Three Ways to Master ‘Healthy’ Food Preservation

By Sasha Banks-Louie

pickling cucumbers process
Pickling cucumbers using vinegar, salt, and spices.

Students braved a chilly morning commute on Saturday, November 10 to gather in the cozy kitchen of the First Baptist Church in Lawrence, where Kansas Permaculture Education Chair Amber Lehrman hosted a workshop on how to preserve food by canning and lacto-fermenting it.

“Food preserved this way can last for years,” Lerhman says.

With Lehrman’s guidance, students honed their pickling, fermenting and canning skills, and learned the science behind each process. Here’s a snapshot of the day’s events:

Pickling with vinegar, salt and spices

While this food preserving method changes the color, flavor and texture of food, it also slows its decay. “The combination of boiling temperatures and acid from the vinegar kills off any microorganisms that are present in the food, preventing it from going bad,” Lehrman says. In a medium sauce pot, one student stirred white vinegar, kosher salt, mustard seeds and turmeric, and then ladled the mixture into glass jars, which were stuffed with cut cucumbers. “The vinegar helps prevent short-term spoilage, the salt keeps the cukes crunchy for months,” Lehrman says.

Lacto fermenting with salt and water

Lacto fermentation not only makes food taste great, it creates beneficial bacteria that helps alter the pH of the large intestine, boosting immunity, digestion and longevity. “Lacto fermentation creates an environment where lactobacillus will colonize and transform a certain amount of sugars and starches into acid, which then preserves the food,” Lehrman says.

Canning prepared vegetables using a pressurized cooker

Students placed cut green beans and potatoes into sterilized glass canning jars, poured boiling water over the vegetables, and then placed the lids down and loosely tightened the rings so that air could still escape. The jars were then processed in a pressure canner, according to FDA guidelines. “High temperatures cause the air to expand and exit the jars,” says Lerhman, noting that when the jars cool off after processing, the lids pop down creating a vacuum inside the jar.

“It’s very important to remove the rings before the newly canned food is stored,” warns Lehrman. That’s because if something was done incorrectly during the canning process, off-gassing can occur as microorganisms multiply. “Off-gassing builds pressure in the jar and can cause it to explode if the lid is still held in place by the ring,” she says.

Interested in learning more about sustainable food production? Check out the KPI Permaculture Design Course, offered this spring.

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