Freezing or canning? What’s the best way to put up goodies from the garden?

That depends, said Jessica Piper, analytics specialist in consumer affairs for Jarden Home Brands, which markets the popular Ball brand home canning products.

One thing to consider is what you're putting up. "Not everything can be frozen, and not everything can be canned," Piper said.

Another issue is personal preference. Freezing and canning produce different textures and flavors, she says. “Depending on your palate, some people may prefer the texture of frozen vegetables instead of canned ones and vice versa.”

Still another factor is how you intend to use the food you're putting up. For example, you should ask yourself how long you intend to store the food, Piper said. Canned soup, for instance, will stay shelf-stable for up to one year in your pantry versus six months in your freezer, she said.

And there’s the issue of time, perhaps the most important factor for people with busy lifestyles who are already struggling with balancing work and life. Freezing is convenient for everyone and requires little time on the front end. But, advised Piper, you do have to consider the thawing time on the back end. (And Lloyd Alter raises a question we don't address here that's worth a read: Which method has the smaller footprint?)

If you’re looking for help to decide what’s the best way to preserve the bounty from your backyard garden, you’re in luck. There are several sources that offer an excellent guide to freezing and canning. One is the 37th edition of the "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving," just published this summer. Another is the website of the National Center for Home Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia.

Preserving guide

When people think of Ball jars, they might think they can be used only for canning. But that’s a misconception, said Piper. The company offers jars for both freezing and canning, and if you're looking to reuse some jars at home, the differences apply to all types of containers.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a canning jar that’s safe for freezing from one that is not, Piper said. “When looking at a jar,” she explained, “it’s important to look at the area where you screw the band on at the neck. If the jar has a neck and shoulders, like a human, then that jar is not freezer-safe. If the jar tapers from the neck, then this jar is indeed safe for freezing."

When you buy a new case of jars, there will also be a blue note on the packaging if the jars are freezer-safe.

While the "Ball Blue Book" is largely about canning, there’s an entire section devoted to freezing that will help gardeners fill a freezer. In addition to a step-by-step guide to freezing, which includes advice on prepping, blanching and packaging, the section includes descriptions of how to blanch and freeze a wide range of specific vegetables, including such summertime favorites as lima and snap beans, carrots, peppers, squash, tomatoes, and even herbs and mushrooms. The section includes recipes for mixing herbs such as basil, dill and lemon balm with butter to make and freeze flavored butter.

The book is available online and can be found at select grocery, hardware and mass retailers nationwide. The company also offers more information about its canning products and safe home freezing and canning practices online.

canned vegetables on a pantry shelfSome people prefer the taste of canned vegetables and fruits; others prefer frozen. (Photo: Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock)
The National Center for Home Food Preservation

Another source of information for deciding whether to freeze or can food from your garden is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). The purpose of the center, which the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the USDA established in 2002, is to represent the USDA and cooperative extension centers at land grant universities by addressing food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods, said Elizabeth Andress, NCHFP project director. The center does that by providing current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation, including freezing, canning, drying, fermenting, pickling, making jams and jellies, and storing food.

The center offers information through an easy-to-navigate website. A menu on the left side of the homepage titled “How do I?” takes visitors to information on canning, freezing and other methods of food preservation.

If you want to find out how to freeze green beans, for example, simply click on “Freeze” under “How do I?” That takes you to a list of all the foods for which the site has information about freezing. Next, click on “Beans: Green, Snap, or Wax.” That step opens up easy-to-follow directions for freezing green, snap or wax beans and gives the source of the information.

Information about canning specific fruits or vegetables can be obtained in the same way. Just click on “Can” under “How do I?” This navigational thread also provides information about using water canners and pressure canners.

The popular site recorded 2.3 million users during the 12 months ending July 14, Andress said. Not surprisingly, in 2013 and 2014, the highest traffic days of the year were at the end of summer. People had likely harvested their gardens and are looking for tips on what to do next.

The center also offers free lesson plans for teaching students in the fourth through 12th grades on how to preserve food at home. That information is available at a link called “Put It Up!” The plans are ideal for after-school group leaders, summer camp instructors, parents, 4-H agents, extension educators, farm-to-school programmers and classroom teachers.

The center developed the curriculum for national use and tested it in Georgia and South Carolina. The goals are to teach an appreciation for food science and safe food conservation while addressing science and math concepts for school-age kids that apply to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Launched in September 2014, about 1,300 copies of the curriculum had been downloaded by April of this year.