Food preservation goes beyond home canning

April 17, 2012

By David Hayes

Samantha Zistatsis, of Issaquah, cans everything at home, like peaches and pickles, to better preserve nutrients. By Greg Farrar

As a child, Samantha Zistatsis grew up outdoors, with a garden, critters and the whole nine yards. Her family took the best of nature and canned it for healthy eating throughout the year.

But when she grew up, Zistatsis took a hiatus from the outdoors, moving inside to concentrate on a career in electrical engineering.

However, armed with a new understanding of processes, when Zistatsis married and had children, she left the workforce to become a full-time mom and return to her first love — healthy eating.

To achieve that goal, she dove full bore into food preservation. She knew she had everything she needed to succeed at her Issaquah home.

“We live on a half-acre,” said the 46-year-old Issaquah mother of two. “A quarter of that is lawn, so we basically garden around the edges.”

She has gotten so proficient in food preservation that she now shares her expertise in classes at The Grange Supply in Issaquah and at a local junior high school, and she has even started a home business, Toad Hollow Designs.

From her garden, and supplemented by farmers’ markets, Zistatsis takes natural products from Mother Nature and creates her own preserves, off-the-shelf ready without the additives found in stores.

Zistatsis stocks her storeroom through four food preservation techniques:

  • Canning (peas, pickles, peaches)
  • Drying (dried apples, seeds)
  • Fermentation (sauerkraut)
  • Freezing (berries)

Zistatsis said that even though each process is easy once you understand it, she recommends starting small.

“Pick a couple of things you like, say, things to supplement this summer,” she said. “Freezing berries is the easiest way to start.”

For example, Zistatsis said, raspberries are expensive in the store, yet are so easy to grow.

Freezing is as simple as laying out a batch of berries of your choice in a tray, placing the tray in the freezer and then transferring to a plastic freezer bag once the preservation technique is complete.

“That way, they don’t get frozen together before being bagged,” Zistatsis said.

Canning, while relatively easy, requires more starting materials, most importantly a recipe (from any canning book, she said) and a canner, preferably a pressure canner, but old-fashioned stovetop steaming still works.

What Zistatsis likes most about canning is how nutrients are preserved — as long as they’re stored out of direct sunlight.

“Sunlight is the devil,” she joked. “Direct sunlight can reduce nutrients.”

Canners also have to have the proper jars and lids to seal in those nutrients. Many stores still carry proper canning materials. Zistatsis recommends checking out the stock at The Grange.

Zistatsis estimates she’s got about 100 jars of canned fruit at any given time in her root cellar. She recommends having a sturdy storage system, whether above or below ground, so the shelves of jars won’t tip in an earthquake.

Zistatsis said if you’re up for the drying method, a dehydrator is the more professional method, but sometimes it’s as simple as placing the food under an oven light.

“Just be prepared to not be able to use your oven for a couple days,” she added.

Finally, fermenting is as easy as canning, it’s just a matter of, again, finding the right recipe and ingredients to create the perfect pickle or sauerkraut.

The thing about preserving food, Zistatsis said, is that it requires year-round effort. She recommends checking with your produce guy for when fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year so you can plan accordingly. But in the end, it’s worth the effort.

“With food preservation, you’re never concerned with what’s coming out of a can,” she said. “A jar can be used over and over, you just have to replace the lid. And it’s environmentally friendly.”

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