Among the deluge of catalogs that one outdoor outfitter sends our way is one I can't resist poring over, titled “Garden Harvest.” If you want a camo-print vacuum sealer for freezing your excess garden produce or a dehydrator with 56 square feet of drying space, or a $600 digital smoker for your pork or game, not to mention such niceties as sausage stuffers, commercial-grade grinders or stainless-steel meat saws and slicing tables, this is the catalog for you. There’s so much equipment and so many gadgets (does anyone actually need a jalapeño-popper stuffer? A water-activated freezer-tape dispenser?) that the whole idea of storing and preserving your own food seems monumentally complicated.

Cut to this past weekend during which, between the main dinner course and dessert, my son-in-law casually tossed together a crock of sauerkraut, using only a mandolin to shred the cabbage, a big bowl in which to moosh together pickling salt and cabbage with his (very clean) hands, and a stoneware fermentation crock, which has a stone weight to press the kraut below the level of the brine and an airtight lid. In a couple of weeks, after skimming and draining the shredded cabbage a few times, they will have delicious kraut from local cabbage that can be stored in large canning jars in the refrigerator or processed in the canning kettle for pantry shelf storage. My point is that food can be preserved in a variety of ways, ranging from simple to complex, depending on whether it’s deer meat, pork, fish, or garden fruits and vegetables you want to save and how much you want to spend: freezing, dehydrating, canning, smoking, salting, fermenting, cold storage, root cellaring, jamming and pickling are among the options available.

The early pioneers in this country were skilled food preservers, and today, in areas with large Amish or Mennonite populations, these preservation skills still flourish. But families who just want to know that their food is grown locally without harmful pesticides are relearning these methods and adapting them to their own needs. For many, freezing is the most convenient means of food storage.

Freezing can be very simple: most berries, for example, can be simply spread on a cookie sheet, frozen, then poured into plastic freezer containers or sealable freezer bags. (A word about using plastic bags: pack your berries or kale or pesto in quart bags, lay them flat, then slip several inside a labelled gallon bag. This effectively double-bags them and means less frost and problems with garlic odor tainting the whole freezer. Most produce requires blanching (heating vegetables in boiling water or with steam, then submerging them in ice water for cooling) before it’s frozen, to help preserve color and nutrients. A general rule is that when produce color intensifies, it is ready to be removed from the boiling water or steam.

If you have a lot of produce or meat to freeze, a vacuum sealer is a wise investment. The automatic pump pulls air from the top of the bag as it seals and the contents rarely suffer freezer burn, retaining their flavor and nutrients over a longer period.

Drying food is an inexpensive way to make snacks for camping or hiking trips and to prepare foods that will require very little shelf space. One of the oldest food preservation techniques, dehydration can be done with electric or solar-powered food dehydrators, ovens and even. in hotter climes than ours, by laying food out to dry under the sun. Stone fruits such as peaches and plums, as well as berries, apples, tomatoes, shell beans and herbs are good candidates for dehydration, while hunters can make their own jerky and sausages and moms their own fruit leather or roll-ups with less sugar, for a healthier snack. You can dry food in a regular oven, but, unlike dehydrators, home ovens do not have a built-in fan for air movement, so it takes two to three times longer to dry most foods.



Up until the advent of cheap and plentiful electricity, with which to operate freezers and refrigerators, canning was the most popular method of food preservation. Canning requires sterilization of the food and containers, which are usually glass jars (e.g., Mason jars) and two-piece lids designed to completely seal the jars with a vacuum inside, which prevents the entry of harmful microorganisms. Canning sterilized foods in a ten- minute boiling water bath in sterilized jars is adequate for high-acid foods such as fruits, tomatoes and foods pickled in vinegar. Nonacid foods such as meat, fish, fowl and vegetables require the higher temperatures obtainable only in a pressure canner. Instructions for home canning come with your canning equipment, the purchase of which is a one-time investment, and jars and rings can be used indefinitely as well, unless you give away your handiwork as gifts; only the lids need to be replaced with each season's use.

Most pickled foods and jams and jellies are also canned for safety's sake. Making batches of cucumber or corn relish when the garden is flooded with these vegetables is a steamy job right now, but will taste mighty good on a hot dog or burger come winter.

One thing we’ve been canning lately is pickled beets. Two nice thing about beets: they keep well in the refrigerator so they can be pickled at your convenience, and their maroon liquid makes gorgeous pickled eggs.

P E N N S Y L V A N I A   D U T C H   P I C K L E D   B E E T S   A N D   E G G S

6 medium beets
2 medium sweet onions, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
14 tsp. whole cloves
3 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled (duck eggs are spectacular for this recipe)
Trim all but two inches off beet stalks. Wash beets, then put into a medium pot, cover with water, and boil until soft, 45 to 60 minutes. Drain, then pull off stalks and slip off skins, using a paper towel. Slice beets, and put into a large glass jar if you're going to use them immediately for pickled beet eggs. Add onions, peppercorns and cloves. Bring cider vinegar, 3 cups water, and sugar to a boil in a small pot, then pour over beets in jar. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate, covered, until chilled. These beets can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month. Add eggs to jar at least four hours and up to five days before serving. The liquid can be reused to pickle eggs a couple of times before tossing it out.

If you want to pickle and can your beets, pack them in clean, hot jars after slicing, placing some onions, peppercorns and cloves in each. Add pickling liquid to cover and process according to canning instructions.