CORVALLIS - Rising food prices prompted many people to plant home gardens this year. To reap benefits throughout the year, you'll need to preserve your harvest.
The toll-free Oregon State University Extension Food Safety/Preservation Hotline is operating this year between July 14 and Sept. 30, 2008. Call 1-800-354-7319, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (except holidays). Trained volunteers and Extension staff will answer your questions.
The many ways to "put food by" include canning, freezing and drying. Freezing and drying are good choices for beginners. Some preparation is needed to maintain quality during storage; for example, blanching vegetables to reduce texture and flavor loss, and coating light-colored fruit to prevent darkening. Small electric dehydrators will dry fruits and vegetables efficiently. Appropriate moisture-vapor-resistant packaging is needed for freezing. Keep the freezer at 0 degrees F or below, for best quality.
Home canning is a science that must be done correctly. If it isn't, a life-threatening, food-borne illness called botulism could result. Foods that have lower acidity (such as meat, fish and seafood, nonpickled vegetables and poultry) must be processed in a large pressure canner to kill the harmful bacteria. Your pressure canner must be in good working order, and the gauge should be tested for accuracy.
The length of time and pounds of pressure needed to process low-acid foods will be influenced by the type of food, the way it's prepared, the size of the jar and your altitude. It's very important to use up-to-date instructions that have been developed by food scientists. If you use a favorite recipe instead, you'll need to freeze the food. This is especially important for homemade salsa, which has caused botulism in the Pacific Northwest when canned improperly.
Foods higher in acid (fruits, pickled vegetables, tomatoes) may be canned safely in a boiling-water canner. Processing times must be adjusted at higher altitudes. It's again important to follow laboratory-tested methods to ensure both safety and quality of your canned food.
Safe canning instructions, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture research, are available from the OSU Extension Service catalog. A printed catalog of these and other OSU Extension publications is available by calling 1-800-561-6719.