Food Preservation Q and A

Sharon August 17th, 2010

Ok, folks, ask me anything you want about food storage, food preservation, etc… and I’ll endeavor to answer!  Free for all – ask what you want!


61 Responses to “Food Preservation Q and A”

  1. Where exactly do you source your wheat flour from?

    Could you please give a quick sketch of your favorite lacto-ferment batches, and mention any ways you eat them (other than straight up) once they’re finished fermenting?

    Thanks for the opportunity to ask!

  2. mousedude says:

    Would it be possible to use an autoclave for canning?

  3. Natalie says:

    When you dry herbs (like chamomile), how do you wash them first without drowning them?

    I watched the video on making sauerkraut you shared the other day, but I was wondering – do you just leave the jar open and on the counter until it’s fermented enough and then put it in the fridge? He showed the creation, but then skipped right to the end.

  4. jill says:

    How long do home-canned foods last? Assuming proper procedures and good storage conditions afterward, that is.

    Thank you!

  5. K.B. says:

    Can you discuss the BPA issue in both canning lids and dehydrator trays?

    What are your favourite websites and books for canning recipes?

    Is blanching truly necessary for freezing veggies?

  6. Fern says:

    I’m trying to dry tomatoes in the sun. In high humidity. I can’t seem to get enough sunny days! It’s driving me nuts….. well, nuttier.

  7. Brad K. says:

    How do you preserve meat with salt, store it – and then prepare it?

  8. Annette says:

    I would love to learn more about preserving without electricity (like apple butter and such). Lacto-fermenting as well.

  9. GeekyGardener says:

    If you make a batch of jam & later decide it needs something … can you remake it somehow? I made blueberry jam and it’s good, but not great (it set up too much, I forgot how much natural pectin is in blueberries). I’d like to make it into peach-blueberry jam (which is great) but not sure if it’s okay to mix too-firm jam with additional fruit to make jam with a better texture.

  10. Lynne says:

    Is it ok to spray wash garlic and onions after harvesting and prior to drying? The books say not to, but our friends do it successfully. Not sure which is best. Would love to have them clean.

  11. Tara says:

    I make a lot of cheese and have lots of whey at hand almost all the time. Do you have much experience lactofermenting with whey? I’d love to know if it’s worth doing, and whether certain foods work better/worse this way.

    Also, we find ourselves with large amounts of greens in our winter garden (collards, kale, etc.). Do you have a favorite lacto recipe for these sorts of non-cabbagey greens?

  12. I have an abundance of mint (several kinds) this year. Normally I dry it and drink mint tea throughout the year, and I’ll make a batch of mint jalapeño jelly. Do you have any other suggestions of how I could preserve my excess mint?


  13. Michael says:

    My wife recently heard of an alternative food preservation for tomatoes, which goes something like this….put peeled tomatoes (from your garden of course) and herbs into a blender or food processor….after blending or processing, put the tomatoe puree into a ziploc bag and freeze…use the frozen tomatoe puree later for making dishes such as sauces and stews.

    There is no mention of “cooking” the tomatoe sauce or puree whatsoever prior to freezing.

    Is this a viable food preservation and/or storage technique? Certainly sounds easier than cooking and canning.


  14. Anna says:

    Do you recommend a specific brand or brands of pressure canner? I’m thinking of finally branching out from freezing and drying this year, and would like to get something that would last while our bank accounts are full.

    Do you grow and preserve any foods for your livestock (especially chickens)? If so, what?

    Have you ever made a solar cooker that really worked? I’ve played with various ones in the past, but none really seemed effective. Do you have a design you recommend?

    We can just barely dry fruit leather here by moving it from sunny window to sunny window, as long as the days aren’t cloudy, but trying to dry anything else results in mold. Do you have a solar dehydrator design you’d recommend?

  15. owlfan says:

    I’ve got sort of a storage question. I have managed to get an infestation of pantry moths, which I can NOT seem to get rid of. I find cocoons in the oddest places, in my sock drawer, in between ziplock bags in the box, etc. Do you have any way to get rid of them. Also, this also leads to difficulties in storing things other than in the freezer. Rubbermaid type tubs slow them down, but do not necessarily stop them. I just moved all my dried fruit into old salsa jars (nice, large, wide-mouth). Any suggestions are much appreciated!

  16. Brad K. says:


    There is a pantry moth trap, similar to roach motels (which might work, too) to trap the suckers – which limits how many eggs they lay to pester you next year.

    Do investigate every open or partially open package – from sphaghetti to chocolate baking squares, pancake mix, breakfast cereal – they are really annoying, and persistent, too. I got a houseful from a batch of pecans. Now I am careful to crack, shell, and clean the pecans, immediately, and get the shells and shuck worms out of the house, pronto. No more “oh, save some nuts to shell on those long winter evenings.” Hah.

  17. Jennie says:

    Ugh! Finding proper vessels for lacto-fermenting?! I can’t seem to find large glass jars or ceremic crocks for less than a hundred bucks (even at auctions). I’m assuming I can’t use plastic containers, is this assumption correct?
    Am I really going to have to shell out major $$?

  18. Patrick says:

    Pressure canning seems to inevitably turn foods to mush.
    Which foods do you find work best / are least objectionable with pressure canning?

  19. KM says:

    Sources of inspiration when it is time to can/dry/freeze and you just don’t feel like doing it that day?! I should be working on canning my green beans right now, but here I sit at the computer. Sigh.

  20. Edward Bryant says:

    Hi Jennie,

    I’ve fermented in 5 and 6 gallon plastic buckets and never had a problem. If you live in the northwest, Azure Standard has 1 gallon glass jars… I only use them for dried foods as I suspect the metal lids would eventually succumb to the salt and low pH.

  21. Chandelle says:

    I make tons of fermented foods (Jennie, I just use Mason jars of all sizes…), and I’m running out of room to store them. Do you have any experience storing them at room temperature during the colder months? I know that won’t work when it’s hot, but I’m wondering what (if anything) will happen if I just keep them on the shelf in our garage through the winter.

  22. Clelie says:

    Do you try to reduce the amount of sugar used in preserving fruit? What are you favorite recipes (that really work- ie are tasty and look good) that are low in sugar?
    Do you water bath can all you preserves- or have you experimented with not water bath canning when filling a jar with high acid. high temperature fillings?
    In terms of using and preserving wild foods ( hawthorne berries, elderberries, rowan, crab apple, angelica…) which often have quite a strong bitter taste- is it worth using and consumming more sweetener in order to get the benefit of the wild food?
    What are your favorite pressure canner recipes?

  23. Clelie says:

    Can you use a pressure canner on an electric element rather than gas safely?

  24. Louise says:

    What can you do with a lot of small unripe pears – a branch tore of our tree, under the weight of the pears – and it seems a shame to waste them. They’re probably about 3/4 grown
    Any ideas?
    Thank you

  25. KC says:

    When lacto-fermenting green beans – do you need to blanch them first? Can you just add brine or can you just add salt? Do you need to pound them to release juices? – like cabbage?


    I too, would like to know about storing lacto-fermented sauerkraut, etc. in a cool room rather than in refrigerator.

    I have been doing a lot of lacto-ferments (sauerkraut, etc) in 1/2 gallon mason jars. This works well – almost foolproof :

    It’s a little bit expensive for what it is, but you could probably get the materials and make it yourself for less.

  26. Jen says:

    We picked up an old crockpot at the thrift store and are planning to use the ceramic crock part of it for lactofermenting sauerkraut. We found a plate at the same time that fits just perfectly into the crock. I think it will work out great.

    Pickled beets came out well in a quart-sized mason jar.

  27. Dawn says:

    This is also a storage question. I have been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use. I would like to try freezing & dehyrdrating more foods, but every explanation then says to store in a plastic bag. Obviously, some things lend themselves well to glass, ceramic or Mason jars. But many preserved foods should not have so much air stored in the container. I’ve had a hard time thinking of how to store other foods – like fresh-caught fish which I then want to freeze.

  28. (: Sunshine :) says:

    Well, you asked for questions! I hope I get to see some of the answers! :)

  29. MMK says:

    1. Somewhere you mentioned that your buy bulk canning jar lids. What is your source?
    2. This is my first season with a food dehydrator (Excalibur). I know you dry a lot of corn – any tips? Blanche first? How dry is dry? Do you store in large jars? Or many small ones? I think you have a favorite corn recipe in one of your books. Now to find that page!…..

  30. vknwny says:

    I second:
    Owlfan’s question re pantry moths. We have our first infestation ever, after years of successful bulk storage in 5 gal. buckets & 1/2 & 1 gallon jars.

    Second also the request for Kale & Collard lacto-fermentation recipes.

    Louise, can you make spiced pickles out of those pears? The vinegar and canning would soften them, the sugar & spices lend them more flavor (or would they just be too astringent?)

    Sharon, are you buying your vinegar in bulk, and if so, can you identify your source? (we’re not too far from you, depending.)
    Thanks, this is a generous offer!

  31. owlfan says:

    I have pantry moth traps and they catch plenty of moths. I have (several times) opened and investigated every box of food – yes, they can get into unopened foods. All flour, catfood, and bulk grains go directly into the freezer when I bring them home as they seem most likely sources of infestation. But, I still have moths. Endemic it seems. At the worst point, I removed everything from my pantry, including shelf paper, cleaned out behind/under the shelves, treated chemically, sealed with grout and repainted. However, I still have them. Bug bombs seem to knock back the population, but not kill some stage. very frustrating!

  32. Sharon says:

    I’m reading and following, although I won’t have time to answer until tomorrow or Friday – but don’t think I’m ignoring you.

    Re: pantry moths, for those in a cold climate, the best thing I’ve found to do is set everything outside (wrapped up to prevent moisture damage) for a couple of days in winter – freezing kills all.


  33. debby says:

    I store dehydrated foods in mason jars and use food saver to vacume pack the extras with oxygen pkgs, I have heard you can store this way for many years but also have read only store for a year, any thoughts?

  34. Anne says:

    What’s the best way to preserve Swiss Chard? I am overrun by it right now.

  35. Heather says:

    Love your Independence Days book and plan on pulling it out for a reread. :)

    Ummm, I’m realizing I may have a bit of a problem this fall. I planted my first garden this year and it’s doing GREAT! And it’s huge. And I planted 10lbs of potatoes, cut so that each piece had 2-3 eyes. I’m just realizing now how many potatoes I might end up with. Problem? I don’t know how to store them. I have a gross, damp, smelly dirt floor basement, no closed in porch or semi cold area. Some mice and lots of squirrels running around.

    Any tips/guidelines on potato storage?

  36. et says:

    Has anyone used TATTLER reusable Canning lids (

  37. et says:

    Hi Tara,

    You only need a little bit of whey to get each lacto-fermenting batch started.

    Do you know anyone who has chickens or pigs? Whey makes great feed.

  38. Margaret says:

    What do I do with over stewed (very over stewed, almost brick hard) jam?

  39. dogear6 says:

    Jackie Clay tried the resusable lids and posts about it over at Backwoods Home. Sorry, I cannot get the link while at work.

  40. Lisa says:

    We’re thinking of buying a food dehydrator (the Excalibur) and wonder at the difference between the 5 tray and 9 tray. Would you recommend one over the other? I’m thinking the 9 tray so we can do large batches efficiently. DW thinks 5 tray so we don’t waste electricity and hence are more likely to do small batches as food comes in. Advise please!


  41. Tegan says:

    When storing dried foods, should I really get the little dehyrator packets of silica or something? A lot of food storage websites talk about that.

  42. MMK says:

    Anne – Re: swiss chard – I freeze a lot of greens including swiss chard. Just chop up as you would use them, blanche very briefly, cool, and pack in freezer bags or containers. Great in the winter when sauted with some garlic and oil.

    Heather – Re: potato storage. I have a nasty damp basement and have successfully kept lots of potatoes – enough to get our potato loving family through to spring. I put them in Coleman style coolers and keep the cover ajar to let air circulate.

    Lisa – I debated the same this winter and bought the 9-tray model. Am very glad I did as it actually fills up quite quickly. One colander of summer squash easily filled 6 trays when sliced up. I suspect the electricity different is not that significant.

    Though Sharon will probably have more interesting answers :)

  43. Lynne says:

    Lisa – we also have the 9 tray dehydrator and are very glad we have it even though there are only 2 of us in this household, so I suspect we don’t put up as much food as lots of folks here do with families. 9 trays fills ups quickly with tomatoes (yum).

  44. Vicky in VA says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I’d like to pressure can tomatoes without adding acid. USDA recommends adding acid and pressure canning at 5# for 5minutes (I think).
    Is there a higher temp or pressure combo so I could forgo the acid?
    Seems to me if I can can a hunk of meat or vegetable stew, I should be able to do tomatoes without adding lemon juice or something similar.
    Vicky in VA

  45. Emily says:


    Yes, I’ve used the Tattler reusable lids, for both water bath and pressure canning. The main thing to remember is that you MUST re-tighten the bands after the jars come out of the canner, otherwise they won’t seal. Other than that, no problems. They are also nice for high-acid things like kraut and pickles (I tend to ferment in half-gallon mason jars).


  46. NM says:

    If it tastes reasonably good, try renaming your jam fruit cheese or fruit paste, and cutting it into little squares, to serve either as candy or with a cheese platter (Ok, I never serve cheese platters, but on the rare occasion we have guests over, I put some small crackers, little squares of sharp cheese and fruit cheese on a plate and call it a cheese platter).
    In some countries, they make it this way on purpose …
    I made quince paste last fall, have kept between layers of wax paper in plastic containers at room temperature, and to my surprise, it has not molded and still tastes good.
    You can roll the squares in a bit of sugar for a pretty touch, or leave them plain.
    Pretend you did it on purpose; makes a nice little fancy gift…

  47. Coco says:

    Louise –

    For the pears this may work. Really yummy.

    I have a giant bunch of fresh mint I don´t know what to do with. I was thinking mint sauce – but it´s really a lot of mint. . .

  48. Sharon says:

    Wow, you folks have good questions and answers. I’ll work my way through these, and I’ve got some ideas for posts as well – thank you all!

    Kate, my flour source is a little bit in flux – it was direct from a PA farmer, but they aren’t growing wheat this year – trying to diversify into other grains and projects. So I’m not sure where the next source will be – there’s a grain CSA emerging in Central MA that I’m hoping will be a good source, but it is up in the air for the moment. So I don’t know that I have a good recommendation.

    Well, my favorites are kimchi and sauerkraut, pretty basic, although I like my kimchi extra hot, and actually grow the korean peppers for it because I’m such an addict. I use kimchi as an addition to spicy buckwheat noodles with go chu jang sauce, I make soup with kimchi and tofu, stir fry it with beef and mochi noodles, etc… For sauerkraut, I like it cooked with meat and cabbage in the winter, on sausage (of course) and over egg noodles cooked with meat and fresh cabbage. I also like very lightly fermented kraut as a salad with fall veg. I like caraway and juniper berries in my kraut, btw.

    Funkier ferments – I make a spring kimchi with dandelion greens – same recipe, just the greens change which is really nice, but that’s only in spring. We tend to use that as a condiment. I make the corn relish from _Full Moon Feast_ and we eat that on potato cakes or as a condiment to meats or sometimes straight on the side. I like lightly fermented carrots mixed with fresh chopped turnips as a salad in fall, with some fresh parsley and lemon over it. I like sauerruben (sauerkraut, but with turnips) as a salad as well, at least before it gets really sour – we mix it with beets.

    Does that help?


  49. Sharon says:

    Mousedude – You probably could, but I never have, and unless you have a really large one, I think a pressure canner would probably be more efficient. I’d double check with cooperative extension before you did it, though, just to be sure.

    Natalie, I don’t actually wash chamomile blossoms before drying at all – they are so tiny and fragile that it wouldn’t work. But since they are held pretty far off the ground and I’m picking only the blossoms, that’s ok – they don’t really need it, I can just shake any dust off, and look carefully for bugs. Other herbs that are less fragile, I rinse in the sink. Roots, which are often really filthy I do with the hose. But if I can avoid washing my herbs by cutting well above the ground, I do, because it lengthens drying time dramatically. I don’t spray and I do check for bugs, so I don’t think not washing does any harm.

    Jill, that’s a complicated question. They can be safe for a decade or more, if you are absolutely sure the seal has never been disturbed. But during that time most of the nutritional value will probably have dissappated. The official policy is 1-2 years, but if you have carefully sealed, well stored food that is older than that, you can eat it. In times of comparative plenty, I admit, I might give it to the dog after 4 years, on the theory that almost anything else I eat will have more nutrients but if I were hungry, I wouldn’t hesitate.


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