Last weekend, I took a stroll down to Jean-Talon Market and was completely in awe over the cheap produce prices. I’m talking five gallon tubs of tomatoes for as little as $8 kind-of-cheap. As I walked away with giant bags of food and with money to spare, the realization of how much all this produce would cost in December hit me. Right away two thoughts came to mind: How am I going to put all this produce to good use? And how did the idea of food preservation not occur to me before?
Preserving food was very popular in the days of our grandparents. It wasn’t just about pinching pennies, it was the simple fact that certain foods weren’t available year-round like they are today. As a result, people used a whole array of methods to make food grown during the summer last the whole year. When I think about my grandma’s pickled eggs and rhubarb compote, it’s clear preservation needs to be brought to our generation’s attention if we want to walk the walk and talk the talk on sustainability. And we can also reap the practical and monetary benefits of conserving resources.
With the growing season wrapping up, farmers working out of markets like Jean-Talon and Atwater have no choice but to price their goods to sell and often the best deals are found in huge quantities. Right now you can get most of your favourite produce for up to one-quarter of what it will cost in the winter. Also, the best deals are always on produce at its absolute ripeness. To put it simply, if you stock up now and buy produce that is at its cheapest and most flavourful, and would otherwise end up going to waste in a dump somewhere, it’s a win-win situation for you and the planet. And all it comes down to is a little basic food preservation.
What does this mean for those of us living on a student budget? It means the opportunity to save tons of money, and put notions of sustainability into practice.
Here are a two easy and student friendly food preservation methods:
One of the easiest ways to embark on food preservation is to use your freezer. This glorious invention literally lets us stop time on our summer fresh produce and enjoy its full, ripe flavour whenever we want. When it’s time to eat your stash, simply move the frozen goodies into the fridge for the day to thaw then cook right away. You can freeze most fruits and veggies but some good examples are:
Bell peppers: Cut into pieces, portion into air tight freezer friendly containers/bags and pop in the freezer. Great for use in stir-fries, chilies, curries, fajitas etc.
Fresh fruit: Use same method as with peppers. Ideal for fruit compotes, jams, pie filing, and baking.
Tomatoes: Follow steps described above, or stew them first. Stewing is my personal favourite because then they’re all ready to go for stews, chilies and pasta sauces. Just chop up and boil in a large pot for about 30 minutes, then strain out the extra juice (great to save for tomato soup), place into portion size containers and freeze.
Zucchini: Grate and store this family favourite in freezer bags. Good in almost anything.
* Remember, it’s important to keep portion size in mind. You should never refreeze food that has been thawed out, and trust me, it’s a lot easier to divide the food into portions in advance than to try to chisel off the amount you need post-freeze.
Dehydrating is a excellent way to preserve food for the long haul while retaining all its nutrients. There are several methods to do this, the best and most energy efficient being to use a dehydrator. But assuming we all can’t afford one of those, I will be focusing on the oven-dry method (dehydrators can also be built by hand very cheaply. A quick online search will give you the information).
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be dehydrated, and most require the same method. Just remember that vegetables typically need slightly higher temperatures and slightly more time than fruit to dehydrate. Here is one example to get you started:
Apples: Wash and core (peel if desired), cut into rings about three-eights of an inch thick and lay on a cooking sheet as close together as possible without overlapping. Set your oven to the lowest setting (no higher than 160 degrees) and leave the door propped open about one inch. Leave for four to six hours. To determine if they are done, simply tear a piece off. If little water droplets form around the tear, they need to cook more. If it’s dry, they are ready.
* Keep in mind that oven-drying is not energy efficient unless done in large quantities.
There are many ways to make the food you love last, and when you add canning, smoking and fermenting techniques, the opportunities are endless.
For more information check out the National Centre for Home Preservation website: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp