3 Best Food Preservation Methods, What To Can, Freeze or, Dehydrate

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When it is the height of the garden season and you are up to your eyeballs in garden produce it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with all of it.

You don’t want it to go to waste but you can’t eat it all as fast as it is growing, so what do you do? You have to look at the different methods of preservation and find the best way FOR YOU to store all of the extra food.

food preservation methods intro image

In this blog post, I am going to cover the common food preservation methods and the things you need to consider before jumping right in.

Start By Figuring Out What Your Options Are

When it comes to preserving fresh foods, you have a few options. Food preservation techniques are freezing, dehydrating, or canning it. What preservation method you choose will depend on a few different things. You need to consider the type of food you are going to store, the space you have, and what you plan to use the food for later which I will cover in a second.

Green beans for example freeze and can well, but don’t particularly lend themselves to dehydrating.

Bananas on the other freeze (FYI they do tend to turn a little brown in the freezer but if you are going to use them in baked goods it won’t matter) and dehydrate well, but you don’t really can them.

Apples dehydrate well, but have to be processed into apple sauce or pie filling before you can or freeze them.

Fresh fruit and berries are delicious frozen, dehydrated, or turned into jam and frozen.

Spend a little time doing your research if you’re not familiar with the preservation methods that lend themselves to a particular fruit or vegetable that you have and need to store for later.

dehydrated food

How Will You Use It Later

Once you know what you can do with a particular food, think about how you like to use it later. If you love to add dried fruits to your oatmeal or granola in the morning, it makes sense to dehydrate those berries.

If you prefer them in smoothies, freeze them instead.

The same goes for any other vegetable. If you love pickled cauliflower as a quick veggie side or on a sandwich, it makes sense to pickle and can this yummy vegetable.

If you prefer it steamed or use it to make soup or mock mashed potatoes, freezing it makes more sense. See where I am going with this? 

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How Much Space Do You Have

This is a BIG ONE for me. We really don’t have the space for canned food so we have to freeze or dehydrate most of our extra produce.

Each of these preservation methods has different requirements. The first place you’ll likely run out of room is the freezer.

If you think this may become an issue, keep that in mind as you try to decide if you should freezer or dehydrate or can something. For example if you have a bumper green bean crop, and find it quickest and easiest to freeze them, you may want to consider canning a batch or two at the top of harvest time to make sure you have room left in the freezer for some other things. If you don’t plan ahead, you may end up with a freezer full of green beans and no room for anything else. 

PRO TIP: After something is frozen its not one and done. You can thaw something out and can it later when the garden season slows down. It may cause a change in the texture of the produce a bit but if you are really swamped its a good option.

With canning your main restriction will be the amount of jars you have and the space to store those jars. Thankfully canning jars are fairly inexpensive and you can add a pack each year as needed.

You also need a cool, dark place to store the finished jars full of canned goods. When you run out of room in the pantry, get creative.

If you have a basement, you should have plenty of extra room. If you don’t consider storing the jars in a closet, or even under the bed. While those may not be ideal locations, they greatly expand the amount of room you have to store canning jars.

If you need shelves make SURE you do not skimp on this. Jars full of food get HEAVY plastic shelves just can not handle that weight. Make sure to get sturdy meddle shelving units or build them out of 2x4s and a strong shelf. You never want to hear a big crash with breaking glass and have your entire shelf of food wasted.

canning jars in a water bath canner

How To Get Started Freezing Your Food As A Food Preservation Method

Freezing is one of the easiest and most convenient methods of food preservation, and it’s an excellent way to store vegetables, fruits, and even meat produced from your homestead. 

Benefits of Freezing Food Produced from Your Homestead

Freezing food is an excellent way to preserve its flavor, nutrients, and texture. When you freeze food, you stop the growth of bacteria and the growth of microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Freezing also slows down enzyme activity, which can cause fruits and vegetables to ripen and spoil.

How to Freeze Food Produced from Your Homestead

Before you start freezing food, it’s essential to prep it well. Here are some tips for preparing food for freezing:

  1. Wash the produce thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.
  2. Cut the produce into small pieces to make it easier to freeze and use later.
  3. Blanch vegetables by boiling them briefly and then cooling them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching helps to preserve the color, texture, and flavor of the vegetables.
  4. Pack the food into freezer-safe containers or bags. Be sure to label them with the date and contents.
  5. Freeze the food as soon as possible to maintain its quality. Don’t overpack the freezer, as this can cause the food to freeze unevenly and lead to freezer burn.
  6. Thaw the food in the refrigerator or microwave when you’re ready to use it.
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If you want a simple step-by-step guide this ebook helped me know which garden products froze the best and gave me the best tips for storing my extra garden produce.

Some Foods that Freeze Well

Not all foods freeze well, but many fruits, vegetables, and meats produced from your homestead are excellent candidates for freezing. Here are some examples:

  1. Berries: Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries freeze well and can be used in smoothies, baked goods, and sauces.
  2. Vegetables: Peppers, corn, green beans, and peas freeze well and are great for soups, stews, and casseroles.
  3. Meat: Chicken, beef, and pork can be frozen and used in a variety of dishes.
  4. Herbs: Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays with a little water or olive oil.

Freezing food produced from your homestead is an easy and effective way to preserve its flavor, nutrients, and texture. With a little preparation, you can enjoy your homegrown produce all year round with frozen foods.

How To Get Started Dehydrating Food

One of the best ways to preserve your home-grown produce is by dehydrating it. While it doesn’t take nearly as much prep work as canning it does take 12-24 hours for some foods to be fully dehydrated. You have to plan well and monitor the progress of the food. 

Dehydrating food was done in ancient times and has been used for centuries to preserve food for future use. Dehydrating involves removing water from the food, which prevents bacterial growth and spoilage and I would argue one of the longer-lasting food preservation methods.

This simple method is one of the most effective ways to store your harvest for long periods, making it a great option for homesteaders.

dehydrated food

Here are some reasons why dehydrating food is a great preservation method for homesteaders:

  1. It’s easy to do: Dehydrating food is a simple process that doesn’t require any special equipment or skills. All you need is a dehydrator or an oven, some fresh produce, and a little bit of time. Dehydrating food is a great way to use up excess produce that you can’t eat or sell, and it doesn’t require any fancy techniques or ingredients.
  2. It’s cost-effective: Dehydrating food is a cost-effective way to preserve your harvest. Unlike canning or freezing, dehydrating doesn’t require any special equipment or materials. Once you have a dehydrator or oven, you can dehydrate as much food as you want without any additional costs. 
  3. It’s healthy: Dehydrating food is a healthy way to preserve your harvest. Unlike canning or freezing, dehydrating doesn’t require any added preservatives or sugar. Dehydrated food retains most of its nutritional value, making it a great option for people who want to eat healthy and avoid processed foods.
  4. It’s versatile: Dehydrated food can be used in a variety of ways. You can eat it as a snack, add it to soups and stews, or rehydrate it to use in recipes. Dehydrated food is lightweight and easy to transport, making it a great option for camping trips or long hikes.
  5. It’s long-lasting: Dehydrated food can last for months or even years if stored properly. Once the water is removed from the food, bacterial growth and spoilage are prevented, making it a great option for long-term storage. 
  6. Space saving: Most foods lose over half of their size due to water being part of the makeup of pretty much everything in life. 

Here are some tips for dehydrating food:

  1. Choose the right produce: Not all produce is suitable for dehydrating. Fruits and vegetables with high water content, like tomatoes and cucumbers, don’t dehydrate well. Stick to produce with low water content, like apples, pears, and sweet potatoes.
  2. Prepare the produce: Wash and slice the produce into uniform pieces. The thinner the slices, the faster they will dehydrate and you have less risk of the food not being fully dehydrated in the middle. You can use a mandolin or a sharp knife to slice the produce.
  3. Dehydrate the food: Follow the instructions for your dehydrator or oven. Most dehydrators have a temperature control and a timer. Set the temperature to between 125°F and 145°F and the timer for the recommended time. Check the food periodically to make sure it’s drying evenly.
  4. Store the food: Once the food is dehydrated, let it cool completely before storing it in an airtight container. Label the container with the name of the food and the date it was dehydrated. Store the container in a cool, dark place.
dehydrated food in a dehydrator

Dehydrating food is a simple, cost-effective, space-saving, and healthy way to preserve your harvest. It’s versatile and long-lasting, making it a great option for homesteaders who want to store their food for future use. On top of dried or dehydrated food taking up the least amount of room, it’s also by far the lightest.

This makes it a great option when you’re starting to run out of room. Just remember that you need a plan for consuming all this dehydrated food down the road. You can store the dry food in airtight bags, plastic containers, or glass jars.

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How To Get Started Canning Food

Canning food produced on your homestead is one of the best ways to preserve your harvest and ensure a steady supply of food all year round. Not only does canning allow you to store fruits and vegetables for extended periods, but it also helps retain their nutritional value and flavor.

What Is Canning?

Canning is a food preservation method that involves placing food in jars or cans and then heating them to a high temperature to kill bacteria and other microbial growth. Once the jars are sealed, they create a vacuum that prevents any new bacteria from entering and spoiling the food.

Why Canning Is A Great Option For Homesteaders?

As a homesteader, you have the unique advantage of growing your own fruits and vegetables. Canning is an excellent way to take advantage of the abundance of fresh produce during the growing season and to store it for use in the off-season.

Canning also allows you to control the quality of the food you consume. You can choose to can organic produce or fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Additionally, you can avoid consuming chemical preservatives, additives, and other chemicals that are often found in store-bought canned foods.

Steps To Canning Your Homestead Produce

The process of canning involves several steps. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you can your homestead produce:

Step 1: Gather the necessary equipment

To get started with canning, you will need the following equipment:

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Step 2: Choose the right produce

The first step in canning is to choose the right produce. You should pick fruits and vegetables that are ripe and in good condition. Avoid using produce that is overripe or damaged as they may contain harmful bacteria that can cause spoilage.

Step 3: Prepare the jars

Before you start filling the jars with produce, you need to practice good food safety and prepare them by washing and sterilizing them. This can be done by boiling the jars and lids in water for at least 10 minutes.

Step 4: Fill the jars

Once the jars are ready, you can start filling them with the produce. Make sure to leave enough headspace at the top of the jar to allow for expansion during the canning process.

Step 5: Seal the jars

After filling the jars with produce, you can place the lids and rings on top and tighten them. If using a pressure cooker, follow the instructions for pressure canning. Otherwise, place the jars in a boiling water bath and process them for the recommended time.

Step 6: Store the jars

Once the canning process is complete, remove the jars from the canner and allow them to cool. Check the seals to make sure they are tight by trying to put pressure on the center of the lid. DO NOT pull up on the rim of the lid without a rim on it or you will break the seal. Then store the jars in a cool, dry place.

dehydrated oranges

When you are trying to choose from all of the food processing methods don’t overthink it. Try one type for a period of time. Get good at that then try another. If you try to get good at all three at once you are going to take longer to feel good about any of them. Plus you might not do one properly and cause a health risk to those who eat it.

You are not married to one method. Just try it and if you don’t like it try something else.