You probably don’t think of food preservation ideas when searching for Christmas recipes and other holiday food ideas. However, there are several ways you can incorporate simple food preservation methods during the holidays. The following do-ahead and storage techniques can make holiday meal preparation easier and might even save you a little money.
Bread for stuffing can be saved from the heels of loaves of bread or leftover rolls and buns. Cut bread into cubes and dry in a low (below 200F) oven until crisp. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dry pantry.
Brussels sprouts can be very successfully frozen, making holiday meal preparation a little easier. Additionally, you can dry vegetables for use in soups, stews, and gratins. Pickle a few Brussels sprouts for added interest in the holiday relish tray, too.
Citrus fruit comes into season during winter, from November to April in California and Florida. Although most commonly eaten fresh, there are several food preservation methods suitable for citrus fruit, including drying, canning, marmalade (a type of fruit jam), freezing, fermenting into vinegar, pickling with salt, and macerating in alcohol.
Cranberries make that “must-have” sauce to accompany the Thanksgiving turkey. It’s easy to preserve canned cranberry sauce at home. For each pint of sauce, cook 2 cups cranberries with 1/4 cup water (or orange juice) until they burst; add 1 cup sugar (or to taste) and 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (optional), and boil for 3 minutes. Process pints or half-pints for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If you don’t want to preserve cranberry sauce by canning, you can also freeze the sauce or whole cranberries for use in making sauce, as well as pie and jam. Use frozen cranberries to make a cranberry pie, just as you would make any berry pie. Or, substitute cranberries for one-fourth of the apples in your favorite apple pie recipe for a surprising but delicious twist on an American favorite. Cranberries are high in pectin, so they make great jam, especially when you combine them with sweet, low pectin fruits such as blueberries, cherries, figs, or strawberries. I like to make small batches of jam throughout the year, using frozen or dried fruits. It provides more interest and variety than canning large batches of one type of jam in summer. You can also combine puréed cranberries with other puréed sweet fruits to make dried fruit leather; try them with pineapple and banana or applesauce.
Mushrooms for stuffing and side dishes can be sliced or chopped and dried. Alternatively, sauté, cool, and pack into freezer containers. Pickle a few mushrooms for yet another interest in the holiday relish tray. Download this free PDF tip sheet for more mushroom food preservation recipes.
Onions and celery is another do-ahead step for making stuffing and side dishes. Simply chop these vegetables and preserve them raw by drying in a low oven (below 140F) or freezing.
Potatoes and root vegetables can be purchased in large quantities to save money and stored over winter. Potatoes need to be stored in a dark, cold location. If possible, remove potatoes from plastic bags, place in a basket, and cover with newspaper. Peeled and blanched potatoes take well to oven drying (below 140F). For more information, read this short guide to winter food storage. Save potato skins after peeling to make your own potato peel vinegar. The general process is to ferment potato trimmings (as well as pineapple or citrus peels) in water using wine or beer yeast. Full acetic fermentation usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. For more detailed instructions, see the book The Home Preserving Bible.
Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and turnips can also be cellared in your house or yard at temperatures just above freezing. Cut off the tops, leaving a 1-inch stem and place in baskets or boxes, or a storage bin buried in the ground. To increase humidity moisture, layer the crops with sand or sphagnum moss. For more information about cellaring, see the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living.
Pumpkin and winter squash store well in a cold cellar, but the flesh can also be grated and dried for everything from soup to pie. You can preserve cubes of pumpkin or squash by pressure canning. However, mashed pumpkin or squash is only safe for freezing, but not canning. Don’t forget the seeds, too. Roast pumpkin seeds and peel for snacking or grind and strain for melon seed horchata, a refreshing Latino beverage.