There are good things and bad things about all methods of preserving food. Canning takes a bit of time and is energy intensive up front. Water bath in particular take a lot of water which could eventually be an issue in drought stricken areas. Canned food is very heavy and the jars prone to breaking if you live in an area of earthquakes. The good news is that for some foods, the finished product is superior, after the initial investment there is no further cost for storage and the food is edible with only reheating. The jar are reusable but you need a steady supply of lids. I have heard that some inexpensive brands made in China are available but I prefer the Harvest or Ball brands made in Indiana. I have paid between $.99-&1.49 per twelve pack for theese. Still, they need to be purchased every year.
For many people, freezing is the only way to go. There are some foods, epecially tender vegetables, that are a lot better frozen than canned. It is the quickes way to preserve food. Meat can be double wrapped, labled and tossed in the freezer. I can pick asparagus and have it blanched, cooled, packaged and in the freezer in under ten minutes. The down sides however are considerable. There is the up front cast of the freezer to consider as well as the ongoing cost of running it. You either have to use a frost free model that uses more energyy to operate and can dry out food or plan on defrosting, a messy and time consuming procedure, at least twice a year. I have an upright freezer that needs defrosting every three months. I loath that job. Keeping track of the contents of a freezer is a lot harder than knowing what jars are in your pantry and it is really easy to lose food until it is a freezer burned, inedible lump. If you buy a chest freezer, whatever is on the bottom can be a pain to get to. For a lot of people, the risk of losing a freezer full of food during a power outage is just too great to chance. Saving it may require another investment in a generator or buying a freezer insurance policy, one more expense. Still, there are some things that are better frozen than any other way.
We ate peas last night that we froze last spring and they tasted like we had jut picked them. I can do a quick stir fry of frozen string beans that is delicious. Canned string beans are okay in a soup but otherwise not my families favorite food. Frozen blueberries can be plopped in a muffin batter or in pancakes as is and be as good as fresh. Probably the first step in any processing plan is to decide what method you will use for which food.
Some foods, especialy meat and many fruits can be frozen with no treatment beyond proper wrapping and labeling. I like to freeze berries on cookie sheets for about an hour, then transfer to plastic bags. I pull out the air and the bags store nearly flat. The fruit pours out in just the amount you need and the bag resealed. I do the same with diced onion and pepper. I freeze corn and summer squash without pretreating too. Sucking out the air is important as any moisture pulled from the fruit or vegetables during storage will affect quality. I have a food saver that does a fabulous job at this but for years I stuck a straw in the corner of a zip lock bag to remove air and it worked just fine. I also reused my bags many times as long as they had not held raw meat previously.
Most vegetables need pretreating. Food is blanched in boiling water or steam for a few minutes, quickly cooled in ice water, bagged, labled and frozen. If you used boiling water, save the vitamin laden water for stock or soup. Even a strong tasting water (broccoli for instance) should be composted rather than tossed.
Meat hould be either vacuumed packed or double bagged. If it gets freezer burned it will be dry when you cook it although it will not hurt you to eat it. It should also be packed in meal sized packages. It will freeze more quickly and thaw faster than large packages.
Don’t put too much food in to freeze at one time. Avoid too, putting a lot of food in one spot. Spread the food around until it freezes the store it in the proper spot. It will help in finding food if you keep like foods in separate baskets. I keep fruits on one shelf in my freezer and veges on another. It helps to keep things organized but I still lose things.
Labeling matters in a preservation. You may think you will remebert what you put in the bag but you won’t and lot of things look similar. You are reading a post from a woman who thought she had pulled out apple juice, only to find it was vegetable stock-quite a shock to the taste buds first thing in the morning.
If you have a freezer as part of your refrigerator, it is good for only the shortest term storage. A separate freezer must be kept as close to 0 degrees as possible for long term storage. If the power goes out, don’t open the door if you can avoid it. A hunk of dry ice will keep the interior cold for a while. If food is thawing, eat what you can. The rest will need to be tossed. You can’t refreeze food without a serious loss of quality.