I am a big believer in not putting your eggs all into one basket and that goes doubly for food storage. Whether it’s a mistake in your canning technique, a loss of power or you didn’t get the veggies dry enough and they mold, if you suffer a loss, it is devastating to lose an entire crop. I strongly recommend you spread your storage out into several areas so you are covered.
Here are the seven ways I consider storing fruits and vegetables.
Fresh From Your Garden
Nothing beats freshly picked. The best organic corn you can eat is when you put the water on to boil BEFORE you walk outside to pick the corn. Through the Spring, Summer, Fall and even the Winter you can have fresh produce available. Gardening in the winter is possible with many vegetables, especially greens. The book Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman is a wonderful instructional on how to do it. If you need a book to explain how to do it all with a small amount of space, I recommend How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons. I personally use and recommend this method as we live in the mountains in a wooded hollow so we don’t have a lot of space with ample sunshine.
Gardening can also be the least expensive way to obtain produce. Don’t be afraid to build raised beds out of safe, reclaimed materials. Heirloom seeds are wonderful and you can save seeds so you don’t have to repeat the purchases year after year.
You also have the option of storing some produce outside in heaping mounds, such as potatoes, cabbage and carrots. The earth doesn’t freeze if you cover it correctly and you can go outside and dig potatoes, beets and carrots year-round. Cabbage only lasts a short time using this method, but it will get you by if you’re needing more time to get it turned into sauerkraut.
Pros: The freshest food you can get, can be cheaper than other sources for fresh produce.
Cons: Requires time on a consistent basis to plant, weed and harvest.
Best for: any vegetable you wish to consume in-season or grow in excess to store.
Home canning is particularly good for tomatoes. The jars are glass and you can use BPA-free Tattler lids to avoid adding hormone disruptors to your goods. You can also preserve your fruits this way. We will be doing a variety of tutorials on canning this summer on the blog.
Pros: Canning allows for versatile storage without needing electricity.
Cons: The traditional lids do have BPA, but the glass jars do not. The food does not retain enzymes because it is cooked. Some vegetables need a pressure canner because they do not contain enough acid to be safely water bath canned. Modern pressure canners are safe but they do cost around $70-100.
Best for: Diced tomatoes, tomato-based sauces, fruit jams, jelly and sauces and beans.
I don’t recommend this option. Home canned vegetables are not soaking in BPA-lined cans and they aren’t cooked to industrial temperatures. The difference between a jar of home-canned and store-bought canned green beans is very telling.
Cons: Relatively expensive and very poor nutritional value, exposure to endocrine disruptors due to the can lining.
Hands down, lacto-fermentation is my favorite way to store cabbage. If you can get your hands on a large crock and you have a cool basement, you can park enough sauerkraut or dill pickles in your basement to last the entire winter. You can also make salsa through the summer and all sorts of other fun delicacies such as pickled garlic, dilled carrots, dill pickles and more. Lacto-fermentation is amazingly versatile and you can use a variety of spices to avoid boredom. Lacto-ferments can also be stored in your refrigerator if you don’t have a basement or it isn’t cold enough.
Pros: Teeming with probiotics. Provides enzymes, vitamins and a ready source of vitamin C. Some evidence to suggest lacto-fermentation also increases the amounts of certain vitamins, such as the Bs.
Cons: Does not provide indefinite storage- items will eventually go bad. If you ferment with whey, your ferments will go mushy so I recommend you only use salt if you’re going to keep anything longer than a month. Fruit doesn’t keep long this way due to the sugar content encouraging alcohol production.
Best for: Firm vegetables such as cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and garlic do wonderfully but you can lacto-ferment any vegetable. I have a friend who is crazy about lacto-fermented broccoli.
Freezing is good for delicate vegetables like broccoli that don’t fare well when canned and can’t go into a root cellar. You can also freeze most other vegetables. Whole tomatoes can be frozen and retrieved when you need them, allowing them to thaw before you dice or crush them. While it is more expensive than other methods due to the amount of space it takes up and the electricity use, it can do in a pinch when you don’t have time to store them any other way. You can also freeze many finished vegetable-containing meals or products such as spaghetti sauce. Most vegetables require blanching or cooking before storing, adding to the time needed to properly prepare the food for storage.
Pros: Convenient, allows for a wide variety of styles, including plain and finished dishes.
Cons: Requires freezer space and continuous electricity.
Best for: green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, although any vegetable can be frozen.
I love dehydrating tomatoes. It takes up a lot less space than canned tomatoes. Dehydrate them down, powder them in your blender or food processor and store the powder in a jar. You can also store the powder in the freezer if you aren’t yet confident in your ability to hit the right moisture level. When you need tomato paste, tomato sauce or tomato juice, all you have to do is add water. Voila! It stores in a fraction of the space and is far more versatile! This year was the first time I got heavily into dehydrating, and I found it a joy.
Pros: Dehydrators can maintain the enzyme activity of the food if the temperature control goes low enough. It also allows for a lot of food to be stored in a small amount of space. Dehydrated foods are lightweight and easy to carry.
Cons: Requires special equipment or an oven that goes down to a low temperature. Boiling water is needed to rehydrate some of the foods.
Best for: Tomatoes, corn, peppers and any fruit you want to turn into leather.
Root cellaring is stellar for potatoes, apples, winter squash and more. It does need a specific temperature and humidity range, but if you have a spare closet or corner in your basement, it can be a very workable solution. You can also build a root cellar outside using buried trash cans or even an old freezer laid on its side. There are many workable options for both inside and outside your home. If you wish to learn more, I recommend you read Root Cellaring by Mike Buble.
Pros: Root Cellars do not need electricity or constant attention once set up correctly, just a quick weekly check to make sure none of the food is going bad.
Cons: requires a select temperature range, humidity range and space. Building one can cost some money if you can’t find reclaimed materials. Apples must be stored away from other produce as the ethylene gas can cause the other foods to over-ripen and go bad.
Best for: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, apples, winter squash and carrots. Can be used for cabbage for a short period of time.
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Agree, great post. It inspired me to finally try lacto-fermentation today. I have a head of cabbage and I will give sauerkraut a try for the first time! I agree that we need multiple storage methods on hand to cover all of our bases.
I’m going to disagree slightly about canning veggies. IMO, most canned veggies taste just as nasty as store-bought canned veggies, soggy and limp and gross. I strongly prefer freezing or dehydrating veggies. The only exception for me is tomatoes or tomato sauce, which do can nicely.
I do can *meals* – baked beans, chili, various soups. Those are handy to have around. IME, the type of meals you cook long and slow can well. That’s the primary use for my pressure canner.
Aren’t home canning lids lined with BPA too? How do you get around that one? I’ve heard there are more expensive (but re-usable) BPA-free plastic lids for home canning on the marktet. Are you familiar with these?
Not everyone has access to a basement. I live in ah area where the water table is too high for basements and it is too hot above ground. You are lucky.