To preserve fruits and vegetables at their peak, it helps to understand the difference between maturity and ripeness. Maturity means the produce will ripen and become ready to eat after you pick it. Ripeness occurs when the color, flavor, and texture is fully developed. Once it is fully ripe, fresh produce begins the inevitable and declining spoilage process.
Here’s a guideline to the best preservation methods based on maturity or ripeness of your produce:
- Mature, slightly underripe produce is optimal for canning, pickling, and jamming.
- Ripe produce is best for fresh eating, drying, cellaring, and freezing.
- Overripe produce is suitable for fermenting. (And may have started without you!)
You can preserve almost any food to some degree. Which preservation method you choose depends on several factors: the type of food, the intended use, your knowledge of a particular method, and the equipment you have or are willing to acquire.
The first food preservation methods, drying and fermenting, are believed to have been discovered by accident at various times and locations around the world. Dried foods were light and easy to carry, and sustained travelers over land and sea. People also discovered and exploited natural fermentation processes to turn grapes into wine, cabbage into kimchi, and milk into yogurt. Without food preservation, we would have none of these delicious foods. Many cultures around the world used salt as a preservative, whether by covering food in dry salt or immersing it in liquid brine made of heavily salted water. Canning and freezing are the newest forms of preservation, becoming commonplace in the past 100 years.
For more information about food preservation methods and recipes, see The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler.