By Lauren Lindstrom
Is today your fifth day in a row of eating cucumber-tomato salad? Are you adding minced jalapenos to your dinner, lunch, and now breakfast? Have you started snacking on summer squash like apples? You may be suffering from one of life’s greatest joys: a bountiful harvest from your backyard or community garden, CSA share, or the edibles growing on your windowsill. Learning a few food preservation techniques is a simple way to prolong the life of any fruit or vegetable in your home kitchen. If you have no garden of your own, check out what’s in season and then visit one of more than 140 farmers’ markets throughout the five boroughs or take a trip to one of the area’s pick-your-own farms to stock up on your favorite fruits and veggies before the frost. (Or plan ahead for next year: find a community garden near you using the NYC Parks GreenThumb’s garden finder tool.)
Food preservation lets you enjoy healthy summertime treats in the frozen-dirt days of January, prevents waste, provides creative ways to use up plant parts you may have otherwise composted or discarded, and can help lower food costs if you shop for in-season produce. Traditional preservation methods are varied: salting, smoking, dehydrating, freezing, burying, canning, pickling, and fermenting are just a few.
The New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College is highlighting ten standout websites that teach, entertain, and share recipes that focus on three of these techniques: water bath canning, pickling, and fermenting. Beginner preservationists will find instructional posts, videos, guides, and other resources on the sites, and are encouraged to first read the information provided about safe home preservation. This guide from the USDA is a good start for canners, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015.
How are foods preserved?
Most preservation methods work by inhibiting or slowing bacterial growth. Water bath canning does so through high temperatures by submerging jars of food in boiling water, producing shelf-stable products like jams, salsas, and pickles. Pickling soaks food in an edible solution, and when it’s an acidic one (e.g. vinegar) it inhibits microbes but often requires refrigeration to keep foods safe to eat, producing foods like cucumber — and many other types of — pickles. Canning your pickled foods further extends their life compared with pickling alone and allows you to store them in the pantry first rather than the fridge. Fermenting requires an anaerobic environment to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and not the harmful ones. Almost any fruit or vegetable can be pickled using fermentation by submerging it in brine and leaving it at room temperature until the flavor develops. Common fermented foods are wine, beer, bread, cheese, sauerkraut, and kimchi. (Read more about fermented foods from around the world in this Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] report.)
What will you need?
Pickling and fermenting require no special, pricey kitchenware, although products made specifically for these purposes are readily available if desired. For water bath canning at its most basic, you’ll need canning jars, sealing lids and rings, a large canning pot, and a pair of tongs (the specialty canning tongs are worth the few bucks) to grab the jars out of the boiling water; a canning rack that fits within the pot is helpful but a kitchen towel will do in a pinch. Again, many additional gadgets are on the market.
Have fun exploring the websites below. Home preservationists are an enthusiastic group. You may find your kitchen covered in Mason jars in no time, and you’ll thank yourself this winter as you enjoy the taste of a deep red tomato — the likes of which you won’t find in your market’s produce aisle.
A Gardener’s Table
Who’s Behind It: Linda Ziedrich is the author of The Joy of Pickling, The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, and Cold Soups.
About the Site: In Ziedrich’s words: “This blog is meant to cultivate an appreciation for fruits and vegetables as they come from the Earth — and for the land, breeding, and labor that make them good to eat — and to share advice from an old-fashioned cook and gardener about the best ways to use and preserve the produce of our gardens, fields, and orchards.” She discusses fermented foods, pickles, preserving science, sweet preserves, wild foods, and food history. The site does not have a recipe index but does have a search feature if there’s a particular food for which you’re seeking inspiration.
Preserve the Harvest: For the watermelon-lovers out there, here are two options for enjoying a taste of summer beyond the season’s end: Whole Pickled Watermelon (for 2- to 3-pound minis) or Gwen’s Watermelon Pickles.
Canning Across America
Who’s Behind It: A working group of volunteers: Kim O’Donnel, founder and author of Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations, and former Washington Post food blogger; Shannon Kelly, Marketing Tech Guru; Jeanne Sauvage, Editor and author of the blog, Art of Gluten-Free Baking; Rachel Thibodeaux, Photo Editor; and Brook Hurst Stephens, who ran the Learn to Preserve website.
About the Site: The site is a “nationwide, ad hoc collective of cooks, gardeners and food lovers committed to the revival of the lost art of ‘putting up’ food” whose motto is “Together, we can.” The blog is no longer updated but the information on canning is friendly, informative, and relevant, including links to articles, books, videos, FAQs, and even songs to “can to”; there’s plenty of advice for beginners. Recipes aren’t limited to canning but also include ferments.
Preserve the Harvest: Cabbage Kimchi is recipe that uses fermentation from Pat Tanumihardja’s The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens. Regular Ol’ Tomato Ketchup (But Better) is a canning recipe from Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.
Who’s Behind It: Kirsten and Christopher Shockey, who live on a 40-acre hillside homestead in southern Oregon and are co-authors of Fermented Vegetables
About the Site: The site is focused on fermentation with an engaging (but not searchable) blog you can browse for recipes — from fermented salsa to fermented dandelion buds), tips, troubleshooting flow charts, and book reviews. Their post Five Ways to Make Sure You Will Not Go Wrong Fermenting Your Vegetables offers good reminders for fermentation success.
Preserve the Harvest: Experiment with carrots in these simple recipes for Fermented Carrots, Three Ways, described in a blog post and also demonstrated in a short video. End of Garden Medley is a recipe for making fermented “pickle babies,” to use up vegetables that don’t make it to adult size before the season’s over.
Food in Jars
Who’s Behind It: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and author of Food in Jars, Preserving by the Pint, and Naturally Sweet Food in Jars.
About the Site: This is a long-running (since 2009) and oft-referenced blog among other preservationists. In it, McClellan shares an impressive number of canning recipes; among the categories are Jams, Marmalades, and Jellies; Fruit Butters, Sauces, Compotes, and Curds; Syrups, Shrubs, Vinegars, and Boozy Infusions; Pickles, Relishes, and Chutneys; Salsas, Pestos, Spreads, and Dips; and Soups and Pressure Canning. The site also features a Canning 101 section to help canning newbies get up to speed.
Preserve the Harvest: The name alone may make you want to try Pickled Fairy Tale Eggplant. Try the garbage disposal–esque (in the delicious sort of way) Salad Pickles (aka Waste Prevention Pickles) to use up vegetables scraps, including those thick stems you may not have eaten otherwise (bookmark this page for next spring’s asparagus crop!)
Who’s Behind It: Amanda Feifer O’Brien is a fermentation educator and the author of Ferment Your Vegetables.
About the Site: Dedicated to fermentation and an ideal site for the beginning fermenter, Phickle offers instructions, reassurance that whatever may be growing on top of your ferment is likely not a bad thing (or at least not a deal-breaker), and recipes suitable to one’s fermenting foray, in addition to recipes for people more comfortable with the fermentation process. O’Brien offers recipes for fermented foods and recipes that use those foods; she covers dairy ferments, pickles, kombucha, kvass, and many other fizzy probiotic drinks.
Preserve the Harvest: It’s hard to go wrong with Fermented Radishes, an easy recipe for beginners. Green Tomato Pickles will use up “the last of the season: herbs going to seed and tomatoes that will never ripen.”
Preserving Food at Home
Who’s Behind It: This blog is from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), which is hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia. NCHFP was established in 2000 with funding from the the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to address food safety concerns for people using home preservation techniques.
About the Site: The site is educational and safety focused. All canning recipes direct first-time canners to read Using Boiling Water Canners and the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning before getting started. The blog contains recipes, alphabetized by main ingredient, that follow research-based recommendations for food preservation. Recipes are typically larger batch (e.g., yielding 8 pint jars) and follow various types of preservation methods. Posts often links to the NCHFP website, which provides FAQs, tips, videos, slideshows, a “For Educators” section with links to useful resources, and an informative “How Do I” section on canning, freezing, drying, curing & smoking, fermenting, pickling, making jam & jelly, and storing.
Preserve the Harvest: Try the Fresh Dill Cucumber Relish if you’ve got a surplus of pickling cucumbers to can and you like your relish on the sweet side. Spiced Tomato Jam is a sweet, canned jam with an ultra-short 5-minute processing time (ie, the amount of time the jam jar is submerged in boiling water) for the sea level residents of New York City (processing time varies by altitude).
Who’s Behind It: The site was founded by Sean Timberlake, a professional writer.
About the Site: The site is a content aggregator and active blog for the “hardcore DIY food community” with a focus on food preservation. Member contributors share their recipes, techniques, tools, and experiences. Topics include: Canning, Cheesemaking, Condiments, Drying and Dehydrating, Foraging and Gleaning, Home Brewing, Infusions and Liqueurs, Jams, Jellies and Preserves, Microfarming, Pickling, Salumi and Charcuterie, and Wine Making. Founded in 2010, the site provides endless content, a monthly newsletter, and a daily email update.
Preserve the Harvest: Lose yourself in We Can Pickle That: Cucumbers from Punk’s pickling experts who offer tips like choosing the right cucumber, ensuring a crunchy pickle, and infusing flavor into your dills. You’ll find recipes for vinegar pickles, fermented pickles, and pickles from many grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ recipe boxes. In 12 Ways to Put Up Tomatoes, you’ll once again benefit from the collective wisdom of members, and may find you’ve just spent 2 hours clicking through the tomato rabbit hole without getting up from your seat.
Putting Up With Erin
Who’s Behind It: Erin Urquhart is a home canner and scientist studying “the ins and outs of harmful organisms, aquatic ecosystems, and public health.”
About the Site: The blog focuses on home canning, colloquially known as “putting up,” and shares simple recipes, personal stories, and advice about common canning mishaps. Her stated objective is to “help inspire people to stop buying common canned goods and start making them at home.” Her Recipe Library is vast: Pickles, Chutney-Relish-Slaws, Jam-Jelly-Syrups, Ferments, Mustards, Slow Cooker, Pressure Canned, Deployed Goods, and Miscellaneous.
Preserve the Harvest: Try the canning recipes for Tarragon & Dill Okra Pickles for a twist on the traditional dill cucumber pickle and Cilantro Pickled Beets, which calls for roasting beets before processing to produce what sounds like a delicious taco topper.
The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking
Who’s Behind It: Kate Payne is the author of The Hip Girl’s Guide to the Kitchen and The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, a freelance writer (formerly for Edible Austin), and teacher of green cleaning and home food preservation classes.
About the Site: Payne’s blog includes a wide selection of recipes both for preserving food — sweet jams, jellies, and marmalades and savory pickles, relishes, and other condiments — and for other goodies: beverages & cocktails, appetizers and snacks, and gluten-free breads, muffins, and desserts. The Hip Girl also offers Hip tricks (like ginger peeling made easy) and Videos (from ‘How to fold a fitted sheet’ to ‘Meyer lemon marmalade and the basics of waterbath canning’).
Preserve the Harvest: If you have only a few tomatoes on hand, Small Batch Stewed Tomatoes is the recipe for you. Give your Brussels some kick with White Wine Pickled Brussels Sprouts. Both recipes call for water bath canning.
Who’s Behind It: Sandor Katz, also known as Sandorkraut, is a “fermentation revivalist,” the author of Wild Fermentation (the 2nd edition just hit the shelves), The Art of Fermentation, and The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved, teacher of fermentation workshops across the country and the world, and much-adored among fermenters everywhere (see why in this 12-minute documentary featured on The New York Times website).
About the Site: Although the blog hasn’t been updated since December 2015, the archives date back to 2012 and provide a written and photographic journey through fun, creative, fermented recipes, from miso to kombucha to adzuki bean spritzer. Recipes originate from Katz and from other knowledgeable contributors who share their experiences and experiments with exuberance. The website itself is actively updated, offering a Fermentation Support Forum, links to resources, and an events calendar (including “Let’s Talk About Pickles” this October in New York City). You can also catch Katz in October at Wild Fermentation – An Evening with Sandor Katz & Just Food, presented by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy.
Preserve the Harvest: Learn the basics of fermenting from Sandorkraut in his Basic Sauerkraut. Use up any desired combination of hot peppers to create Fermented Hot Sauce (this recipe is more process-oriented and less specific on weights and measures, so may be less appropriate for beginners).