Keep The Fruits Of Summer Fresh By Canning Them For The Winter

October 13, 1991|By Kate Pipkin | Kate Pipkin,Contributing writer

Despite chilly winds and shorter days, the pleasures of summer need not end.

With a little know-how, you can preserve the best of yoursummer gardens to enjoy all winter long.

All kinds of vegetables and fruits, like tomatoes, corn, string beans, pears, apples and cucumbers can be canned or frozen.

And those beautiful flowers soon to fall victim to Old Man Winter can be dried to create lovely flower arrangements perfect for the mantle above the fireplace.

Although canning can be a complicated process, it doesn't have to be that way, says Doris Busler.

Busler, who grew upon a farm in Harford County, has been canning for years and gives demonstrations of it at the annual state fair.

"If you can scrub a floor you can can food," said Busler. "It's simple and it beats watching television any day."

The first thing one needs to can fruit or vegetables is a pressure canner, which can be purchased at most department stores, usually for under $50.

If you're canning for the first time, it's probably a good idea not to buy all-new materials in case you decide it's not for you. Check out a few yard sales where you can get bargains, like a case of jars for a dollar.

Once you have your pressure canner and produce, you're ready to go.

"Say you're canning string beans," explained Busler. "I usually pick a bushel, which will make about 22 quarts. After popping the ends off I cut them up and pack them, rinsed and raw, into jars."

Make sure the jars don't have any chips or cracks.

After putting about a teaspoon or less of salt in each jar, fill them with boiling water. Place a two-piece jar ring on each for sterilization and place the jars in the canner. The bottom of the canner should have two quarts of water in it.

"Let the pressure gage go up to about 10 pounds," said Busler. "Lower the temperature and maintain the 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes. Then turn it off and the gage will go down by itself."

This heating process stops the action of enzymes that can spoil food.

Take the jars out and put them on a towel to cool. They must sit for 24 hours in order to seal and cool properly.

"Then just remove the outer ring, date it and put it away," said Busler. "They should be good for about a year. There's really a certain self-satisfaction you get when you preserve the fruits and vegetables you've spent all spring and summer growing."

Most county governments have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides more detailed information about the canning process and the proper materials to use. Look under the county government section of the phone book. When you call, ask for the home economics department.

But what about those of us who aren't motivated or courageous enough to try our hand at canning -- can we still preserve our produce?

Of course!

Freezing is probably the easiest method of preserving the goods from your summer garden.

According to Busler, just about any kind of fruit or vegetable can be frozen. After fruit is frozen it tends to darken a bit, but that won't affect the taste.

Some foods that freeze well include tomatoes, broccoli,cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beets, pumpkin and apples.

It is important to blanch anything that is going to be frozen in order to prevent future spoilage.

Busler said this has been a "robust" year for tomatoes, and it's perfectly all right to freeze them.

"Just bring in the tomatoes, put them in boiling water for a minute and then remove the skins," she said. "Then put them on a cookie sheet and letthem freeze. After they're frozen, put them in plastic bags or containers and pop them back in the freezer. They'll only be good for cooking, and they taste great in soups."

Besides enjoying your home-grown fruits and vegetables all winter long, it's also possible to add warmth to your home by drying the flowers from your summer garden.

And it's so easy.

Just about any flower dries well, according to Betty Baldwin, owner of Betty's Gardens in Towson.

Some that are popular include asters, marigolds, zinnias, coxcomb, geraniums, goldenrod, annual statice or German statice, baby's breath, anything from the sage family and roses.

Baldwin says the best way to dry flowersis to gather them up in a bunch, take the leaves off and hang them upside down in a dark place.

"A basement may be too damp, so try a closet or attic," said Baldwin. "It can take anywhere from three to four days, or as long as two to three weeks, depending on the drying conditions and what kind of flowers you use."

Baldwin said she grows about 98 percent of what she dries herself.

She's even been experimenting with drying flowers in the microwave. It works, she says, but you really have to experiment because so much depends on what kindof microwave is used, where the temperature is set and the amount oftime set.

Once the flowers are dried, they can be used in a variety of decorative ways. Dried flowers look lovely arranged in a basketand placed in front of a fireplace.

If you're the creative type, you can make wreaths for your door or wall and incorporate your driedflowers.

"The great thing about dried flowers is that they retaina nice, clean aroma," said Baldwin. "And they will last for about two years."

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