Reducing Waste & Eating Healthy with Food Preservation

Food preservation - Preserving Pickles

GETTING STARTED WITH FOOD PRESERVATION

Food preservation is a great way to not only know what you are eating, but it also helps reduce packaging waste, too.  I started preserving some of my own foods about 10 years ago as a hobby. Initially, I made a couple of jams and a few pickles, and that was about all I was comfortable doing. Within the past 5 years, I’ve really expanded my knowledge base and comfort level, and now I preserve a large variety of things each year using various methods.

I recently wrote a really informative post about How to Get Started with Food Preservation. In it, I talk all about water bath canning, pressure canning, low-temperature pasteurization, dehydrating, fermenting, freezing, and curing/smoking.

The most important thing to know before you get started with any of these methods is that you must follow approved methods and instructions. Food preservation at home is a really great way to make wholesome, nutritious food for your family – but only if you are doing it properly.

That being said, let’s move on to the fun stuff!

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USING MASON JARS REDUCES WASTE

Food Preservation - Preserving Green Beans

Preserving foods and also storing dry goods in mason jars is a great way to reduce waste. For example, making things like ketchup, spaghetti sauce, mustard, and applesauce all reduce the use of the single-use plastic bottles that store those things at the supermarket.

If you grow and dehydrate herbs, or buy them in bulk from a no/low-waste grocery store, you can store them in mason jars. You can also do this with other bulk-bin items like dried beans, loose-leaf teas, oatmeal, raisins, etc.  Many of the stores that have bulk bins will let you weigh your jar first and take the weight off the total price. You don’t want to shop at these and then put your bulk goods in the plastic containers they provide – that totally defeats the purpose.

The great thing about mason jars is that they are reusable. Unless they crack or break, which can happen sometimes, you can use and wash them many times.

Now, let’s move on and talk about food preservation.

THE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Preserving oranges
  • The best thing to do if you want to start preserving your own foods is to grow your own produce if you can. You want to make sure you are using heirloom and/or non-GMO seeds, and use organic fertilizers and pesticides as needed.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to grow your own, buy organic produce if you can.
  • If you don’t have access to or don’t have the extra budget for organic produce, make sure you thoroughly wash it.  Some research has shown that a baking soda wash more thoroughly removes pesticides from the surface of produce than a vinegar wash. To do this, put your produce in a solution of one teaspoon of baking soda to two cups of water and let soak for 15 minutes. Wash thoroughly before proceeding.

OTHER FOOD PRESERVATION INGREDIENTS

Preserving jam with pectin

When I make jam or any other preserve that requires pectin, I always use Pomona’s Pectin. It is a sugar-free, preservative-free, citrus pectin that is vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO.  It lets you sweeten your fruit preserves with low amounts of sugar compared to traditional recipes. Normally, I use half or a little less than half the amount of sugar (or honey, maple syrup, etc.) when I am preserving with Pomona’s Pectin.  It’s a great way to get amazing fruit preserves without all of that added sugar.

Last year, I learned that most commercial refined white sugar contains bone char. Why does white sugar contain ground cattle bones, you ask? It is used to whiten the sugar to make it appear more desirable. So, after I learned that, I did some research to find a new kind of sugar to use. I found Zulka sugar. Zulka sugar is 100% pure cane sugar, with no bone char. It is not refined like conventional white sugar, and you will notice it has a bit more of an off-white color. Zulka sugars are also Non-GMO Project Verified.

For most fruit products that you preserve, those are going to be your three main ingredients – your fruit, your pectin, and your sugar (or sweetener of choice.)  If you are wanting to preserve vegetable products, in addition to your organic (or well-washed) vegetables, you will also need pickling salt and distilled water for many things, and vinegar if you are making pickles. In many recipes, you will also need lemon or lime juice. I like to find organic versions of these if possible and buy those.

Depending on the recipes, you, of course, may need other ingredients. Just pay attention to your labels and try to buy things that are non-GMO, organic, etc.

ESSENTIAL FOOD PRESERVATION EQUIPMENT

For making jam, I love using my Lodge 4.6 Enameled Cast Iron Pot. As Rebekah discussed in her recent post about the safety of Teflon use, I try hard to limit my use of nonstick pans in my kitchen. I’ve also never had a batch of jam scorch in my enameled cast iron pan, and it comes clean so easily when I’m done!

You will also need a water bath canning pot of some sort. You can buy a standard Granite Ware Canning Pot. If you are planning on more of a long-term venture you might opt for a stainless steel version like this Victorio one that allows you to either do water bath or steam canning.

If you are going to can regular (non-pickled) vegetables, meat, or other low-acid recipes, you will need a pressure canner instead.  Many people start with water bath canning recipes and move on to pressure canning as their comfort and skill levels increase.

You will need to buy the mason jars of your choice, and the size you need will depend on what you are making. Most recipes will tell you which size is recommended for the safety of that recipe. If you are buying new jars, they will come with lids and rings. If you are reusing jars, you can get new lids at any local store that has canning supplies.

Two other necessary tools are going to be your canning jar lifter and your jar funnel.

NON-CANNED OPTIONS

If you aren’t ready to get started with the full food preservation process, you can always make any jam or other preserve recipe and refrigerate and/or freeze it. Ball makes reusable plastic freezer containers. If you don’t like to use plastic, you can freeze in glass jars. If you are going to do this, jars without a curved neck work the best. Also, you have to make sure you don’t fill them too full or they can crack in the freezer.

Straight vs Curved Canning Jars
Straight Neck Jars (left) vs. Curved Neck Jars (right)

Dehydrating is also a fun way to make your own dried fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even jerky. Lots of moms make fruit leather for their kids in the dehydrator by adding these sheets to the trays.

Food Preservation - Dehydrated Banana Chips

As you can see, there are many ways you can use food preservation to reduce waste and eat healthy in your household. Many times, it can also save you money if you shop when things are in season and/or on sale, and bring it home and preserve it in some way. 

What’s your favorite way to reduce waste, eat healthy, and/or save money?  Share it with us in the comments below!

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Darcy Geho

Written by: Darcy Geho. Darcy is the owner of PreservingMySanity.com, a lifestyle blog focused on natural living, healthy cooking, and food preservation. Darcy and her husband live in Minnesota with their dogs and cat, where they all enjoy the summer more than the winter.



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