Tomatoes are coming along slowly. Even some of the cool season crops, like broccoli, have been delayed. But get ready, because even after the second coolest July on record, gardens will produce, and something has to be done with all the bounty.
There are many methods of preserving food, and some older methods are enjoying a resurgence. This may be the year to experiment with preserving the fresh flavors of summer from your garden or the local farmer's market.
Canning is the method that most likely comes to mind when thinking of ways to cope with the bounty of tomatoes or beans from the garden. Canning is a safe method of preserving food, and canned food is easy to store.
Sally Eucker of Hartford preserves most of her garden produce with a pressure canner.
"I already have 100 quarts of green beans under my belt this summer," Eucker said.
There are two safe ways of processing food, the boiling water bath method and the pressure canner method. The boiling water bath method is safe for tomatoes, fruits, jams, jellies and pickles; pressure canning is the only safe method of preserving vegetables.
The Ohio State University Extension is offering two canning and freezing workshops:
10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday
Horace Mann Elementary School
818 Austin Ave., Warren
10 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 21
Liberty Public Library
124 East St., Liberty
Both workshops are free of charge, but pre-registration is required. Call the OSU extension office at 330-638-6783.
A new publication titled the ''USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning'' is available for purchase through The Ohio State University Extension office. It describes basic canning ingredients, procedures and how to use them to achieve safe, high-quality canned products. The cost of the publication is $10 if you pick it up at the office or $15 if you would like it mailed to you. The Trumbull County office is located at 520 W. Main St. Suite 1, Cortland 44410.
Call 330-638-6783 for more information, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ohio State University Extension has recently updated its food preservation fact sheets that are available to download at ohioline.osu.edu (click on "Food", then "Food Preservation").
Topics offered include canning and freezing basics; specific guidelines on canning or freezing vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry and game; canning tomatoes, tomato products and salsa; and making homemade jams, jellies and pie fillings.
A water bath canner is a large cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid and a rack that keeps jars from touching each other; the rack allows the boiling water to flow around the jars for a more even processing of the contents and keeps jars from bumping each other and cracking or breaking. A pressure canner is a specially made heavy pot with a lid that can be closed steam-tight. The lid is fitted with a vent, a dial or weighted pressure gauge and a safety fuse.
Eucker says she uses a pressure canner because she feels secure her food will keep. Remember that low acid foods, such as green beans, salsas, and corn must be heated to a temperature of 240 degrees in order to kill the spores of Clostridium botulinum that grow in the absence of air and produce deadly toxins that cause botulism.
A new publication titled ''The USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning'' is currently available for purchase from The Ohio State University extension office. Marisa Warrix, family and consumer sciences educator at the Extension, recommends everyone investigate these most current recommendations for home food preservation.
"Throw away the directions that came with your grandmother's canner," said Warrix. "This publication updates the length of time and pressure under which food should be processed. It also instructs people how to preserve the things most of us like to eat now, like salsas, relishes and chutneys."
Freezing food may sound simpler - if space is available - and works well for many fruits and vegetables. Freezing is not usually as economical as canning, but it preserves more nutrients in the food if done properly.
Natural enzymes in foods cause changes in flavor and texture. Freezing slows this but doesn't stop it, so vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. This is accomplished by immersing the food in boiling water for a specified time, then rapidly cooling it to stop the cooking process. The vegetables can be packed in containers for freezing or placed in a single layer on a tray and frozen until nearly solid then transferred to a freezer bag and stacked in the freezer.
Freezing berries is a great way to preserve them for use in pies or muffins. Blueberries, blackberries and rhubarb are great for recalling the bright fresh flavors of summer when frozen for use in sauces and desserts when winter comes.
"Picking berries and making freezer jam can be a fun activity to do with kids," Warrix said. "It's easy and you end up with something they like to eat."
Pickling preserves food in an acid solution, usually vinegar. Antimicrobial herbs, such as garlic, mustard, cinnamon, or cloves, are often added. While we mostly think of cucumbers as the vegetable to pickle, carrots, beets, giardiniera (a mixture of cauliflower, carrots and onions) and even watermelon rinds are commonly pickled in our area.
Fermenting food is gaining (or re-gaining) popularity. When you ferment a food, you encourage growth of "good" microorganisms in it, while preventing growth of spoilage-causing microorganisms. Many of your favorite foods and drinks are probably fermented: bread, wine, beer and cider, sauerkraut, vinegar and yogurt.
Dehydrating food is the oldest method of preserving food. While drying can't replace canning and freezing because these methods do a better job of retaining the taste and appearance of fresh food, it's a good way to make snacks and add variety to meals.
"I use a food dehydrator for my herbs," Eucker said. "I used to do tomatoes, but my dehydrator isn't fan-driven, so they got moldy." Fruit leathers, apple slices, and even lean meats, such as venison, are good choices for drying.
Whatever the method or combination of methods used to preserve the bounty of the season, resources are available to help you learn or update your skills. "We emphasize the art, science and safety of preserving food," said Warrix.
"It's satisfying to grow your own produce and put it up so you can enjoy it later in the year," Eucker said. "I've been canning for over 20 years and can't imagine not doing it."