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Posts Tagged: food preservation

Master Food Preserver program in California is on the upswing

Participants line up for a group photo at the first-ever Master Food Preserver conference.
Home food preservation had been simmering on the back burner for years, but growing interest in eating healthy, local food and a revival of America's can-do spirit has it jamming once again.

The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver (MFP) program is following the same trend. Established in the 1980s, a small contingent of volunteers offered occasional classes through the years. But a reawakening that spurred rapid program growth was enough to prompt UC Cooperative Extension to hold the first-ever statewide Master Food Preserver conference this month in Stockton.

Master Food Preservers are volunteers who teach people in their communities how to preserve food safely and nutritiously. Nine California counties now have MFP programs and more are planned. Last year, MFP volunteers clocked 15,000 hours teaching courses on safe food preservation. The statewide conference was designed to give the volunteers a networking opportunity, updates on the latest food preservation techniques and tools, and energy to return home and meet the increasing public demand.

“There is a huge resurgence of interest in food preservation among young people,” said Missy Gable, the co-director of the UCCE statewide Master Food Preserver program and director of its Master Gardener program. “People whose parents and grandparents didn't preserve food now want to learn how.”

At the conference, chef Ernest Miller, a certified Master Food Preserver in Los Angeles County, outlined the storied history of food preservation, which he says predates agriculture.

“You decide to grow food. You're successful. You have a big harvest and throw the first harvest party,” Miller said. “One week, two weeks later, all the food goes bad. You starve to death and the experiment is over. You need to know how to preserve food before you can switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture.”

A food preservation display made by San Luis Obispo County UC Master Food Preserver Tami Reece.
Miller believes food preservation is the foundation of civilization and the key to the world's cultures.

“Where would the French be without cheese? What would the Japanese be without sunomono, the Koreans without kimchee, the Germans without sauerkraut and beer?” he asked.

A proponent of all types of food preservation, Miller can rattle off a litany of processes in a few seconds.

“We teach canning, pressure canning, freezing, drying, pickling, fermenting, curing, brewing, smoking, charcuterie, cheese making and emergency food storage,” he said to cheers from the audience.

Three Master Food Preservers shared proven teaching techniques with their colleagues at the conference.

Sue Mosbacher, UCCE program representative for the MFP program in Amador and Calaveras counties, said she always begins a class on pressure canning by asking who's afraid of the process. Many hands go up and members of the audience tell of times their grandmothers' pressure cookers exploded.

“What were they cooking? Split pea soup and the peas clogged the vent. With pressure canning, we're just using water,” Mosbacher said. “The first thing I do is reassure them that a pressure canner is a very safe tool to use.”

Mosbacher gets her students excited about canning their own beef stew by trying to read the ingredients on a store-bought stew can, and then the ingredients in her home-preserved stew.

“Potatoes, carrots, onions, beef and a little broth, that's it. And it's delicious,” she said.

MFP Cheryl Knapp of El Dorado County showed that food preservation isn't limited putting up plain fruit and vegetables for future consumption. In her classes, she teaches how to make homemade spice blends using dried peppers and other vegetables from the garden.

MFP Linda Bjorkland of Sacramento County demonstrated an automatic jam and jelly maker she received as a gift. At first she was skeptical, but tried it.

“You just sprinkle the pectin, add a half teaspoon of butter, and the strawberries,” Bjorkland said. “What's the next step? Turn it on. Can you believe that?”

A hot plate heats the mixture evenly and a blade inside the pan stirs continuously. When the maker beeps, add sugar.

“It continues for 17 minutes, and your jam is done,” Bjorkland said. “It's quick and easy. That's the kind of thing your public will want to know about.”

The UCCE Master Food Preserver program is setting up a statewide steering committee, will soon launch a new, completely updated website, and a team of MFP volunteers and UC nutrition specialists are writing a comprehensive MFP handbook.

“This is a labor of love,” Gable said. “I'm thrilled about the developments in our program.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Peek inside a UC Master Food Preserver kitchen

I brought my camera with me to a Master Food Preservers class Saturday at UC Cooperative Extension Sacramento County on pressure canning. In case you’ve been thinking about participating in a Master Food Preservers class, here’s a peek inside the Sacramento demonstration kitchen:

Volunteer Dennis Prendergast teaches a Master Food Preservers class about pressure canning.

“Cooking is a whole different ball game from canning — a whole different science,” Prendergast said. He's been a UC Master Food Preserver since 1995, and regularly teaches the monthly Saturday morning classes in Sacramento county. Next month's Saturday morning class will be on dehydrating, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Dec. 10.

A pressure canner

Prendergast ladles hot water into a canning jar filled with carrots, while water in the pressure canners warms up on the stovetop.
Prendergast recommended several reference books to the 30 class participants, while waiting for the pressure to build in the canners.

Final product

UC Master Food Preservers is a volunteer organization structured in a way similar to UC Master Gardeners. Master Food Preserver candidates complete training to become knowledgeable in food preservation and then are required to volunteer time sharing their knowledge with the public by teaching classes and answering questions.

UC Cooperative Extension currently has Master Food Preservers in four counties:

In Sacramento County, the Master Food Preservers offer a monthly class on Saturday mornings that focuses on techniques of a specific preservation process – either water-bath canning, pressure canning or dehydrating. Once a month on Wednesday evenings, the group offers classes that focus on preserving specific fruits or vegetables.

This Wednesday’s class is on “Fall Fruits and Winter Squash” which will include quince and pomegranates among others. The class is  6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 4145 Branch Center Road in Sacramento; registration to attend is $3.

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 8:33 AM

Home preserved foods: Nutrition friend or foe?

Home-preserved tangerines
This time of year, many food preservation enthusiasts are hard at work in their kitchens canning, freezing, drying and fermenting. They are scouring their recipe books (USDA approved, of course!) for interesting and delicious ways to take fruits and vegetables at the peak of their freshness and preserve them so they may be enjoyed year-round. For the home food preserver, this hard work will pay off for months to come, and lucky family members and friends will delight in the delicious gifts that are sure to come their way.

When we think of preserved food, however, we often conjure up thoughts of sticky, sweet jams and jellies and salty pickles and sauerkraut. The treats from the kitchen of a home food preserver are tasty, but it's not exactly health food, right? Well, you might be surprised to learn that this is not necessarily the case.

The many benefits of fermentation

Typical fermented foods include yogurt, soy sauce, miso, tempeh, buttermilk, pickles and sauerkraut. Fermented foods have been used for centuries in almost every culture for long- term food storage, to flavor foods and in times of food shortages. These foods offer a wide variety of health benefits due to the process of fermentation, which actually increases nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, nicotinic acid, riboflavin, and thiamine. Fermented foods also have "friendly bacteria" or probiotics, that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in our gut. More research is needed in this area, but some studies show promising results in treating bowel diseases and stimulating the immune system with probiotics. Additionally, the process of fermentation partially brakes down lactose, making it easier for lactose-intolerant people to consume milk-based products such as yogurt.

Cancer-fighting phytochemicals

When food is cooked, dried, frozen and reheated, there is always a loss of nutrients.

Vitamins A, C and B are often degraded through the cooking process, however, some cooked vegetables actually supply more cancer-fighting antioxidants than their raw forms.

For instance, researchers at Cornell University found that heat from cooking actually increases lycopene content and overall antioxidant activity in tomatoes.  Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical (or "phytochemical") found in tomatoes that decreases risk of cancer and heart disease. So what does this mean, exactly?  Is it better to eat our veggies raw or cooked?  Well, raw tomatoes are undoubtedly a great source of Vitamin C, but it's also a good idea to eat some canned or cooked tomatoes to benefit from the high levels of lycopene and antioxidant activity.  This is true for many other vegetables in our diet, as well.

What about all that sugar and salt?

Sure, jams and jellies are often made with a good amount of sugar, and we need to use salt to ferment pickles and sauerkraut, but there are ways to preserve food without high amounts of salt or sugar.

We can't remove the sodium from fermented pickles or sauerkraut (unless we rinse them before eating), but sodium can be removed from fresh-pack pickles. You can find delicious, low-sodium recipes on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/diet_pick.html). One concern we may have about canned vegetables (whether homemade or store bought) is that they are often high in sodium.  Well, the salt in canned food is only used to season the food, it is not necessary for safety. So, if you desire to keep sodium levels low, you can omit the salt when canning and use salt substitutes when you're ready to eat the food. Cooking with garlic and fresh or dried herbs is also great way to add flavor to a low-sodium canned food.

There are a variety of fruit spreads that can be made lower in sugar and calories than regular jams and jellies.  There are also two types of modified pectin that can be used that require less sugar.  Recipes for low-sugar fruit spreads can be found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can7_jam_jelly.html).

You can also use gelatin as a thickening agent in low-sugar recipes, but these fruit spreads must be refrigerated and used within a month or so, rather than canned for long-term storage.

Fruits can also be canned more healthfully in water or 100% fruit juices, rather than sugary syrups. These fruits must be ripe but firm and prepared as a hot pack. Refer to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning for more information. Splenda is the only sugar substitute that can be added to covering liquids before canning fruits. Other sugar substitutes can be added when serving.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor

The next time you enjoy a jar of home canned vegetables or fermented pickles, think cancer- fighting antioxidants and friendly bacteria for your gut.  Not only are you consuming produce that was preserved at the peak of its freshness, but you are certainly doing your body some good!

Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 8:26 AM
  • Author: Brenda Roche

Master Food Preserver Program returns to Los Angeles County

UC Cooperative Extension is pleased to announce the return of the Master Food Preserver (MFP) Program to Los Angeles County. After 10 years of being inactive, LA County residents have spurred on the revival of the Master Food Preserver Program through a renewed interest in home food preservation.

The classes, which are slated to begin on March 28, will be taught primarily by UC Master Food Preserver Ernest Miller. Miller, a formally trained chef, has years of experience with home food preservation and writes about food preservation in his blog PreserveNation.

Miller is currently the chef at The Farmer's Kitchen, a project of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles.  He earned his Master Food Preserver certificate by faithfully attending 13 weeks of classes in San Bernardino County. San Bernardino was the last remaining MFP program in Southern California, that is, until Orange County recently began an MFP program in February of this year.

“As the sole Master Food Preserver in Los Angeles for over a year, I know that there is a tremendous interest in traditional methods of food preservation,” said Miller. “The recent resurgence of gardening has definitely increased interest in food preservation. After all, there are only so many tomatoes you can eat fresh."

The program will run for 12 weeks, meeting in the LA County Cooperative Extension community demonstration kitchen. Eighteen enthusiastic LA County residents who were accepted into the program will learn everything preservation – from canning, fermenting, pickling and curing to smoking, dehydrating and brewing. MFPs will also learn about coping with emergencies and disasters. According to Miller, “Master Food Preservers do teach people how to can and dry food, but one of the lesser-known aspects of the MFP program is teaching people proper long-term and emergency food preparedness. Clearly, the immense tragedy currently taking place in Japan demonstrates the need for people to learn how to prepare for natural disasters, especially in earthquake-prone California.”

Once trained, LA County Master Food Preservers will begin conducting food preservation classes and workshops for the general public. The response to this program has been tremendous among LA County residents. Many food preservation enthusiasts are already looking forward to MFP-led workshops and demonstrations, and are hoping to one day become certified MFPs when future classes are held.

Support for the University of California Cooperative Extension Los Angeles County Master Food Preserver Program has been provided by the Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation.

For more information about the MFP program in Los Angeles County, please contact LA County Nutrition, Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor Brenda Roche at bkroche@ucdavis.edu, (323) 260-3299.

Posted on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 7:28 AM
  • Author: Brenda Roche

Preserving summer's bounty

As we move through the summer months, backyard gardeners everywhere are faced with the questions, "What do I do with all of these [insert vegetable or fruit here]?" followed by, "What was I thinking last spring when I planted all of this?"

To the rescue is a series of free, downloadable publications from the ANR Catalog. I've always noticed that these publications move to the top of our download charts each summer, so this year I decided to try one of the recipes.

This comes from the category, "What do I do with all of these peppers?" and is actually called Peppers: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy.  I had some dried apricots in the pantry, so I opted for the Apricot Pepper Jelly.

The ingredients are simple enough, dried apricots, peppers, apple cider vinegar, sugar and pectin.

A lot of people think making jam is complicated and requires special equipment. It's actually quite easy. If you can read and follow directions, and have good attention to keeping things clean, making preserves is a snap. The only piece of special equipment I have purchased for canning is a jar lifter. And of course you need the jars, lids and bands. Note that while the jars and bands can be used over and over, you cannot safely re-use the lids.

I wanted my jelly to have a little extra kick, so I substituted habanero for the jalapeño called for in the recipe. 

When handling hot peppers, always wear rubber gloves!

After soaking the dried apricots in hot water, they are drained, then added with the peppers and the vinegar to a food processor.

This looks like it needs a couple more pulses.

Then into the saucepan it goes, along with the sugar and pectin as directed. The recipe calls for food coloring, but since that is only for appearance, I left it out.

Less than 10 minutes later, the mixture is ready to ladle into sterilized jars.

Purists probably would not call this a jelly, as it contains small bits of the apricots and peppers. 

Once all the jars are filled and capped, into the waterbath they go. The recipe contains a chart of processing times based on altitude; mine is a short 10 minutes.

After the proper processing time, lift the jars out of the waterbath. Handle them carefully with the jar lifter, as they are very hot. After a few minutes out of the hot water, you will hear the ping! ping! ping! of success as the vacuum seal is made.

An initial taste test before processing revealed a piquant flavor, so I'm going to let the flavors settle in and mellow for a couple of weeks before use. I think it will taste great with goat cheese on crackers as an appetizer, or as a glaze on baked chicken.

Also in this series are similar publications for tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, garlic, oranges and apples.
Posted on Monday, August 2, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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