You've managed to grow an amazing harvest of vegetables in your garden, but now what? There are tons of ways to preserve vegetables, herbs, and fruit from your garden. I'm going to walk you through some of the most common methods, tips for making them work, and then leave you with some incredible recipes that will help you pick which will fit your needs.
Ways to Preserve Garden Produce
Growing up with grandparents who had a huge garden each year meant I learned all about not just planting and growing vegetables, but also all about preserving them. Now, admittedly, in my experience that was only canning and freezing. As an adult, I learned more about the different types of canning and the various options for dehydrating foods.
Vegetables are probably the most commonly preserved items, but fruits and meats can also be canned or frozen easily. You probably already do some regular food preservation that you don't even realize. Do you buy meat at the grocery store in bulk then separate into portions and freeze it? That in itself is a great way to preserve foods! So, while this is mostly focused on the garden produce, keep these ways in mind for other food items.
Types of Canning Recommended
There is pressure canning, steam canning, and water bath canning. I only recommend using pressure canning or water bath canning. These both reach temperatures safe enough to kill anything that would potentially cause foodborne illness. Steam canning has been used by many, but after doing much study on safety, I do not believe it is a wise choice for long term food preservation.
Pressure canning is what I grew up seeing both my grandparents and parents using. Whether it was jars of tomato sauce my dad prepared, jars of sour pickles my grandpa made, or my Granny's delicious canned applesauce, there were always mason jars on shelves in our home. This means that I have seen water baths, steaming, and pressure canning, and going back to pressure canning is my preference.
In recent years you may have seen a lot of popularity surrounding the Instant Pot or the electric pressure cookers, this is not the same product. An electric pressure cooker is designed to use similar methods for heating foods, but it is not designed to properly heat and seal the jars. It cannot heat to a level to kill off the micro-organisms that could cause foodborne illness. The more traditional pressure canner is more dangerous to use but is designed to get to the higher temperature needed.
Canning Safety Tips
Only use a proper pressure canner designed specifically for preparing jars for long term food storage. Canning anything under pressure can be dangerous, so make sure you are reading all literature with your canner and doing a test before you set about canning large quantities of food. Explosions and steam burns have happened and should be avoided by proper safety procedures and tools.
How Does Pressure Canning Work?
Pressure canning uses a heavy duty pressure cooker with a venting system that is designed just for this purpose. It is basically a large stockpot with a special lid that keeps all of the heat inside to seal the cans. You place the jars into the stockpot with at least 2-3 inches of water and then seal to bring to a temperature of at least 240°F. This is the only safe method of preserving vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood.
Recommended pressure canning supplies:
How Does Water Bath Canning Work?
Rather than pressurizing and reaching a higher level of heat, a water bath uses only boiling water which reaches 220°F. With this method, the only items safe to process are sweet, salty, or sour. This means things that are pickled, naturally acidic like tomatoes, or preserved into jams are jellys are safe to water bath. All vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood should be pressure canned for safety.
A water bath only requires a large stockpot, water, jars, lids, and the fruit or pickle. This is why many who like to make home-canned foods are always talking about making jams and jellies. it is the simplest option for canning.
Recommended supplies for water bath canning:
If you are still uncertain about what foods should and should not be canned specific ways, check out the information on this food preservation site that is specific to canning.
How to Freeze Foods for Long Term Storage
We already are familiar with freezing produce and meats. Like mentioned above, you probably already freeze items. If you use frozen vegetables or even pop that frozen pizza into the oven you know how great this method can be. The only difference between purchasing already frozen items and doing it yourself is in the process.
For long term freezing, I cannot say enough about a truly air tight storage system. If you plan to store something for more than 2-3 months, I recommend investing in a good food sealing system. Begin by getting quality containers, and bags, and always make sure that all foods you freezer are properly labeled with the food or recipe name and a date. This is the best way to make sure you are rotating your foods out properly and not leaving something forgotten in your freezer for years.
With proper airtight food storage, most produce is good for up to 1 year after harvest. Some can potentially be stored for up to 3 years, but I recommend following FDA food safety guidelines for the safest results.
Recommended freezer storage products:
How to Dehydrate Food For Long Term
When I was a teenager, I recall dehydrators becoming very popular in the kitchen appliance world. They were on that infamous home shopping channel on TV every day! I always wanted one, but never had one. I do, however, have experience dehydrating foods thanks to some simple oven techniques and a few days of helping a friend who had a dehydrator. You can safely dehydrate foods for long term storage using a kitchen counter dehydrator or the oven.
Once dehydrated, you will also want to store these foods in airtight containers or freezer storage bags. Keeping as much air out of the packaging only helps push that long term storage even further for you.
What Foods Can I Dehydrate?
While some will say you can dehydrate any food, I recommend working with fruits and vegetables only. Beef jerky has great appeal for many, but is a more in depth process and has more potential issues with food safety and proper curing. While not inclusive, below are some more common foods to dehydrate.
- Onions, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, garlic
- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries
- Bananas, apricot, peaches, pears, pineapple, apples
- Herbs of all kinds
- Potatoes, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga
Do I Have to Have a Dehydrating Machine?
You do not have to have a machine to safely dehydrate foods. However, need to have an oven with a temperature setting as low as 130°F. Baking sheets and parchment paper or silicone baking liners are also recommended when dehydrating in the oven.
To dehydrate in your oven, most foods work well at 130°F. If you choose to dehydrate meats, you will need to do so at 155°F for safety. This will require anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to properly dehydrate. When using the oven, you do not want to cook the food but slowly pull the moisture from the pieces.
Recommended tools for dehydrating foods:
Freeze Drying Foods at Home
One of the longer term storage options that is less likely to be done in the home is freeze drying foods. This is what you find when you see long term food products for sale like MRE's and similar. Freeze dried foods have a 20+ year shelf-life and are commonly found in prepper kits, bug-out bags, and military situations. It can also be an excellent way to preserve foods you will use in a shorter time period, but is more difficult and takes longer than other methods.
What Foods Can I Freeze Dry?
Almost any food you would preserve in other methods can be freeze dried. Mostly foods that have moisture in them, and are not overly processed. While you can preserve full meals this way, you really are looking for items that are easy to reconstitute with just water.
Things like fruits and vegetables are best, with some meats and meals working out well in certain situations. I do not recommend freeze drying pre-made items like cakes or cookies. Mixes for those items can be dehydrated, canned, or freeze dried, but not fully prepared items.
How to Freeze Dry Foods at Home
There are a few methods of freeze drying items at home. The most popular is to use a freeze drying vacuum machine. If you are planning to use this method, I recommend using a machine or professional system for best results.
You can also simply use dry ice in a cooler or your own freezer with foods lain flat and separated. To do this, you will need an extended period of time to properly dry out the foods. That is why it is not recommended by most. If you want more information on using at home methods, I recommend this tutorial found on Wikihow for freeze drying.
Home Preserved Foods Recipes
Below you will find several common canning recipes, freezing recipes, and even dehydrating recipes. While this list is heavy on canning, you will find other options to give you an idea of where to start on your own food preservation journey.
Also, make sure to check out this list of over 800 canning recipes. There are tons of ideas on this list that will benefit you in your harvest and storing of your garden this year.
Homemade Apple Pie Filling
This simple homemade apple pie filling recipe is a perfect first recipe to can. Easy to prepare and delicious both hot and cold, it's a great choice for pies, cobblers, or just served with your favorite ice cream.
Source: Beyond the Chicken Coop
Seedless Blackberry Jam
Blackberry jam is always a hit at our breakfast table. Whether you make this with or without seeds is up to you, but the result is always delicious!
Source: Beyond the Chicken Coop
Green Tomato Chow Chow Recipe
I grew up eating a similar relish. This chow chow is so easy to make and a great choice for extra green tomatoes from the garden. Perfect alongside chili, stew, or beans!
Source: The Country Chic Cottage
Pickled Beets Recipe
If you don't like beets fresh from the garden, try out this delicious pickled recipe! This is a great way to give an otherwise earthy vegetable a fresh new flavor!
Source: Savoring the Good
Blueberry Syrup Recipe
Fresh blueberry syrup over your favorite homemade pancakes recipe is always a great choice. This can be stirred into tea or lemonade, poured over waffles or pancakes, or drizzled over ice cream.
Source: Savoring the Good
Pumpkin Ginger Jam Recipe
Pumpkin and ginger go together beautifully in this delicious jam. It's an easy choice for adding to muffins, biscuits, scones, or just toast.
Freezer Strawberry Jam Recipe
One of my favorites is this super easy to prepare freezer jam! So yummy and of course, a great choice for preserving fresh strawberries. Grab some and make this yummy jam to go on your toast at breakfast!
Source: Taste Better from Scratch
Raspberry Freezer Jam Recipe
Do you like the tartness of raspberries? If so, you'll love this easy freezer jam. I love how easy it is to make this easy recipe! Serve this on your waffle or pancake for a different spin on a classic meal.
Source: Cooking Classy
Home Canned Chicken
Did you know you can your own chicken at home? Check out this yummy and super easy recipe to make canned chicken for your prepping supplies.
Source: The Prairie Homestead
How to Can Chicken Stock
Homemade chicken broth is so much better than the cartons in stores. This recipe is so delicious and easy to prepare. Save extra for later by canning your broth!
Source: Grow a Good Life
Carrots are a favorite vegetable in our house. This makes keeping them on hand year-round easier than ever. Follow this simple home-canned tutorial to make your own delicious carrots to serve with your next pot roast.
Source: Practical Self-Reliance
How to Can Garlic and Herb Potatoes
These canned potatoes are absolutely delicious! You've never had such flavorful potatoes, and this way you can make a huge batch then save extras for months down the road!
Source: Rurally Prepping
How to Can Green Beans
Nothing is more classic than a can of green beans. These are so easy to make and always turn out tender and delicious when opened. Add a bit of bacon and seasoning to them when you open them for even better flavor.
Source: Num's the Word
Homemade Applesauce for Canning
Our house goes through tons of applesauce. Making it homemade in the fall when apple season is happening is my favorite way to serve it to my kids. This recipe is a delicious choice that is safe to keep for the long term.
Source: Grow a Good Life
How to Preserve Garlic
Did you grow a lot of garlic this year? Instead of drying it, why not can it for your future sauces, chili, soups, and more! This makes it easy to have garlic on hand at all times.
Source: Barefeet in the Kitchen
Homemade Tomato Sauce
This homemade tomato sauce recipe is absolutely delicious. Packed with flavor, easy to prepare, and simple to preserve, it's a family favorite.
Source: Fresh Preserving
3 Ways to Freeze Corn
I will never forget the days of husking and cleaning corn in my parent's front yard. Freezing corn is so much easier than canning and works perfectly! This shares three unique ways to freeze corn for amazing results.
Source: A Oregon Cottage
Freezing Tomatoes the Simple Way
Do you want to simply freeze a few tomatoes for later meals and sauces? This makes it easy to manage and is ideal for large amounts when you don't have a lot of time to sterilize and prepare jars for canning.
Source: Homemade Food Junkie
How to Dehydrated Minced Onion
When we grow onions there is always a ton to preserve. Take the time to dehydrate them to use in recipes all year round!
Source: Back to Our Roots
How to Dehydrate Strawberries
Strawberries are my favorite fruit. Dehydrating them makes them so delicious and a great choice for adding to water, tea, or in recipes like muffins. We love doing this!
Source: Flour on My Face