Food Storage, Part 2: Storing Produce

17 Jul

Any of the food preservation methods discussed in Part 1 should adequately prevent your stored foods from spoiling if stored properly, so I’m more concerned with which storage methods produce the best results for the different ways I use fruits and vegetables in my Food Storage Cookbook recipes. Ultimately, a tomato is a tomato, and a potato is a potato; but different storage forms of these products perform very differently depending on how you cook them and what other ingredients you’re using, and some forms are definitely better than others for certain applications. Although there are exceptions, this article discussions my general observations with the different forms of storage fruits and vegetables.

You can download the Storage Produce quick reference chart (pdf) for these commonly stored fruits and vegetables, and print it for use with your Food Storage Cookbook. The following “long version” explains my ratings with additional detail and a few hints and tips.

Fruits & Berries: In general, canned or freeze-dried fruits are excellent replacements for their fresh counterparts in nearly all cooking and baking recipes, and the most palatable for plain eating. Unlike their dehydrated counterparts, the flavor and texture of freeze-dried fruits are nearly identical to fresh (i.e. a freeze-dried grape is a grape, not a raisin).  Leather-dry fruits are good for snacking, dry baked goods such as cookies/cakes and breads, for syrups and relishes, and for sweetening slow-cooked porridge even though their texture and flavor often changes significantly during dehydration. Brittle-dry fruits aren’t that common since fruits tend to have very high moisture and enzyme activity, but there are some available if the fruit can be sliced thinly enough and blanched (to halt enzyme action) or can be candied (the blanching and sugar fully dehydrates them). Apples, crabapples, pears and citrus are also excellent keepers for cellaring. With the exception of bananas, I see no advantage in freezing the majority of fruits if other methods are available and within your budget.

Artichokes: The tender inner leaves and hearts of artichokes are excellent canned plain, pickled or marinated although these change the flavor. Whole blanched artichokes can be frozen, but I find their flavor and texture suffers horribly; frozen leaves and piecesare acceptable substitutions in casseroles and quiches after draining. The outer leaves dehydrate well although their delicate flavor and succulent texture suffers; however, they do make good substitutes in dips and sauces, especially powdered. Artichoke hearts do not dehydrate well in my experience. Freeze-dried versions are not readily available and are expensive; but they do perform well in nearly all recipes, are fairly succulent in texture when rehydrated, and the flavor is retained.

Asparagus, Broccoli & Cauliflower: These veggies I fully recommend freezing or stocking freeze-dried, especially if you want to preserve the florets or tips. The only ways these are palatable canned is in garden pickles or fermented sauerkraut or as tiny chunks in mixed veg (usually stems only) or soups. Resist the urge to stock either of these dehydrated in large quantities unless you intend to grind them into tiny pieces or powder for additions to soups, sauces, dips or souffles. They do not rehydrate well in larger pieces, and the texture and flavor does not fully recover. They can also be reasonably cellared if you bring the entire plant in and root it moist soil or sand, and seeds can be sprouted for salads.

Beans, Green: Green beans are excellent frozen, canned or freeze-dried. Dehydrated versions are very difficult to rehydrate, and the texture never fully recovers; although they do survive long-cooking or canned soups and stews well because they are less fragile. Nearly harvest-ready vines can be hung in a cellar to finish ripening if a killing frost is eminent, but this method does not perform as well for beans as it does for tomatoes.

Beans (Shelling), Lentils and Black-Eyed Peas:  The best, most economical and space-efficient method to preserve and store these beans is naturally-dried in the pod and shelled. For convenience, a few cans or jars of your favorite prepared beans (except lentils) are definitely a handy time-saver, and it is relatively easy to soak and prepare batches for canning from your primary dry stores as needed to conserve pantry space. Dry lentils do not require the long soaking and cooking times that other beans do, and the texture suffers during canning, so they are best kept dry until you plan to use them. There is really no benefit to freezing these dry beans in a prepared format except as leftovers; however, “baby” varieties that have not been dried and are still tender (commonly lima, fava/broad, chickpeas/garbanzos, and black-eyed peas) are definitely best either canned or frozen. Freeze-dried varieties are at least partially cooked, in some cases powdered or flaked, and make a good “instant” alternative to canned if weight or freezing storage temps are a concern.  Dried beans can also be ground into flours, either partially cooked then re-dried before grinding, or ground raw for later extended cooking; the resulting flours have a multitude of uses, from meat replacement to wheat alternative. Dry beans can also be sprouted in the cellar if they are not too old or treated with growth inhibitors.

Beets and other root vegetables: Beets, turnips, parsnips and radishes are all excellent keepers and cellaring yields superior performance. For longer-term storage, root vegetables also hold up well to canning; although plain varieties can be a bit bland and mushy in recipes other than soups and stews, I find canned pickled versions hold upmuch better. In general, I have found most frozen roots (other than leftovers) to be inferior for anything other than stews or creamy casseroles. Roots dehydrate extremely well, although they tend to remain tough after rehydrating; however par-boiled and dehydrated “chips” are excellent for snacking. Freeze-dried versions perform well, although they are not easy to find and I can’t justify the expense when other methods are readily available and affordable.

Brussels Sprouts: Like other brassicas, Brussels Sprouts are excellent cellared keepers; this method yields the best performance, and the seeds make excellent salad sprouts. For longer term storage, freezing or canned pickled/fermented versions are good substitutes. Brussels Sprouts dehydrate and rehydrate well if you break them down into individual leaves, slice or shred them. Freeze-dried Sprouts are not readily available and are expensive, but they do yield superior performance as a stand-alone side dish or in recipes where fresh whole or halved Brussels Sprouts are needed.

Carrots: Frozen, canned and dehydrated carrots are all excellent in recipes if you compensate for the texture changes. Frozen and canned carrots tend to soften, and dehydrated carrots tend to be chewy. Due to their unique cellular structure, carrots cannot be freeze-dried. Carrots are excellent keepers if properly cellared, although they tend to lose their crunch the longer they are stored.

Celery: Dehydrated and freeze-dried celery stalks and bulb reconstitute well and the flavor is excellent, but neither will regain their crispy crunch, but though freeze-dried slices come closer. Leafy celery tops dehydrate well and make excellent cooking herbs. Celery does not can or freeze well in my experience, although it makes an interesting addition to garden pickles and relishes. Celery can keep well in a cellar with a little care, especially if the root end is replanted in moist soil or sand.

Corn & Peas, Field: Since both of these are more mature when harvested and contain more starches than their sweet garden siblings, they are most commonly left to dry naturally, and shelled then ground into meal or cooked down over long periods. With the exception of hominy (corn slaked in a mild lye solution) or prepared split pea soup, there is really no benefit to stocking either of these canned or frozen. Field corn and peas do not respond as well to cellar hanging as their sweet siblings, but they are also less susceptible to frost damage.

Corn & Peas, Sweet/Table: Frozen and freeze-dried sweet corn and peas have the best performance. Corn is very good canned, but the flavor and texture of peas can suffer a bit. Neither of these rehydrate well to regain their plump texture after dehydrating, no matter how long you let them soak or boil; the flavor is still acceptable, but they will remain a bit tough and chewy. Like tomatoes, both sweet corn stalks and garden pea vines can be pulled and hung in the cellar, and keep reasonably well in the husk or pod for a few weeks after blanching.

Cucumbers: In my experience, the only palatable preservation method for cucumbers is pickled, either in vinegar brine or fermented. They dehydrate well, but don’t hold up when rehydrated, and the flavor wanes substantially; however the dry “chips” are excellent for snaking. Freeze-dried cucumbers perform much better, but not quite up to fresh standards. Seeded and cut cucumbers can be frozen, but I find they must either be enjoyed frozen (i.e. as a beverage or gazpacho garnish) or later made into pickles or relish because they are limp and soggy after thawing. Some of the thicker-skinned cucumbers will keep for a few weeks in the cellar if their skins are allowed to cure and harden, and the humidity is high enough to keep them from shriveling but not high enough where they begin to mold (a tricky balance).

Garlic, Onions & Leeks: These alliums are excellent keepers when properly cellared; mature onions and garlic should be cured to allowed their skins to harden, and the more tender leeks and green onions do well if their root ends are replanted in moist soil or sand. Garlic, onions and leeks all dehydrate and rehydrate wonderfully when sliced, diced or minced and can be used in any recipe as a vegetable or powdered to be used as seasoning. Small onions and garlic bulbs are also frequently hung whole to dry naturally.  Freeze-dried versions are available, but do not provide any significant performance improvement over dehydrated. The USDA does not recommend home-canning plain onions or garlic for long-term storage, but pickled and marinated versions have been tested safe. There are some commercial canned plain varieties available, but these must be kept refrigerated or refrigerated after opening, AND must be used before their expiration date even if they are unopened. Freezing gives good performance if you have a lot of prepared pieces to store quickly, but they must be sealed properly or their odor will permeate the freezer and affect the flavor of other foods.

Greens: Cabbage, red or dark green lettuces, spinach, kale, swiss chard and other greens such as beet, mustard, dandelion and collards are easily dehydrated, rehydrate well, and can be used nearly identically to fresh in most recipes. Whole leaves can be dried for stuffing, rolls and strata, which is difficult to replicate with other methods. The marginal improved texture of freeze-dried over dehydrated doesn’t justify the expense in my opinion, but I have found both to be a more acceptable substitute than frozen or canned in all recipes except casseroles and quiches. Several greens can also be sprouted or replanted whole in the root cellar, and leaf lettuces make excellent mini-gardens in sunny windows. Iceberg lettuce does not preserve well by any method in my experience.

Mushrooms: Nearly all varieties of mushrooms are excellent canned or dehydrated, and can often be grown at home in a cellar. Mushrooms are also excellent pickled or marinated. Since dehydrated mushrooms have excellent performance, there is no substantial benefit to freeze-drying; although there is a subtle difference in flavor in texture between dehydrated and canned. The texture of mushrooms suffers during freezing and they are often soggy when thawed; and some of the more delicately flavored varieties may become completely flavorless after freezing. While button and portabella mushrooms are relatively easy to find canned or dried supermarkets, you may find several other unique varieties (such as morels, shitake and oyster) canned or dried in International or Asian grocers.

Peppers, hot or sweet: Dehydrating is definitely my preferred storage method for both sweet and hot peppers; they dehydrate and rehydrate well, and many peppers and chiles can be hung whole to air-dry naturally. Most peppers can well plain, roasted, pickled or marinated.Whole or halved peppers that have been blanched, cored and seeded may be frozen to be stuffed later; otherwise I find freezing peppers to be inferior in flavor and texture to dehydrating and canning. Fresh peppers keep reasonably well in a cellar for a couple weeks, with hot peppers surviving slightly better than sweet peppers.

Potatoes, white and sweet: Both potatoes and sweet potatoes are excellent keepers, so I recommend cellaring as many as you think your family can eat before they spoil. You can achieve things with cellared potatoes that are difficult with any other preservation method since every method requires the potato to be at least partially cooked before or during the process. This cooking inhibits truly crisp-crunchy frying; and whole keepers are really the only way to get light, fluffy baked potatoes… even if you bake and then freeze them, they tend to be limp and soggy after thawing. Dehydrated and freeze-dried potatoes are fairly equal in flavor and usage, with freeze-dried being slightly easier to reconstitute fully. Dehydrated are full acceptable for long-cooking recipes with plenty of liquid like stews and cream casseroles. Freeze-dried are superior for quick-cooking recipes, especially fried or sautéed. Powdered or flaked/pearled instant mashed potatoes are a pantry stale, since they have a multitude of uses other than plain mashed. Canned potatoes are excellent last-minute additions to soups and stews, as a warmed-up side dish for quick-cooking entrees, and for use in salads because they are already completely cooked. In general, I had found most frozen potatoes (other than leftovers and mashed)to be inferior to the other methods, but it never hurts to have a bag of hashbrowns, fries or tater-tots in the freezer for quick convenience if you have the space.

Squashes, Gourds and Pumpkins: Both summer and winter squashes, gourds, and pumpkins keep well in the cellar if they are allowed to cure so their skins harden; and cellaring yields the best overall performance. Sliced or julienned summer squashes dehydrate and rehydrate well, and are preferable in texture to frozen in dishes where they are the main focus; however cubed or speared summer squashes are best freeze-dried or individually flat frozen. Summer squashes do not generally can well except in garden pickles or chutneys/salsas.  Winter squashes, gourds and pumpkins do not generally dehydrate well, although cooked and prepared spaghetti squash “strings” are the exception. In general, winter squashes, gourds and pumpkins are best cooked, cubed or pureed, and then canned or frozen; although cooked, thin-sliced and dehydrated “chips” are excellent for snaking.

Tomatoes: Since tomatoes are excellent using any of the preservation methods, I’d recommend storing some of each if possible. Whole or halved tomatoes that have been blanched, peeled and cored can be frozen and later stuffed. Canned tomatoes in their multiple forms and added seasonings are great for stews, sauces, salsas and salads. Sun-dried (leather-dry) and dehydrated (brittle-dry) tomatoes are great with pasta, rice and salads. Freeze-dried tomatoes are processed raw and have nearly identical taste and texture as fresh, so can be used in any recipe in place of fresh tomatoes. Tomato powder is highly versatile and can be used to make everything from broth to paste depending on how much water you add. It’s a wonderful way to add a hint of tomato depth to stews and gravy or to make your own instant dry mixes for tomato soup or pizza-pasta sauce. If early frosts are forecasted while you still have green tomatoes in your garden, you can pull out the entire vine, hang it in your cellar and let the tomatoes continue ripening indoors over the next several weeks.

In Food Storage, Part 3: Storing Grains and Vegetable Proteins, I’ll provide my experiences with storing grains, nuts and seeds, soy and TVP to help you decide which storage methods work the best for the recipes in your Food Storage Cookbook, including a printable quick reference chart.

In Food Storage, Part 4: Storing Animal Proteins, I’ll provide my experiences with storing dairy, eggs, fish and meat to help you decide which storage methods work the best for the recipes in your Food Storage Cookbook, including a printable quick reference chart.

See also:

Food Storage, Part 1: Common Methods of Food Preservation

One Response to “Food Storage, Part 2: Storing Produce”

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  1. Food Storage, Part 1: Common Methods of Food Preservation « My Food Storage Cookbook - July 18, 2012

    [...] Food Storage Part 2: Storing Produce, I’ll provide my experiences with storing produce to help you decide which storage methods work [...]

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