Then came the strawberry and the raspberry jam-making, and that was my very first hands-on experience with canning and preserves. However, these jams were simpler compared to canning tomatoes and cucumbers in that they do not need processing in water baths to further kill the microbes.
Now that I have lots of vegetable produce from my garden, I have more than what I can consume in a day! At the start of finally harvesting the fruits of my toil, I was quick (out of excitement) to consume a lot in a day...but when everything else seemed to come in huge numbers all at once, I was overwhelmed! I wanted to load up but my stomach could only hold up to 1-2 cups per major meal in a day, and veggies would come in bushels for 1-2 days, not to mention the steady stream at both ends of the spectrum (before and after peak of harvest). I felt the need to preserve these veggies while they were still fresh, so as to avoid/minimize wastage. (I never felt this need during my stay in the Philippines, where most vegetables and fruits are available all year-round.)
The answer was canning. I got my first feeds on canning and other methods of food preservation from friends I met online (bingbing whose tips I posted earlier, and dolly whose tips I will post here), who have been living in the same kind of climate as I do, and have felt the need to learn these preservation techniques. I am quite lucky to have "found" them on the net through this kusina endeavor. Bingbing led me to the USDA guidelines in food safety and preservation, which further led me to other websites on the subject, the links to which I have provided in my sidebar.
So far, dehydration methods have been shared (please see bingbing's tips here). Here's dolly's tips on dehydrating tomatoes:
On tomatoes---if you will have a bountiful harvest, why not sundry them (this will take 3 sunny days) and when its dry just place them in sterilize jar, pour olive oil then seal. Or, you can also dry them in the oven in a low oven temperature (100 deg C) until tomatoes are dry. The only thing about oven drying them is it will cost a lot of power, so it might be a good idea to buy yourself a food dehydrator. This is one tool that is a must in my kitchen. I dry peaches,apple, persimmon, apricots, tomatoes, plum, etc....then I just put them in a re-sealable bags and store them in the freezer.
For my friends who are seriously considering canning in the future, I suggest that you read first about canning using the resource links I provided on the sidebar. You might also want to check out the USDA extension office for a free copy of their guide to canning booklet.
I would also like to put emphasis on observing the sterile techniques (e.g. wash your hands, sterile-to-sterile principle -- meaning, the sterile will only be touched by the sterile, and don't touch with an unsterile material something that is supposed to be sterile/clean). The timing is also critical: can the produce while they are fresh (the fresher the better; the closer to picking, the better), and do the steps from putting boiling water into jars all the way to processing in one smooth flow. Don't allow the food to cool first prior to processing, as the time of processing also depends on the hotness of the materials to be processed, and cooling the food will encourage growth of bacteria. Other tips and don's & don't are in the resource links.
If you are in a rural area, chances are there have been canners who have stopped doing so (probably old people who are retiring and are in their empty nest stage), so ask around if you have friends for jars and screws. Jars can last a lifetime. Screw bands can be reused as long as they are not too rusty to resist screwing. Lids, however, need to be always new.
Canning can be fulfilling, especially when you see your pantry full of canned goods that came out fresh from your very own garden. It is one step towards a self-reliant living. And the materials are worth investing in (and not quite expensive if you foresee decades of use).
After scanning several of the recipes from the links, I now have plans for my garden next year: more corns, same tomatoes, same cucumbers, less beets, add chili peppers and red bell peppers, add few cilantro and parsley, and add basil. Buy (or ask for gifts) before the next summer canning jars and lids and screw bands, plus boiling water canner, dial- or pressure-gauge pressure canner (for many tomato-based products), bubbler, picker, canning salt and ground spices.
For this year I have only managed, with my produce, canning raw whole tomatoes, pasta sauce, tomatillo sauce, jalapeño pickles, dill pickles, pimento pickles, and jams. I would like to try making ketchup and canning cream-style sweet corn next year.
For a full downloadable pdf articles on canning, visit this page.