When August rolls around, it seems like I spend a lot more time in the kitchen preserving the harvest than I do in the garden producing it. Let’s see … there are tomatoes to be made into sauce and canned, green beans and squash to be frozen, peppers and celery to be dehydrated, cucumbers to be pickled, and on and on. You get the idea. This time of year it’s like living in the little house on the freakin’ prairie around here.
Fortunately, I don’t have to preserve food like Ma Ingalls did back in the day. Over the years, I have accumulated a number of modern conveniences that make the job of food preservation much less daunting than I imagine it was on the banks of Plum Creek.
These tools for food preservation may not be essential in that I could probably make do without them (unlike something that is an absolute must like a large, deep kettle for processing jars). But these time-saving conveniences are essential in that I would be less likely to preserve the quantity of food that I do without them.
I accumulated some of these items for the specific purpose of preserving my food. Others initially served another purpose in my kitchen until I discovered that they make great tools for food preservation. And now I can’t live without any of them.
If you are interested in growing and preserving more of your own food, or if you are still doing it the hard way, I encourage you to check out these tools for food preservation. For your convenience, I am providing my Amazon affiliate links if you would like to purchase any of the items. Simply click on the image under “buy it” to take you to the Amazon store. (If you do make a purchase through an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission. It won’t cost you anything more, but it will help me cover some of the expenses of maintaining this website.)
Six essential kitchen tools for food preservation
I find each of these items indispensable to my efforts to preserve as much of the food from my garden as I can. I hope they inspire and aid in your food preservation efforts, too.
1. Fruit and vegetable strainer and food grinder attachments for KitchenAid stand mixer
A KitchenAid stand mixer can be found in many a suburban kitchen. Maybe you got one for a wedding gift, like I did. Or maybe it was a birthday gift from your spouse. The stand mixer sure is handy for mixing batter or whipping cream. But did you know that if you add different attachments (sold separately), your stand mixer can do a lot more?
You see, KitchenAid sells a whole bunch of attachments for the stand mixer, from a food processor attachment to a pasta roller. But if you make and preserve large quantities of tomato sauce like I do every year, the most useful attachment is the fruit and vegetable strainer and food grinder combination set.
What it does Used in combination, the strainer and grinder attachments will remove all the parts of the tomato that you don’t want in your tomato sauce, paste, or juice – the skin, seeds, and other insolubles. They also can be used to make other vegetable and fruit sauces, chutneys, or jams. On its own, the grinder attachment can be used to grind meat for making sausages.
What you would do without it: If you are trying to make and can tomato sauce or juice without the strainer and grinder attachments (or another food strainer tool), you will have a lot more work to do. Juicing tomatoes the old-fashioned way is a laborious process that requires you to peel and core the tomatoes, heat them, and then force them through a sieve to remove the seeds. Who has time for all of that?
Read more: Using surplus tomatoes: How to make and can tomato sauce in three easy steps
2. A rotary grater
Zucchini and its sister the summer squash are two of the easiest vegetables to preserve. I always freeze what seems like a ton of zucchini during the months of July and August, in a process that first requires shredding zucchini. The tool that makes my efforts possible is my Moulinex julienne grater. It allows me to shred pounds of squash in no time at all.
My vintage grater is hard to come by these days, but a nearly identical version is available from Westmark of Germany.
What it does: The hand held rotary grater with has three interchanging blades for fine and coarse grating or slicing. The grater folds up when not in use for easier storage.
What you would do without it: If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can get a rotary attachment. But without either of those tools, your option would be to use a box grater, which takes more time. Also, it can be easy to cut yourself on a box grater if you aren’t careful.
Read more: How to freeze zucchini and summer squash
3. A vacuum sealer machine
Freezing food is the easiest and quickest way to preserve the harvest. Each summer, I fill up my deep freeze with veggies like beans, corn, zucchini, and even spinach and other cooking greens. My FoodSaver vacuum sealer machine (which I’ve had so long that the exact model is no longer available), helps tremendously in that endeavor.
What it does: A vacuum sealer machine removes air from the freezer bag or other packaging material by using a suction process. The removal of air helps preserve the quality of the frozen food and its flavor after it’s thawed and cooked.
What you would do without it: Without a vacuum sealer machine, you have to remove as much air as possible by pushing it out of the package or sucking it out yourself with a straw. No matter how hard you try, you can never seem to get all the air out, leaving your veggies prone to freezer burn.
Read more: Home freezing garden vegetables: How to freeze green beans, sugar snap peas and broccoli
4. A salad spinner
A salad spinner as a tool for food preservation? Why, yes. While a salad spinner is great for washing and drying lettuce and salad greens, I have come to appreciate it even more as a tool for food preservation when preparing vegetables for freezing.
Blanching, or scalding vegetables in boiling water, is an important step before freezing vegetables because it helps to preserve their color, texture, and flavor. But care must be taken not to overcook the vegetables. After blanching, you must drain and plunge the vegetables into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. This is when a salad spinner comes in handy.
What it does: Use the components of a salad spinner to drain and quickly cool vegetables after the blanching process. The base bowl of the salad spinner becomes an ice water bath by filling it with cold water and ice cubes. Use the colander to drain the vegetables after blanching and then immediately plunge the colander, drained veggies, and all, into the ice water bath. You also can use the salad spinner as it was intended to remove excess moisture from the blanched and drained vegetables before packaging them for freezing.
What you would do without it: You would need to have a colander and bowl big enough to fit the colander. Not a big deal, but when faced with five pounds of veggies to freeze, wouldn’t be nice to have a colander and bowl that fit together perfectly right at your fingertips?
Read more: Preserving the harvest: How to freeze spinach and other cooking greens
5. An electric food dehydrator
Drying is a great way to preserve berries, fruit, and many kinds of vegetables. At my house, we dry ancho and paprika peppers to grind into powder. We also dry herbs and other aromatics. Last year, I was bemoaning a surplus of celery until I realized that I could dry celery slices to make dehydrated celery flakes, great for adding tons of flavor to savory dishes.
The goal of drying food is to remove moisture – 80 to 95 percent of the moisture in the food. You can dry food in the sun; you can dry food in the oven. An electric food dehydrator is the most reliable method for drying food evenly and quickly with consistent results. And it’s super easy to use; once the food is in the dehydrator, you don’t need to pay much attention to it.
What it does: An electric food dehydrator dries food like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and jerky strips in hours using low heat and a fan to circulate the heat evenly over the food. Mine has a thermostat that ranges from 90 to 160 degrees and a timer that is programmable for up to 48 hours. The dehydrator came with four drying trays, and we added more. It can expand up to 20 trays for drying large quantities at one time.
What you would do without it: Drying food in a conventional electric oven takes a lot longer and uses more electricity than a dehydrator. You must have an oven that can maintain a temperature of 130-150 degrees F. Your oven will not be available for other use during the drying time, which can take up to 18 hours. Sun-drying is another option, but that method takes even longer and requires perfect weather conditions – high temperatures and low humidity for several consecutive days.
Read more: Preserving the harvest: How to make dehydrated celery flakes
6. A mandoline
A mandoline (not to be confused with the small stringed musical instrument of a similar name) is one of those tools that come in handy for a lot of things in the kitchen. But if you are faced with a mountain of cucumbers that need to be turned into pickles or any other mass quantity of vegetables that need to be sliced before processing, you can’t beat the convenience of a mandoline. Just remember those blades are sharp! Take proper precautions to avoid cutting yourself.
What it does: With this tool, you can quickly and uniformly slice and julienne vegetables and fruits. My Swissmar Borner model (which I’ve had forever) comes with a reversible slicing insert for think and thin slices, as well as two julienne inserts for creating different size strips. It also comes with a holder that grips the food to protect fingers from the sharp blades.
What you would do without it: You’d have to slice those cucumbers the old-fashioned way, with a knife and cutting board. But just try to cut them as uniformly as the mandoline does!
What kitchen tool are you unable to do without when preserving the garden’s surplus?