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Preserve garden foods for eating year-round
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- One of the best things about Mississippi summers is the delicious food provided by fresh garden vegetables, a goodness people can enjoy year-round with preserved vegetables.
Brent Fountain, human nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said fresh may be best, but it isn't the only option. Freezing or canning fruits and vegetables will extend the time in which garden produce can be eaten.
“There really is not a lot of change in nutritional value after blanching fruit and vegetables and freezing them or when canning them,” Fountain said. “You do lose texture and you should expect the product to be much softer when it is thawed, but their nutritional content generally holds up well.”
Canning was once the preferred way to preserve foods at home, but freezing has become a more popular way to prolong the garden's bounty.
“Canning continues to be an acceptable way to preserve foods, but it is important to follow the specific directions for different vegetables and fruits to prevent food-borne illness,” Fountain said. “Commercial canning typically requires a lot of sodium. While the nutritional content of the food will remain essentially the same, it will have a higher sodium content, which could be an issue for those attempting to limit their sodium intake.”
Freezing garden fruits and vegetables is a fairly simple preservation method. Fountain recommended blanching all vegetables and most fruits before putting them in the freezer.
“Wash the vegetables first to remove dirt or fertilizer residue, and peel those that you want to preserve without the skin. Immerse the product in boiling water for 10-15 seconds, then put it directly into ice-cold water to prevent them from continuing to cook,” Fountain said.
Blanching deactivates the spoilage enzymes in fruits and vegetables and kills any surface organisms on the fruits or vegetables. Fountain said blanching also preserves the food at a higher quality than when freezing without blanching.
While preserved vegetables are good for the body, science does not fully understand why fresh vegetables are still best. The secret appears to be in the phytonutrients.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables contain literally thousands of phytonutrients, and we've only studied hundreds of these,” Fountain said. “In addition to protecting the plant, phytonutrients appear to provide some benefit to humans as we consume them.”
David Nagel, Extension vegetable specialist, had some tips on growing vegetables to be preserved for later consumption.
“If you're going to grow vegetables to preserve, grow determinate varieties that will have a concentrated harvest so you can get most of them off the plants in a very short time,” Nagel said. “This allows you to put the food up in quantity rather than in small amounts throughout the growing season.”
When planting a garden, select the variety and quantity of plants according to how and when the produce will be used. Mississippi's climate provides the opportunity for gardening nearly every month of the year.
“Take advantage of the long growing season and do successive plantings, which is when you grow more than one vegetable in the same space during the year,” Nagel said. “As soon as you harvest one vegetable, clear the space and prepare to plant another vegetable. A small garden can be very productive if you plant and manage it intensively.”
A wealth of information on vegetable production is available from the MSU Extension Service's Garden Tabloid. Ask for publication P1091 at your local county Extension office.