Preserving the Season

Our nutrition expert on best practices for home canning and pickling

By Melanie Peters   |   October 30, 2018

There are lots of things that Millennials, that rather nebulous definition for anyone under 40-ish and over 25-ish, gets blamed for “ruining.” From divorce to network television to mayonnaise, there’s nothing, it seems, that Millennials aren’t out to destroy. That is, unless we’re talking about fresh vegetables and fruits.

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That’s right: the rise in popularity in recent years of making homemade preserves, pickles and even kimchi and yogurt can also be laid at Millennials’ feet. Preserving your own fruits and vegetables, whether you have your own garden or not, has enjoyed a renaissance thanks in large part to Maker culture.

But there are pitfalls to do-it-yourself preserving and, if you’re not careful, you can put people in an altogether different kind of pickle. For guidance, we asked Betty Garrity, MPH, RDN, director of the UC San Diego Health Dietetic Internship, for advice on how to safely preserve fruits and vegetables. Plus tips on which vegetables and fruits are at their peak at any time of year and a recipe for enjoying some of fall's bounty year-round.

Home Canning and Pickling 101

Preserving and canning fruits and vegetables means being able to enjoy them out of season. Anyone for a fresh peach or plum in January? Home preserving and canning also has health benefits, such as expansive access to important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. But there are health risks associated with improper food handling practices that folks need to be aware of.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the pH scale is important in home canning because low-acid foods — defined as having a pH above 4.6 — do not contain enough acid naturally to prevent the germination and growth of Clostridium botulinum spores found on most fruits and vegetables that come in contact with soil. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the following foods with low acid content are the most common sources of home canning-related botulism:

  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Beets
  • Corn
  • Potatoes

Another example is homemade kimchi, a dish of salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly cabbage and radishes, that is popular in certain cultures. Kimchi has also gained popularity with people interested in improving their gut microbiome, but there is a caveat: People with compromised immune systems should avoid homemade kimchi due to a high risk of foodborne illness and infection. Commercially prepared kimchi with an expiration date and ability to recall would be a much safer choice as this processing meets certain food safety standards.

Following safe food practices during home canning and preserving can eliminate any health risks. The United States Department of Agriculture is an excellent resource for additional information. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning for all of the details.

What’s in Season?

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To help determine which fruits and vegetables are at their peak for pickling and preserving any time of year, the San Diego Farm Bureau has a handy harvest calendar. Some vegetables and fruits peaking right now in San Diego are apples, pears, lemons, limes, peppers, green beans, beets, carrots, cauliflower, radishes and tomatoes.

A Pickle to Help Preserve the Best of the Season

Here’s a recipe for giardiniera that takes advantage of many of the vegetables in season right now. Giardiniera is an Italian relish that’s easily adaptable to your tastes and a delicious addition to sandwiches and salads or as a condiment for a cheese board.

Giardineira recipe courtesy of Cathy Barrow, The New York Times
Yield: two quart-sized jars. Cook time: 1 hour, plus 3 days’ pickling

  • 4 serrano chiles, thinly sliced, with seeds removed
  • 2 red sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 or 2 celery ribs, sliced or julienned
  • 1 or 2 carrots, sliced or julienned
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • ½ cup grapeseed or safflower oil
    • In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the vegetables and salt until well combined. Cover the vegetables with water. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to sit, unrefrigerated, for 8 to 12 hours.
    • Drain the vegetables and rinse thoroughly. Sterilize 2 quart-size glass jars, with lids, in the dishwasher or by submerging them in boiling water for 10 minutes.
    • In one sterilized jar, combine the garlic and all the herbs and spices; add the vinegar and oil and shake well to emulsify the dressing. Pour half the dressing into the other jar.
    • Pack the vegetables into the jars. If vegetables are not completely coated, make and add more dressing. Screw lids onto jars and refrigerate. Allow the mixture to mellow for a couple of days before serving.

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