Sustainability is at the heart of food banking. Since its founding in 1980, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank (the Food Bank) has been rescuing perfectly edible foods from going to the landfill or being turned back into the ground by farmers and delivering them to people across southwestern Pennsylvania living with hunger. Last year the organization rescued nearly 14 million pounds of food.
During southwestern Pennsylvania’s growing season when fresh, local produce is abundant the Food Bank works with farmers to rescue quality, local produce and help families get the most of this food by making it last as long as possible.
“There’s always corn there that we say is not sellable. It’s certainly edible, but it’s just not perfect. So that’s what the gleaning [food rescue] process does. It comes in and gets that stuff that’s leftover in the field after I get what I can sell.” – Art King of Harvest Valley Farms
Freezing is one easy way to preserve fresh foods.
Freezing fruits and vegetables is one way to preserve flavor and freshness long after the season is over. Frozen fruit lasts about a year, frozen vegetables last for about 18 months. Using frozen produce after a year or 18 months is ok, but the quality may decline.
- Choose produce that’s ripe and unblemished.
- Before freezing vegetables, blanch and shock them. Blanching prevents vegetables from losing their color, flavor and nutrients. To blanch, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge vegetables in the water for two to three minutes and then plunge them into ice water. Once cooled, shake them dry and pat with paper towels to dry.
- Before freezing fruit, wash it and remove damaged fruit. For fruit that tend to brown (apples, apricots, nectarines, peaches) either treat it with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) or mix about one quart of water with one tablespoon of lemon juice and dip cut fruit in it.
- To freeze fruit and blanched vegetables, dry them and then spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. Once the produce is frozen solid, store them in air-tight containers or freezer bags marked with the type of produce and the date it was packaged. Be sure to remove as much air as possible from the containers when sealing them.
The best fruit and vegetables to freeze include:
Canning is another way to preserve fresh foods.
Canning is slightly more complicated, but is another great way to preserve produce for future use and doesn’t require a freezer to keep produce good for future use.
To can produce you will need:
• One extra-large pot for sterilizing jars and lids
• Five- or six-quart metal or glazed cast-iron pot
• Jar grabbers
• Metal funnel
• Several metal ladles of different sizes
• Canning jars, lids, and rings
• Paper or cloth towels
Canning works best for jams and jellies with the right amount of acid and sugar in the recipe. For best results follow verified canning recipes.
1. Wash and dry jars before using them. Use a new lid each time to ensure a good seal. Before using a lid, soak them in hot water for at least 10 minutes to soften the rubber edge.
2. A canning funnel makes filling jars easier. Fill the jars, leaving about 1-inch of space near the top so there is room for expansion. The amount of space needed at the top depends on the recipe, so be sure to follow those directions.
3. Run a thin, non-metallic spatula around the insides of the jars after they are filled to remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to remove any spilled food.
4. Place the warm lid on and screw the ring firmly in place, but not as tightly as you can. You can tighten the rings a little more after the jar has cooled.
5. Make sure the water level in the pot will fully cover the tops of the jar by about one inch.
6. Bring the water to a rolling boil and lower the jars into the water and cover the pot.
7. Set the timer for 10 minutes for most jams and jellies. Fruits and pickles may need more time – follow the instructions from the canning recipe.
8. Once the processed jars have been removed from the pot, let them sit, undisturbed, for at least an hour. As the jars cool, the lid will sink in the center showing that the lid has sealed. If they do not seal, refrigerate the jar and eat the preserved food within two weeks or use a new lid and go through the boiling process again.
9. Mark cans with the name of the food and the date when it was canned. Store canned food away from direct sunlight in a cool, dry place. They should have a shelf life of a year. If you open a jar and something doesn’t look or smell right, don’t chance it – throw it away. Better safe than sorry.
Produce nearing the end of its useful life can still be used.
For vegetables that are too close to the end of their useful live for preserving by freezing and canning, consider making vegetable broth for winter soups and stews.
Vegetables to use: Carrots, celery and onions are the key ingredients in vegetable stock, but many other vegetables can add flavor. Wash and save roots, stalks, leaves, ends and peelings from vegetables such as asparagus, bell peppers, chard, eggplant, fennel, garlic, green beans, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes, scallions, and squash. Beet greens, corn cobs, winter squash skins and herbs like cilantro and parsley are also good additions.
Vegetables to avoid: Scraps from the following vegetables are better off going into the compost bin, as their flavors can be too overpowering: artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, rutabagas and turnips. Beet roots and onion skins should also be avoided, unless you don’t mind your stock turning red or brown.
Spoiled vegetables: Although stock is a great way to use veggies that are wilted or slightly past their prime, be sure not to use produce that is rotten or moldy.
Storing scraps: You will want to collect about 4 cups of vegetables to make 2 quarts of stock. Save scraps throughout the week, wash and chop them into similar sizes, and keep them in an airtight bag or container in the refrigerator. If you are collecting scraps for longer than a week, store them in the freezer.