• Strengthen the local economy by supporting local family farmers with your hard-earned food dollars.
• Protect the natural beauty of these mountains by preserving farmland.
• A perfect demonstration of food preservation and buying local would be to make a trip to Sunburst Trout Farm out Canton way on U.S. 276 and pick up some smoked trout to dehydrate. Drying fish is simple and fast and delicious.
Preserving the Harvest
According to wikipedia.com, autumn, also known as fall in North American English, is one of the four temperate seasons, the transition from summer into winter. In the temperate zones, autumn is the season during which most crops are harvested, and deciduous trees lose their leaves. It is also the season where many of us have set aside time to preserve the harvest. If you haven’t eaten most of it and given the rest away, it’s time to get out the jars and canners and the dehydrator and get to work.
Putting food by is one of those skills passed down from mother to daughter and if you include butchering, salting, and smoking, from father to son. These days it is mostly self-taught with a little knowledge gleaned from an infomercial here and there. Locally in Haywood County, we are fortunate to have extension agent, Jean Burton, who teaches classes on food preservation. You might want to put that on your list of things to do for next spring.
The most common preserving methods of pressure canning, water bath canning, dehydrating, and root cellaring have both limitations and varied applications. When choosing a method to use, some things to consider are storage space, maintaining food value, and time constraints.
Let’s take the apple for instance. It can be stored in a root cellar, dehydrated, and canned. Root cellaring would require that you obtain a good book for directions. You would then build or adapt an existing space with the available moisture, light and temperature requirements and hang a hygrometer and thermometer on the wall to measure humidity and temperature. Basically, a root cellar mimics the soil conditions the root was grown in. Once you have established your root cellar and have a handle on the basics, it’s a snap to store items other than root vegetables such as apples, onions and cabbage, to name a few.
Dehydrating is a first class way to preserve food. It’s cheap and it’s easy.
Properly dried food (uncooked, dried quickly at low temperatures) is nutritionally superior to canned food and no preservatives or other chemicals are required. Dried food requires one-sixth of the usual storage space required by canned food and if carefully stored will keep for several seasons. I recommend the type of dehydrator that opens like an oven as it can accommodate an abundance of food and is easier to work with. To avoid cooking the food you will need to place a small thermometer in the dehydrator to keep the temperature constant. Temperatures should range between 95 and 105 degrees and never more than 110 degrees.
There is a lot of food prep involved in dehydrating and following is my famous tip for drying apples: Cut the apple in 14-inch slices from right to left. Do not core, stem or peel. (When you eventually eat the dried apples, eat around the core and then compost it. This is much easier on the cook.) In about two days or so the apples will be dried and you can put them in plastic bags or much better, vacuum seal them in canning jars. Dried apples make healthy preservative-free snacks for the kids. Zucchini chips with a little seasoning placed on them before drying make another healthy treat. If you store your dehydrated items in plastic bags make sure you place the bags in a rodent-resistant container.
As for canning apples, you can prepare applesauce or apple slices, which will require peeling and coring. The Ball or Kerr canning books contain the basic recipes for this method. There are many vegetables and meats that work well with the canning process. Tomatoes, stew beef, beets, green beans, soups, anything you would pickle; all are best canned.
Where to Buy It
If you need to buy produce to preserve, common sense says buy local. Buying local means that the food was grown here in the mountains. Most grocery stores offer produce that has been trucked in from thousands of miles away. The Asheville-based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project sponsors the Buy Appalachian Local Food Campaign, which promotes fresh foods from the farms of the Southern Appalachians. ASAP publishes a Local Food Guide twice a year that lists family farms, u-pick farms, tailgate markets, grocers, and restaurants that supply and use locally grown food. The guide is available locally at the Waynesville Library. (See www.appalachiangrown.org for other locations.)