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Planning the Garden for Preserving Foods | Gardening


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Do you have favorite varieties of plants you like for canning or freezing? We feel fortunate when we find varieties that work well for eating fresh as well as for canning and freezing. Often a variety excels in one of these areas. If you have gardened for a period of time, experience helps you select the variety for the purpose you want. Sometimes, the seed packet or a seed catalog will give some guidance for using the produce. This column will include some tips for selecting seeds.

In an article by Lois Miklas, Penn State master gardeners shared points to consider in selecting tomato plants. One is whether the plant is determinate or indeterminate. Determine cultivars grow to a pre-determined height, flower and produce fruit within a more narrowly defined time frame.


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Determine plants are more compact, which is ideal in a limited space or if you want your tomatoes to ripen at the same time for canning. Indeterminate cultivars continue to grow and produce tomatoes through early fall. Some can reach 8 to 10 feet, requiring staking or caging for support. While suitable for canning, you may need to gather them over a period of time until you have enough for a canner load.

The following are some of the master gardeners favorite tomatoes for cooking and sauces. “Amish Paste” is a plum-shaped indeterminate heirloom tomato. “Hungarian Heart” is an indeterminate heirloom that is a classic oxheart tomato shape that grows to a large size and has few seeds. “San Marzano” (heirloom and indeterminate) was developed as a sauce tomato with a flavorful, meaty flesh found right inside the skin.

Favorite Canning Cultivars

All-around favorite tomatoes include varieties suitable for both cooking and eating fresh. “German Red Strawberry” is a large tomato with a classic oxheart or large strawberry shape. “Health Kick Hybrid” contains 50% more of the antioxidant lycopene than most tomatoes.

What’s the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes? Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated and the seeds will be true to the parent. You can save and replant the seeds of heirloom tomatoes and expect the same delicious harvest year after year. If you save seeds from a hybrid tomato, the fruit from the next generation will not be like the parent and may be disappointing.

Here are a few tomato canning reminders. Both heirloom and hybrid tomatoes are borderline in acidity, with some having a pH above 4.6. To be safe, always acidify tomatoes when canning them. Add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid powder to a pint jar, or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid to a quart jar before filling them with the tomato product. Regardless of the color — red, yellow, orange, or whatever — directions for canning tomatoes are the same. While yellow tomatoes may taste less acidic, the natural sugars mask the tartness of the tomato — it does not change the pH.

Some corn varieties are desired for their sweetness. Newer super-sweet varieties that are popular for eating fresh may disappoint when canned, because the extra natural sugars caramelize during processing at the high temperatures in a pressure canner and turn the corn brown. This does not affect the safety of the corn, but does affect the color and flavor. In fact, the high temperature that causes caramelization is essential to make the corn safe and destroy botulism spores. While less-sweet varieties may not turn as dark, there will still be some color change, because corn is largely starch. Most varieties of sweet corn are suitable for freezing because there is not the problem of heat caramelizing the starch.

Stringless green and yellow beans vary in desirability for canning and freezing. Long, straight, slender beans work well for canning. Gold Rush, Jade and Blue Lake 274 are favorites for canning, picking and freezing. Roma II is a flat bean with wide pods suitable for freezing. Long slender beans called filet beans are 1/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter and are not recommended for freezing or canning.

Pickling cucumbers have a thinner, lighter skin and are shorter and squatter than salad-slicing-type cucumbers. However, good quality slicing cucumbers can be picked and used in relishes. Gherkins are simply a shorter variety of cucumber that is usually pickled.

Include food preservation as one of the factors when you plan your garden.

If you have food preservation questions, a home economist is available to answer questions on Wednesdays from 10 am to 2 pm, by calling 717-394-6851 or writing Penn State Extension, Lancaster County, 1383 Arcadia Rd., Room 140, Lancaster, PA 17601.

The Well-Preserved news column is prepared by Penn State Extension.

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