September is organic harvest month, and the fruits and veggies are ripe for the taking, eating to your heart's content, and preserving. Looking ahead to winter, rather than buy expensive imported produce, which is likely to have higher pesticide residues, you can treat yourself to raspberries, blackberries, string beans and tomatoes you've put away, yourself. The next few weekends are peak farmers market time, and late-summer produce is at its most affordable all year. To find a farmers' market near you, click here. Also, look for fresh regional produce at your supermarket.

The easiest way to preserve produce is by freezing. Nutritionist Joan Gussow, who eats from her New York garden year-round, writes in her wonderful book of advice and recipes, This Organic Life: "The other day, I took out of the freezer one of the tomatoes I had simply thrown into a bag and frozen for lack of time. I thawed it with a little heat, but not so as to cook it, and ate it from a bowl with salt and pepper. Closest thing to a fresh tomato in winter."  Gussow also says that berries are eminently freezable, just wash, drain and store in zip-lock bags.

Because frozen tomatoes can take up lots of space, leaving you no room for ice cream (not necessarily a bad thing), Gussow advises thawing and cooking them up into confits and sauces as time permits, throughout the autumn. Which brings us to the forgotten art of home canning, with its added health benefits of storing acidic foods like tomatoes in glass Mason jars, rather than buying them in cans that leach the toxic chemical bisphenol-A.

Of course, one has to be careful and take canning step by step. Vegetables and tomatoes are low acid foods that need to be processed in a tall pot known as a pressure canner at a hot enough temperature for a long enough time to kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning and spoilage. Most fruits, being acidic, are a bit easier. But in any case, think of your kitchen for this task as a surgery: Cutting board, sink, tools, must be very clean (jars need to be sterilized).

For full instructions, including safe methods, temperatures and time schedules, check with your nearest university's USDA agricultural extension office. To find it, click here. Many of them have free downloadable canning and preserving fact sheets. They also sell booklet called Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables (#21392) for only $1.75. And do call them with any questions. It's a great service, like having your old home ec. teacher on tap. 

This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Preserve produce, health, budget
Homemade preserves live up to their name in more ways than one.