Backyard Gardener: Preserving the harvest

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners. Hopefully we have just experienced the hottest week of the summer of 2019. Temperatures in the mid-90s and high humidity made last week a tough one for outside work.

Last week local 4-H and FFA youth were hard at work at the WV Interstate Fair with their animals. A big THANK YOU to all the local business owners and individuals that purchased animals at the 2019 Wood County 4-H and FFA Livestock Sale. We had a successful week of shows and a fantastic sale.

Many home gardeners and other folks are currently preserving the harvest to be enjoyed throughout the year. Canning, drying, freezing, salting and fermenting are some of the methods used. This week I want to discuss two garden favorite, tomatoes and sweet corn. My grandmother would can hundreds of quarts of tomato juice to store in the basement of their house. I am sure many people around the area have similar memories of canning and preserving with family.

Tomatoes can be used to make salsa, pizza sauce, whole and crushed tomatoes, as well as the famous home canned tomato juice. Tomato juice is low in calories and packed with nutrition including B-vitamins, vitamin c and potassium.

Proper methods, choice ingredients and awareness of acidity levels are critical to a safe home-canned product. Tomatoes vary in their acidity. For this reason, all tomatoes must be acidified before canning to prevent botulism, a potentially deadly illness caused by a toxin produced during growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

Select only disease-free, preferably vine-ripened, firm fruit for canning. Do not can tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines. Tomatoes may be canned with a boiling-water canner or a pressure canner. A pressure canner gives a higher quality, more nutritious product. The National Center for Home Food Preservation Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products webpage lists over 15 options for home-canning tomatoes. Each recipe has specific directions on preparing the tomatoes, filling the jars and processing time.

If you are canning tomatoes, keep in mind an essential safety step for preserving any tomato product, regardless of processing method is the addition of citric acid or lemon juice to each individual jar of tomatoes. Tomatoes are not acidic enough naturally to safely preserve so you can use bottled lemon juice or food-grade citric acid to your jars before canning. If you use bottled lemon juice use 1 tablespoon per pint or 2 tablespoons per quart. If using citric acid, use 1/4 teaspoon per pint or 1/2 teaspoon per quart.

Every year, home food preservers want to know how to thicken salsa or tomato soup with flour, cornstarch, rice, pasta or cream before canning. Never, under any circumstances, add a thickening product before canning. These thickening products will change the acidity level of your tomatoes.

Processing times are based on the type of liquid used to pack or fill the jar of tomatoes. Tomatoes with no added liquid or packed in tomato juice have longer processing times because the heat distribution is less effective in juice than in water.

Many gardeners enjoy canning sweet corn but I believe it is easier to freeze it. WVU Extension recommends blanching corn to inactivate the enzymes, resulting in a better quality frozen food. Blanching also cleans off surface dirt and organisms, brightens the color, reduces enzyme activity that cause color and flavor changes, removes air and softens the texture so vegetables are easier to pack into containers.

To blanch corn, bring one gallon of water to a boil in a large pot with a basket insert and a lid. Put the corn in the blanching basket, and lower into boiling water. Cover with a lid. The water should return to boiling within 1 minute, or you are counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil. Blanch whole kernel corn for 4 minutes. Cool promptly by placing ears of corn in ice water. Drain and cut kernels from cob at 2/3 of their depth.

Do you like cream style corn? Blanch ears 4 minutes; cool promptly and drain. Cut kernel tips, and scrape cobs with back of knife to remove the juice and heart of the kernel. Another option for cream style corn is to cut and scrape corn from cob without blanching. Place cut corn in double boiler, and heat with constant stirring for about 10 minutes or until it thickens; cool by placing pan in ice water.

Corn-on-the-cob is also blanched. USDA recommends blanching small ears (4 to 6-inches long; 1 1/4-inch or less diameter) for 7 minutes; medium ears (6 to 8 inches long; 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter) for 9 minutes and large ears (8 to 12 inches long; over 1 1/2 inches in diameter) for 11 minutes.

To pack for freezing, pack the corn into rigid plastic freezer containers leaving 1 inch of headspace; or pack into flexible containers, squeeze out air, seal, label and freeze. Corn should be packaged in amounts that can be used in one meal. Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or e-mail me at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu with questions. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!­