Food Preservation

(As featured in The Telegram on Monday, August 1st 2011)

This time of year, it's relatively easy to get reasonably priced fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods. The reality of living on an island however is that unfortunately year round these foods aren't always available for the desired price or quality throughout the year. Luckily, many summer season foods can easily be preserved, making for quick, and nutritious meals throughout long fall and winter months. For those looking to have healthful access to favorite foods year round below are do-it-yourself tips.

Freezing is a relatively easy way to store food. This can really keep anything from fruits, berries and vegetables to homemade breads, fish and meats. Freezing helps to retain many nutrients in food as well. Most people can freeze berries easily enough, but when it comes to many vegetables in order to help them retain their color, texture and structure you may want to consider blanching them. Blanching is basically putting food into boiling hot water just enough so it's color brightens and then removing it and placing into cold water to stop the cooking process. It's important to let the food cool a little before freezing. This process is especially good for items like corn, green beans, peas, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower. Some suggestions and tips for success would be to freeze quickly in smaller quantities, try and keep air out (both will help to prevent freezer burn) and be sure to date and label everything to keep things organized and be food safe. Vegetables with a high water content, like tomatoes, greens, or cucumbers will not blanch well. If you wanted to preserve items like these it might be best to prepare in a sauce, soup or stew and then freeze.

Canning is another method which works well for jams, jellies, and many vegetables and fruits. Be sure to be aware of safe canning procedures and use sterile equipment as bacteria can easily get into foods,grow and make you quite sick. If you are making jams this summer perhaps consider substituting small amounts of chia seeds or ground flax seeds in place of a little gelatin. These seeds will add that same jelly texture, but will also increase fiber, good fats and antioxidants. They may offset the flavor slightly, so just add a little. If you are interested in reducing the sugar try replacing some of this with honey. This too can change the flavor slightly so it may take some experimentation, however every 1/ 2 to 2/3 cup of honey can replace a cup of sugar. Cup for cup they provide the same amount of calories so it will still keep your jam sweet but just with less sugar overall.

Smoked foods like salmon, char, trout or other foods are another way to prepare and preserve foods. As delicious (and in their original state) nutritious as they might be, when smoked they are certainly something to be consumed in moderation. Believe it or not, smoked fish and meats are similar to processed meats (bologna, wieners, deli meats, etc) in which they can raise the risk of certain cancers when consumed in excess. Save something like this for a special occasion and be sure to pair it with some brightly colored fruits or veggies which are packed with antioxidants.

Other methods to save your summer foods could be drying, or even vacuum packaging. Whatever method you choose to preserve your food keep in mind that after about a week on our counter or in our fridge fresh food typically starts to loose it's goodness and nutrients. A good rule of thumb would be to keep no more than a week's worth of fresh on hand and try to preserve the rest.