Preserving "Must Haves"
Food preservation and canning is a big part of our late summer and fall activities as a family. We love it! That said, the most frustrating part of food preservation is getting everything set up and ready to go only to realize you are missing a vital item or ingredient. I can’t tell you how many times we have been ready to start canning only to stop what we are doing and run to the store for a single item.
To make sure our kitchen is always “preservation ready,” we keep these key ingredients and items on hand in large quantities:
Vinegar (White or Apple Cider Vinegar)
Vinegar is used to preserve salsa, tomatoes, relish, and pickling of any type. It’s not uncommon for our family to go through 2-3 litres in a preservation season. Vinegar is inexpensive and easy to store, which makes having 4-5 jugs on hand an easy pantry item. You can use regular white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Of course, it would be amazing to ferment your own homemade apple cider vinegar, but it’s not safe for canning practices. You must ensure that your vinegar contains at least 5% acetic acid for canning low acid vegetables like cucumbers or beets, and this acidity level cannot be achieved when making homemade bottles of vinegar. Why is this important? The 5% acidity prevents botulism spores from developing and creating toxins. So check your vinegar labels on your next shopping trip.
Lemon juice is similar to vinegar for preservation purposes but is used more in preserving jams, jellies, and fruits like peaches or pears. A lemon juice wash prior to canning prevents fruit from turning brown while cutting and preparing. You can also add it to your jars before canning. Always follow approved recipes and exact instructions for safe practices. When added to jams and jellies, the acidity in the lemon juice helps the natural fruit pectin’s ability to gel. Lemon juice is also a key preserver for dehydrated foods. We like to keep a good amount of lemon juice in the pantry as well as a spray bottle full in the fridge to spray down apples or pears on dehydration racks before setting them in the dehydrator. Again, this helps to prevent the fruit from browning during the dehydration process.
If you are looking for a shelf-stable product, citric acid is your friend. Citric acid is a natural acid that is found in fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, limes, lemons, peaches, and plums to name a few. If kept dry and stored in an airtight container, it will last for many years. You can use citric acid much the same as you would lemon juice or in some cases vinegar to preserve colour and prevent oxidization in foods. For best practices, follow up to date canning books that have been recommended by the National Centre for Home Food Preservation. Other ways to use citric acid are in preparing meat jerky, sausage, rinsing sprouts before sprouting to prevent bacterial growth, use in homemade facial creams, and more.
The use of sugar in food preservation is a necessity for long-term food storage. Organic cane sugar is a great option, as it is a healthier sugar and can be purchased in bulk quantities. The use of sugar can be controlled by using more or less sugar in recipes and there are many low-sugar options available. Some recipes call for the substitution of honey for sugar however we find sugar more cost-effective and easier to store in large quantities. If stored properly it can be stored for many years.
Boxes of pectin are also inexpensive and keep for a very long time! If you aren’t big into the jams and jellies, you will not need to worry so much about this item. But if jams or jellies (Mmmm, red pepper jelly) are your forte, make sure you have backup pectin in stock! If you are health conscious, you can purchase Pomona’s Universal Pectin which is made from 100% pure citrus pectin and is extracted from the dried peel of lemon, lime, and orange. It’s kosher certified, vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free, and is a sugar-free alternative. When preserving jams and jellies with low sugar, we make batches in smaller jars. We find that once opened, low-sugar preserves tend to mold more quickly, so smaller jars are best. Pectin can be somewhat of a seasonal item, so we usually purchase 20 or so boxes every year.
Canning season can be quite overwhelming and sometimes we will freeze a bunch of fruit that we were not able to get around to processing in the summer. Canning a few jars of jam from frozen fruit can make for a great winter evening activity and having pectin already on hand has its obvious benefits!
Sea salt and pickling salt are both used in large quantities when preserving food. Because salt is a highly used spice in the kitchen it can run out fast. Keeping a large store of salt on hand specifically for food preservation will assure you always have enough when you begin the canning process. Salt can be used in regular canning practices, fermentation, salt curing meat, dry salting vegetables, and more. If kept in a dry location with consistent temperatures, it will store for many years.
Jars and Lids
It seems we never have adequate jars and lids on hand. Every year we buy a few more cases of jars – you can never have enough! When you can 20 jars of salsa every year, but only use 15 of them over the course of the year, you will find your stock of empty jars running low all the time. The standard metal lids that you purchase in a hardware store are one-time use, so having a very healthy stockpile of lids is a preservation must! A much better option is to stock up on reusable lids: Tattler Lids come in both regular and wide mouth sizes. Reusable lids can be a lifesaver, assuring you always have a healthy stock on hand.
Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers
Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are best stored in Mylar Bags with Oxygen Absorbers. We recommend that you invest in a Mylar Bag Sealer to properly seal your bags. You can also store dehydrated food in airtight containers, such as mason jars however, this method will still require an oxygen absorber placed in the mason jar to keep moisture out. Check out our blogs: Oxygen Absorbers as well as Food Storage Container Types for more in-depth information on food storage. We recommend that you always have more than you need on hand to make sure you don’t run out when needing to store away 30lbs of dehydrated apples!
Preserving food is a sustainable way to assure you have food to last you through several seasons. Having a well-stocked pantry with all of the necessary supplies stored in large quantities can make the task of preserving much more achievable. The process of canning relish, salsa, fruits, or dehydrating and freeze-drying will be much more enjoyable, and we find – extremely satisfying!
May God bless you and your families,