I ventured into my first water bath canning project over 10 years ago. At that point, I didn’t know anything about all of the different food preservation methods or their health benefits. I simply wanted to learn a new skill.
I think apple butter was the first thing I made and canned, which is a great beginner’s project. After that first project, I slowly graduated to pickles and jams. After a couple of years, I was brave enough to try pressure canning. In the meantime, we purchased an old dehydrator on a yard sale and made some venison jerky. Eventually, I began experimenting with methods like salt curing and fermentation.
Why More People Don’t Preserve Food at Home
Many people are intimidated by food preservation. One of my goals with my blog is to educate my readers about it, and that anyone can do it. Some of the largest objections I’ve seen are:
- I don’t know how to do it and it seems hard to learn.
- I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong and poison myself and my family.
- I don’t have time to mess with it.
To those objections, I say:
- It isn’t hard to do or learn, you just have to be willing to try.
- You can’t really do it wrong as long as you understand some basics and follow approved recipes.
- Yes, it is time-consuming … but it’s also very rewarding.
Here are the top five reasons why I recommend various food preservation methods as a way to know your food and enhance your healthy diet.
1. You know where your food came from.
Many people who preserve food also grow their own food, which is the number one way you can be sure you know what you are eating. If you garden, you can make sure you are doing so organically, and be assured when you eat and preserve your homegrown produce that it is chemical-free.
Alternatively, if you don’t garden, there are lots of options for shopping smart – whether it’s from purchasing from a local organic gardener at the farmer’s market or shopping the organic produce section at a trusted supermarket.
Whatever you use as your produce source, you can control its safety and with proper preservation techniques, know exactly what you are feeding your family.
2. You know what is in your food.
This is specific to the ingredients used in the product you are preserving. For example, if you buy a can of salsa at the store the ingredient label may include: tomatoes, peppers, onion, sugar, salt, spices. Were all of the vegetables organic? Were they non-GMO? Was the sugar pure cane sugar or was it refined white sugar? Some people are allergic to certain things, so exactly which spices were used?
For example, I have a friend whose throat closes up if he eats cilantro. Many of the salsa brands that advertise “spices” actually have cilantro in them – so he is extremely limited in the brands of commercially canned salsa he can eat. Another concern is that if it’s labeled gluten-free, how can you be sure it actually is?
Alternatively, if you make salsa at home with organic produce grown by you or a trusted local farmer, then that answers the organic and GMO questions. You can buy pure cane sugar and you know exactly what spices are going into it. You know, because you started it from scratch in your kitchen.
3. You can adjust the sugar and salt content.
When you buy canned fruit and vegetables, many times it has high amounts of sodium and/or sugar. Some fruit is even canned in a corn syrup solution. When you can these things yourself at home, from in-season fresh peaches or fresh tomatoes from your garden, you can control the kinds and amounts of sugar and salt you are using.
For example, I make a lot of fruit preserves and jams, and I make ALL of them low-sugar. I don’t make them low-sugar by adding artificial sweeteners – I make them low-sugar by using ripe fruit that is good quality. Jam doesn’t actually need a ton of sugar in order to be delicious, we are all just used to the commercial brands that have equal parts jam and sugar. That’s a crazy amount of sugar! I also use Pomona’s Pectin, which is a brand of pectin that is made specifically for use in low or no-sugar fruit recipes.
Salt content is the same way. You can adjust the salt you use in home-canned recipes. There will be no more rinsing commercially canned vegetables in an effort to reduce the sodium level!
4. Fermentation and probiotics
I have to be honest and tell you that fermentation still intimidates me a bit. I have, however, mastered sauerkraut and kimchi. Just like many other things, having the right equipment is essential for success. The probiotics that are created during the fermentation process are great for our health, and once you get familiar with fermentation it’s actually very easy to do it yourself at home. Many people also make kombucha, though I haven’t done this yet. See, even once you have been preserving foods for many years, there are still things that you will have left on your “to learn” list!
5. You control the environment
Perhaps one of the largest concerns with home food preservation is the risk of botulism. Yes, botulism is an absolutely real and dangerous thing. And yes, you can get it from improperly home-canned food. The keyword there though is IMPROPERLY. As I mentioned above, if you understand the process and follow tested rules and recipes, you will be fine!
Think about the food recalls we hear about each year, whether it’s salmonella, listeria, E. coli, or whatever. And think about how many times you’ve heard about someone finding animal parts, metal shavings, or glass shards in their commercially canned or frozen goods. When you take fresh produce from a known source and keep a clean kitchen and follow appropriate methods and recipes, you can eliminate all of those concerns. You know what is and isn’t in each jar because YOU made it from scratch.
How to Get Started with Food Preservation
So, you might be reading all of this and thinking, “This sounds great but I don’t know where to start.” Basically, I recommend that you do some research, and find an easy project to start with. Starting with apple or another fruit butter like I did is a great beginner’s project.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) website is the best place for beginners to start. Their website features a lot of basic techniques, as well as tested and approved recipes. I would like to caution you that there are some recipes floating around on the internet that are not safe or approved, so if you aren’t sure it’s always best to refer back to the NCHFP.
If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below!