Home Food Preservation Methods for Saving the Flavor of Summer

May contain affiliate links. Please see my privacy policy and affiliate disclosure.

When the garden is offering up a prolific harvest. When your CSA box is overflowing with abundance. And when the farmers market has your very favorite fruit or vegetable available in surplus. That’s when you need to know how to preserve the flavor of summer. Food preservation methods can vary depending upon what you wish to preserve; here’s what you need to know.

various produce in glass jars from above

1. Dehydration

Removing the moisture content from foods makes it shelf stable. This method works with herbs, fruits, vegetables, and meat. Those store-bought fruit rollups that are so popular in kids’ lunch boxes are dehydrated, as is your favorite beef jerky. Dehydration is one of the easiest methods of preserving foods. As long as you make sure that the foods are sufficiently dried, they will last in airtight containers indefinitely. Some (like dried fruit) makes great snacks as is, but dried foods can be rehydrated, too. Dried apple slices can be turned into apple pie and dried veggies can be added to homemade soup.

Special equipment: Dehydrator (You can also use a conventional oven set to a low temperature, but a dehydrator is likely to use less energy.)

Recipes to try: 

jar of onion jam with red twine bow

2. Water bath canning (my favorite food preservation method!)

Canning food in sealed jars makes them shelf stable, much like your favorite canned goods at the grocery store. There is an important food safety limitation with this method, though. It can only be used for high acid foods. This includes products pickled with vinegar, fruits, tomatoes, and jams and jellies.

Special equipment: Canner (a large pot with a rack), jar lifter, canning jars, lids, and rings [Read all about canning equipment here.]

Recipes to try:

dilly green beans in a glass jar

3. Pickling for food preservation

Pickled foods are those that are preserved in vinegar, such as dill pickles, sweet pickles, and pickled onions. Pickles can be preserved using the water bath canning method or they can be stored in the refrigerator (thus the term refrigerator pickles). Pickling is easy! Fill jars with vegetables and pour a brine over the top, then either process in the canner or pop them in the fridge.

Special equipment: None for refrigerator pickles

Recipes to try:

vegetables in canning jars from above

4. Pressure canning

Foods that cannot be preserved using the water bath method can be processed under pressure. This includes low acid foods like non-pickled vegetables, meat and fish, broth, and prepared soups. This method requires a special pressure canner (an electric pressure cooker is NOT a safe method for pressure canning). Jars must be processed at pressure for very specific amounts of time to prevent bacterial growth inside the jars. This isn’t a difficult process, but you do need to be sure to follow certain safety guidelines when pressure canning.

Special equipment: Pressure canner, jar lifter, canning jars, lids, and rings

Recipes to try:

fermented snap peas in a wooden dish

5. Fermentation

Probably one of the oldest methods of food preservation, fermentation produces an acid that preserves food. One common method of fermenting vegetables is using a salt brine or simply massaging vegetables with salt. This is how sauerkraut is made. Once prepared, it’s essential that the food is not exposed to oxygen. This is done by keeping fresh produce submerged under liquid to prevent food spoilage. There are a number of different fermenting systems available, but if you don’t want to invest in those, you can get by without them.

Special equipment: Weights (you can buy glass weights or just use clean, smooth stones)

Recipes to try:

hand lifting frozen avocados on a silpat

6. Freezing foods

One of the easiest preservation techniques, and if you’ve got a freezer, you’re likely using this method already, even if just to preserve some dinner leftovers. It’s an easy method for preserving excess fruits and vegetables from the garden, too. Freeze chunks of fresh peaches and nectarines for your breakfast smoothies or fill freezer-safe containers with blanched green beans, corn, or fresh spinach.

Special equipment: Freezer containers [go here for a list of freezer safe options that are not plastic]

Methods to try:

pink sweet potatoes in a basket

7. Root cellaring

Before refrigeration, the root cellar was a critical part of food storage for people. The cool, dark space under a home or built into the side of a hill was perfect for storing crops like pumpkins, potatoes, apples, and carrots. These “storage vegetables” will keep for months after harvest when stored right. A root cellar is also an excellent place to hang smoked sausage and other charcuterie and to store your home canned goods. It can be kind of a perfect storm of storage for the various food preservation methods you use!

Special equipment: None

Methods to try:

 

preserved lemons in glass jar

8. Salting for food preservation

Salt acts as a preservative. Early sailors and pioneers preserved meat with salt, burying pieces of meat in barrels of salt. While I haven’t gone so far as to salt meat, this method works well to preserve citrus, too. Salted citrus can last for years and can be used to flavor dishes as you cook. (You wouldn’t want to eat a whole salted orange, though!)

Special equipment: None

Recipes to try:

canning jar with berries and herbs behind a jar with infused vinegar

9. Infused vinegar

Infusing vinegar with the flavor of fruits and herbs is a way to save some of your favorite flavors to savor later. Use infused vinegar in marinades or to make salad dressing. Infused vinegar will last indefinitely on a pantry shelf.

Special equipment: None

Recipes to try:

Easy Canning Recipes for the Novice Home Canner

10. Herbed salts and sugars

Another way to preserve the flavor of herbs, herbed salts and sugars are not going to sustain you in a crisis, but they do allow you to enjoy some of your favorite flavors beyond their seasonality. Combining chopped herbs with salt dries out the herbs. Use herbed salt to season meats or stir into soups and casseroles. Herbed sugars (think: mint) are perfect for sprinkling on desserts or stirring into tea.

Special equipment: None

Recipes to try:

11. Freeze drying at home

Freeze drying is for hard-core food preservers. While you can freeze dry food right in the freezer, it takes weeks and a lot of freezer space. Using dry ice is another method; it’s faster, but requires access to dry ice. Both of these methods are inconvenient at best. New technology has recently been made available to consumers in the form of a freeze dryer machine, much like a small refrigerator. I’m told they work well, but they’re not cheap. It could be a great investment for a food co-op or collective, but it’s probably out of the price range of most DIYers.

Special equipment: Freeze dryer

Methods to try:

food preserved in glass jars from above

12. Vacuum sealing

By removing all of the oxygen from a container, we can extend the shelf life of various types of food. I debated adding vacuum sealing to this list of food preservation methods, as it’s not really a stand-alone method of preserving foods. Vacuum sealing must be used in conjunction with other food preservation methods. Vacuum sealing meat will allow you to keep it longer in the freezer. Vacuum sealing food that’s been freeze dried will help retain the crispness of those foods. And bulk dry foods like rice and oats will last much longer when they’ve been vacuum sealed.

This method has the drawback of requiring plastic or Mylar bags. While I like the concept of vacuum sealing, the need for these plastic bags has put me off so far. Additionally, there’s a special vacuum sealing machine that heat-seals these bags. (It is possible, though, to vacuum seal without a machine.) There’s also a special attachment that allows you to vacuum seal dry foods in jars. This could be useful for extending the life of nuts and dried fruits, especially here in my humid climate.

Special equipment: Vacuum sealing system

Methods to try:

Click to save or share!

Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment