X X
Onions X (raw) Pickle first X X
Parsnips X (2 min) X X X
Potatoes X (cooked) X X X
Rutabagas X (2 min) X X X
Sweet Potatoes/Yams X (cooked) X X X
Turnip X (2 min) X X X
Winter Squash X (cooked) X X X

Storing: Only store mature and perfect vegetables. If there are soft spots or bruises, eat immediately or preserve. Leave several inches of stems on winter squash. It’s important to maintain temperatures between 32⁰ and 40⁰F. with good air circulation and ventilation. To reduce spoilage, the humidity should be between 85 and 95%.

Freezing: Freezing maintains nutrients, flavor and texture. Most vegetables require blanching (cutting into pieces, a boiling water bath [see times above], followed by immersion into very cold water) prior to putting into freezer bags or containers in the freezer. Maintain a temperature of 0⁰F. Most vegetables will store well for 12 weeks.

Canning: Best method for vegetables with high water content such as fruits and tomatoes. Hot water baths or pressure cookers seal the contents in sterilized jars. Most vegetables are low acid foods and require using a pressure cooker. Use cleaned fresh and tender vegetables. Follow all pressure cooker instructions carefully.

Drying: No special equipment required. Most people use ovens or dehydrators. It’s important to have good air circulation and all vegetables are cleaned and not bruised. Blanching in a hot water bath increases quality and cleanliness. Adding 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each quart of water will reduce darkening.

Pickling: Used around the world to preserve foods, “pickling” also includes relishes and fermentation. Examples include Kim-chi, pickles, sauerkraut and chutneys. Follow all recipes carefully. Most use vinegar to stabilize acidity to prevent bacteria. Some recipes will suggest canning to preserve the product, others will recommend refrigerator or crock storage.

Have specific questions? The National Center for Home Food Preservation has many online publications to assist you.