Can the healthy stuff

The fall harvest offers a bounty of delicious and hearty native fruit and vegetables. With only a few weeks left before the first frost, apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh at the farm, in the market or in our gardens. Not only are these domestic treats tasty, but they can help us feel better, become healthier and may protect against heart disease and stroke.

Colorful fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower our risk for many diseases.

Now’s the time to fill up on all things orange, which are nutrient-rich and high in beta-carotene, a potent carotenoid that’s converted to vitamin A in the body. These compounds are associated with helping to protect the eyes, prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, diminish inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis and even possibly reduce the risk of many cancers.

It’s also easy to find sweet potatoes and pumpkins, carrots and winter squash in local markets.  Other seasonal fruits and vegetables including persimmons and citrus, cantaloupe, tangerines and clementines are rich in vitamin C. This important nutrient helps build strong bones, skin, blood vessels, muscle and cartilage. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron. Rich in fiber, these foods, like apples, help to make us feel full and aid in digestion.

Alas, the saddest part of autumn – besides the shorter days and imminent cold weather – is the end to fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Frozen produce can offer many of the same nutritional benefits when items are picked at their nutritional prime, and particularly if you watch for excess sodium, especially with canned goods. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep these garden treats for months without them spoiling?

Preserving your own

A viable and popular alternative to store-bought processed foods is preserving fruits and vegetables from your garden or local markets for consumption later in the year or throughout the winter. There are many common, safe food-preservation methods you can practice at home, but it’s important to know what you’re doing and to practice safe canning, pickling, freezing and drying methods.

  • Canningis the process in which foods are placed in jars or cans and heated to a temperature that destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes. This heating and subsequent cooling forms a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from decontaminating the food within the jar or can. Acidic foods such as fruits and tomatoes can be processed or “canned” in boiling water (also called the “water-bath method”), while low-acid vegetables and meats must be processed in a pressure canner at 240°F (10 pounds of pressure at sea level).
  • There are many less safe canning methods that people use, from no processing at all (filling the jars and seal, called “open kettle” canning) to oven canning, microwave canning and even using the dishwasher.  Click here fora description of these unsafe methods, why they are dangerous and links to references about them.
  • Picklingis another form of canning. Pickled products have an increased acidity that makes it difficult for most bacteria to grow. The amount of acid present is very important to the safety of the product. Pickled products are also heated in jars at boiling temperatures to destroy any other microorganisms present, and form a vacuum in the jar.
  • Jams and Jellieshave a high sugar content. The sugar binds with the liquid present making it difficult for microorganisms to grow. To prevent surface contamination after the product is made and possible yeast or mold growth, these should be canned, frozen, or refrigerated.
  • Freezingreduces the temperature of the food so that microorganisms cannot grow, however many will survive. Enzyme activity is slowed down, but not stopped during freezing.
  • Drying removes most of the moisture from foods. As a result, microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down. Dried foods should be stored in airtight containers to prevent moisture from rehydrating the products and allowing microbial growth.

Canning guidelines were revised in 1989 following extensive research. Canning instructions printed before 1989 may be unsafe. Here are some of the newer recommendations you should be using, based on USDA  recommendations:

  • Bottled lemon juice should be added to all canned tomatoes.
  • Jellies, jams, and preserves should be processed in a boiling water bath.
  • Pickles and pickled products should be processed in a boiling water bath.
  • The pressure for your pressure canner and the time for processing in a boiling water bath should be adjusted according to your local altitude.

For more information and general descriptions of common, safe home food preservation methods, and a glossary of terms, recipes and directions, visit http://www.pickyourown.org. Click here for a glossary of terms used in home preserving.

And click here for why you should use a canner and how to choose one.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!