Preserving the Harvest

Posted on Friday, 4 September 2020 under Local Food & Agriculture

As the season of fresh fruits and vegetables begins winding down, there are plenty of ways to keep them around longer. While BC doesn’t have the climate to grow most produce all year round, we do have the ability to preserve it. There are many different, exciting methods of preserving food, meaning you could be eating local through the off-season. These are just a few tips and tricks for getting started – “the basics,” if you will. That being said, it is always best practice to do your own research before starting any food preservation methods to ensure things are done safely.

can of items being dried


Drying foods is the oldest method of preserving food and a method of preserving where the food retains many of its nutrients. The best part is, you don’t necessarily need any fancy equipment! Getting yourself a dehydrator is useful for convenience sake, setting the heat and timer and leaving it be. But, there are a few other options including using your oven, or nature’s oven – the sun! Depending on which option you choose for drying, there might be a treatment process required prior to starting. For example, sun drying certain fruits may require pre-soaking them in lemon juice. So, it is important to do your research before dehydrating.

There are some food items that are great for dehydrating like apples, herbs, grains, legumes, etc., and others that should be avoided like eggs, and other items that are very high in fat. Again, be sure to do research into the foods you decide to dehydrate to ensure it is safe to do so. There are recommended ways of storing your dehydrated food for longer shelf life. This includes: storing in slightly cooler than room temperature, a dry, dark place, and using air-tight containers. Dehydrating can be an exciting hobby and an easy way to preserve food – start small and you will be hooked in no time!

jars of produce being canned


Another method of food preservation is canning, both hot water bath and pressure. Differentiated by pH levels, foods for canning are categorized as high acid or low acid. Hot water bath canning is perfect for high acidic foods, while pressure canning (not to be confused with pressure cooking) is needed for low acidic foods. It is very important to take note of the acidity levels of fruits, vegetables, (and meats), and ensure you’re using the right method of canning. Improper canning could lead to harmful bacteria growth that shouldn’t be consumed.

Examples of low acidic foods (pH greater than 4.6) that must be done in a pressure canner include, but are not limited to, potatoes, corn, asparagus, beans, squash, carrots, meat, fish, mushrooms. Note that if you’re pickling any low acidic food, it can be done in a hot water bath canner as the vinegar makes it highly acidic. Examples of high acidic foods (pH low than 4.6), that can be done in a hot water bath canner, include, but are not limited to, anything pickled, strawberries, and raspberries (jam). Two fruits that are in the middle ground of acidity levels are tomatoes and apples. Because of this, if you’re using the hot water bath canning method, typically the recipe will ask you to include some lemon juice (bottled), or vinegar to up the acidity to a safe level.

The biggest takeaway for methods of canning is to always follow a tested recipe. If a recipe is tested, it has been properly monitored and contents have been tested over periods of time to ensure the safety and quality of the food inside. Even making slight adjustments and additions to recipes can change the acidity level, making it no longer safe. So, following a tested recipe is a must. Canning doesn’t have to be as daunting as it looks. Start out small, with an easy recipe, and take your time. Most importantly, have fun with it and get excited about the possibility of delicious canned goods in the wintertime.

jars of produce that have been canned


Arguably the easiest method of preserving food, freezing is a quick way to store food, especially food that might go to waste in your fridge. There are plenty of unique ways to freeze fruits and vegetables that take minimal time, and a few freezer bags. Whether you roast veggies first, blanch them, or leave them raw, freezing them on a sheet prior to bagging them will ensure they don’t all stick together in one clump. A great way to avoid wasting food scraps is to keep a bag designated for vegetable scraps in your freezer and add to it every time you make a meal. Things like, carrot tops, vegetable shavings, and ends, are perfect to save in the freezer. Once the bag is full and you’re craving a vegetable soup in the winter, boil the scraps to make delicious vegetable stock. Plus, freezer bags are incredibly durable and can be reused time after time.

Canning, dehydrating, and freezing are great ways to start preserving the harvest to enjoy throughout the winter months. Consider trying your hand at other preservation practices including fermentation, smoking, and salting. This time of year is so special with the number of fresh fruits and vegetables we have access to here in BC. If you’re feeling ambitious, dedicate a night each week to preserving food to stock up for the winter. Or, if that feels overwhelming, start a food preservation group with friends, family, or other community members. Each person can preserve something different in larger quantities and then do a swap, leaving each group member with a different item to add to their collection of preserves. There are so many ways to enjoy preserved food, the first step is to decide you want to.

Great Starter Recipes

Dill Slices – This recipe is a go-to – it’s quick and easy if you’re a beginner canner. These pickles are a little bit sweet and perfectly flavoured with garlic and dill.

Crushed Tomatoes – This tomato recipe is so painless to make. Mid-winter when you’re craving a tomato-based soup or a homemade spaghetti sauce, these jars of local tomatoes are so delicious they take you right back to summertime!

Looking for more support? Bernardin does a really good step-by-step guide if this is your first time canning.