Published on 05/26/97

Savor Season's Bounty All Year Long

Even without all the graduations and weddings, spring and early summer would be a season of gifts in Georgia. It's when gardens and orchards offer a bounty of fruits and vegetables.

What's a fruit and veggie lover to do with all the strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, squash, corn, tomatoes, okra and dozens of other favorites?

Some gardeners leave a bag of produce on a neighbor's doorstep. Others have found a way to enjoy fruits and veggies all year.

"Preserving food yourself means having an abundant supply of a variety of foods when the fresh products aren't readily available," said Judy Harrison, a foods specialist with the University of Georgia.

Harrison revised the third and most recent edition of "So Easy to Preserve." This 300-page book contains the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines on safely preserving all types of foods. It has more than 150 tested recipes with detailed instructions for any home preserver.

The book covers fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, seafood and even nuts. It tells how to safely can, freeze, dry, jelly or pickle just about any food. It even tells how to store preserved food to keep peak quality.

Harrison said preserving foods stops or puts off the normal spoiling process. Bacteria, yeasts, molds, enzymes and physical damage all play a part in food spoilage. Correctly preserving foods kills microorganisms or prevents changes in color, flavor and texture caused by naturally present enzymes.

"Preserving food at home may not save you money," Harrison said. But it allows you to make specialty foods such as strawberry-fig preserves or green tomato relish that aren't always easy to find in the grocery store. Many people find it satisfying to have a pantry full of homegrown foods.

The cost of home preservation depends on the cost of the food and how it's preserved. Now, during spring and summer harvest, farmers' markets and pick- your-own farms have many fruits and vegetables for less than supermarket prices.

If you garden, your supply may be in the backyard.

"Careful attention to safety during preservation is vital," Harrison said. "When canning low-acid foods such as meat and vegetables, you must use a pressure canner to eliminate the risk of botulism, a deadly type of food poisoning."

Some foods are better suited to one preservation method than another. Others are tasty when you use any safe, approved method.

"Also consider which method you prefer to use and which produces a product your family likes," Harrison said.

You can buy a copy of "So Easy to Preserve" through your county extension office.