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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Extending the shelf life of vegetables

I mentioned in a previous post about which vegetables stay fresh longest and the order in which vegetables should be finished to reduce spoilage and wastage.

Sometimes, though, food gets stuck in the back of the fridge and you only notice it when it is on its last leg. Other times you may want foods to be able to last longer because you want more of a variety in produce even after that type of produce would usually spoil.

I've written on my blog before about lacto-fermentation. Lacto-fermentation is a great way to preserve your food and it even extends the shelf life of the produce when it is on the brink of spoilage. I wrote here about making pickles from wilty cucumbers. Lacto-fermented salsa is a great way to use tomatoes and peppers past their prime. Sauerkraut preserves cabbage and is a good way to get it to last long term. In the olden days, people would keep sauerkraut over the whole winter (and it remain unspoiled) and it would be their only source of vitamin C because all the other fruits and vegetables were unable to stay good over the long snowy season. You can also preserve vegetables by means of vinegar based marinades.

Cooking vegetables that are about to turn is also a good way to give them a new lease at life. Tomatoes getting soft or even ones with gross spots (cutting out the spoiled parts, of course) can be cooked to make homemade tomato sauce, ketchup, or in any other cooked dish calling for tomatoes. Zucchini can be added to soups and sauces. A note about zucchinis- when they are about to spoil, their peel becomes bitter so the vegetable should be peeled before cooking. Wilty celery and carrots are great in soups and other cooked dishes. Wilty cabbage makes great stuffed cabbage, soups, and other things. Wilty lettuce and other greens can be cooked (yes, cooked lettuce) and used as a replacement for spinach in recipes. The taste is similar, even if not exactly the same.

The freezer is also a good way to keep your vegetables fresh for future use. Carrots, onions, zucchini, celery and leek can be shopped to make a base for future soups. Eggplant and mushrooms are great even after freezing, as are any vegetables you would usually find in the frozen section, like peas, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower. Again, greens can be frozen for future use as a spinach replacement.
Fresh herbs can be chopped and stored in a container in the freezer if your herbs usually spoil before you have a chance to finish them.
The freezer can be used to freeze vegetables in season and bought for cheap- this way you can buy large quantities on sale and then when the vegetables are no longer in season or the sale is over, you still have access to those specialty fruits and vegetables.
Even once a vegetable is cooked, it can last a while by putting it in the freezer. When I made eggplant salad, I put half in the freezer for future use. (In fact, we had a party in our home after the birth of our youngest. While pregnant I made large quantities of 10 different types of cooked salads, dips, etc... and for the party only had to defrost these foods. I saved loads on catering fees as I bought all the foods for the salads/dips on extreme sale.)

While freezers are a great way to preserve foods, most people have limited freezer space; buying and running a spare freezer can be a burden financially. Dehydrators are a good alternative to the freezer. You can dehydrate unlimited quanities of food, they shrink and take up less space, and you can keep them in any air-tight container. A dehydrator has many advantages lacking in a freezer. I had wanted a dehydrator for a while, but the cost of one was daunting. I read up on how to build my own dehydrator and built one with minimal work and only a few dollars. (Instructions on how to make one will be in a future post.)
I love my dehydrator and have used it to dehydrate excess vegetables. Now my animals are eating up my vegetables so I don't have excess to dehydrate, so I don't put it in use nearly so much anymore. I'm still learning more about dehydrating foods and then reconstituting them. From what I've figured out, dehydrated foods are great in cooked dishes, as they need to be cooked in water first to regain the moisture they lost via the dehydrating. The foods i've reconstituted didn't have the same exact texture as cooked fresh vegetables, but they were close enough. When in a sauce or blended in a soup or in patties, the difference was completely unnoticeable. If anyone has tips on how to reconstitute more successfully I'll be glad to hear.

Canning foods is a good way to keep them fresh. I don't have canning equipment as the canners and jars are a large investment, but you can read up more about canning here.


What is your favorite way to preserve food? Which method do you utilize most? Do you generally preserve or just buy fresh all the time?

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