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Preserving Summer’s Bounty

By MaryBeth Hornbeck, MS

September in Georgia is the perfect time to preserve the last tastes of summer for enjoyment during the winter months or gifts for friends and family. Canning and freezing projects are gratifying, especially when the flavors bring you back to summer in the middle of winter. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension (UGA Extension) can help you preserve with confidence, as it houses the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) as well as a host of Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agents who provide education regarding this important topic.

Safety First

  • Be sure to start with clean hands.
  • Wash all produce with cool running water, using a veggie brush on firm-skinned items.
  • Ensure that all equipment and countertops are clean, as any bacteria could contaminate your final product.

Produce Quality Matters

The first consideration for any food preservation project is that quality in equals quality out. Your canned or frozen item will only be as good as the produce you start with, especially if you plan to consume the food several months to a year from now. Use the freshest produce you can find and aim to preserve within a day of harvest or purchase.


Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve foods because it can be done in less time than canning or drying, processes are simple, and batches can be scaled to fit your needs. If stored at a temperature of 0°F, fruits and vegetables will last for 8-12 months. If you’re planning to freeze a lot of food, reduce your freezer’s temperature to -10°F the day before.

Find instructions for your specific food. Berries, other fruits, and vegetables each require different preparation techniques. For example, blueberries can be “dry-packed” and frozen on a cookie sheet in a single layer, then packaged in a freezer bag. Peaches are better with a sugar or syrup pack. Corn and other vegetables require blanching to stop enzymes and prevent browning during freezer storage.

Air is the enemy when it comes to high quality frozen food. Prevent freezer burn and flavor contamination by using your choice of moisture/vapor-resistant packaging such as freezer-safe containers or freezer bags.

Don’t forget labeling, as everything is harder to identify once it’s frozen. Include key information such as the amount, contents, and packaging date.

Water Bath Canning

Foods with high amounts of acid including fruits, jellied products, tomatoes, and pickles, can be preserved in a water bath canner. To preserve low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, and beans, you must use a pressure canner to reduce the risk of botulism.

The canning process involves heating food in jars, so microorganisms are destroyed, enzymes that affect produce quality are deactivated, and vacuum seals are created to protect the food. Properly canned items can be stored at room temperature with optimal quality for up to a year.

To get started, you’ll need Mason-type jars with a two-piece lid and a water bath canner with a metal rack. Alternatively, you may purchase a metal rack to go in a large stock pot you already have. While lids are single use only, the jars and ring bands can be reused if in good condition. Inexpensive kits with jar lifters, headspace gauges, and jar funnels can also make the process easier.

The next thing you’ll need is a tested recipe from a safe source, such as UGA Extension or the NCHFP. Cook times and other details in a safe canning recipe are based on science; unlike cooking, these instructions are not suggestions and cannot be tweaked. Everything from the amount of liquid, ripeness of the produce, size of the food pieces, and size of the jar matters. Safe recipes will include instructions for how to prepare the food, what size jar to use, how much acid to add, and the processing time based on your elevation. Always use store-bought vinegar or lemon juice when canning.

Safe canning requires a defined processing time. Any jar that is warm and cools down may seal, but that doesn’t mean that all potentially dangerous microorganisms have been destroyed. Processing time begins when all jars of prepared food are submerged in the canner, and the water comes to a rolling boil. During the processing time, the boiling cannot stop — if it does, you must begin the time over again.

Ready To Get Started?

Visit the National Center website at for general information, hot topics, and safe recipes. You can also visit for fact sheets and pamphlets including “Freezing Fruit,” “Sensational Salsas,” or “Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products.” If you prefer a book, the 6th edition of So Easy to Preserve is used in workshops across the country. Contact your local Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 to find the nearest Family and Consumer Sciences agent to ask questions, attend a workshop, or find a safe recipe.