The Preserving Answer Book

Expert Tips, Techniques, and Best Methods for Preserving All Your Favorite Foods


By Sherri Brooks Vinton

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In this comprehensive guide, expert author Sherri Brooks Vinton answers the home preserver’s most commonly asked questions about every aspect of food preservation, from refrigeration and freezing to canning, drying, and fermenting all kinds of fruits and vegetables. She also offers tips and techniques for setting up your kitchen, choosing the preserving process that best suits your needs, making equipment and ingredient substitutions, and much more. Whether you’re new to preserving or just looking to refresh your memory at the start of the season, whether you want to know the difference between jam and jelly or which varieties of tomatoes are best for canning, you’ll find the information and confidence you need with this kitchen companion in hand. 


For all the eaters who ask questions and demand answers


I would like to thank my husband, Drew, and my kids, Ava and Thayer, for their constant support, lack of fussiness when I travel for weeks on end, and general buena onda. How lucky I am.

Thanks Mom, Granny Toni, and Gran for my formative eating years. I owe each of you for my obsession with all things edible.

I would like to thank Lisa Ekus and The Lisa Ekus Group for their kind attention and dedication to the movement.

I'd like to give a shout out to my kitchen sistahs (and bros) who share the passion for delicious, homemade food and dedicate themselves to teaching others how to feed themselves.

And thank you readers, eaters, canners, and cooks everywhere for your support of local farmers and real, good food. Now get in there and cook up something tasty!



Part 1: Getting Started

1. Basics

Why Preserve?


2. Sourcing and Storage

Finding Good Food

White Peach Jam

Prolonging Produce

3. Prep Work

Kitchen Skills


Peels and Pits

Recipe: Raspberry Jelly

Making the Most of It

Kitchen Tips

Part 2: Preserving Processes

4. General Canning





Recipe: Bread-and-Butter Chips


When Something's Gone Wrong

What Not to Do


5. Boiling-Water Method


Setting Up

About pH and Acid

Reliable Recipes

Recipe: Pickled Okra

Filling the Jars

Loading the Canner


Checking for a Seal

6. Pressure Canning



What to Pressure Can

Recipe: Green Beans in Water

7. Refrigeration

Recipe: Simple Brine

Recipe: Pub Pickles

8. Freezing

9. Drying


Recipe: Dried Cherries



10. Fermentation

Encouraging a Good Ferment

Recipe: Classic Fermented Sauerkraut




11. Infusions

Recipe: Strawberry Vinegar

Part 3: Putting Your Skills to Work

12. Sweet and Savory Spreads


Recipe: Quick Blueberry Jam

Recipe: Pan-Roasted Chicken with Raspberry Reduction



Recipe: Peel-and-Pip Pectin

Sugar and Acid

Getting a Good Set


13. Pickles

Recipe: Pickling Spice

14. Sauces

Recipe: Blueberry Gastrique

15. Vegetables

16. Whole Fruits

Recipe: Pears in Honey Syrup

17. Tomatoes and Tomato Products

Recipe: Avalanche Sauce

Metric Conversions



Savor Seasonal Flavors with More Books from Storey

Share Your Experience!


Is there any home cooking activity that churns up more anxiety than food preservation? Roasting your first Thanksgiving Day bird, perhaps. I understand that the turkey hotline rings off the hook on that day. Since my book Put 'em Up! first came out, in 2010, my phone and e-mail have been getting their share of jingles as well. Eaters all across the country have reached out with their preserving questions, concerns, and triumphs. The Q & A sessions in my classes have been terrifically robust. There is so much to know about this craft, and it has been a challenge and a pleasure to work through the answers to all of the questions that have been posed along the way.

This book is by no means an exhaustive overview of all food preservation processes. It does, however, aim to answer the most frequently asked questions about putting up your own produce. Consider it a hit list of the problems and solutions that many home preservers face when drying, freezing, fermenting, infusing, and canning their food.

I am very grateful to the eaters who have trusted me to help them clear their kitchen hurdles. I hope, in some small way, that I have encouraged more people to return to the kitchen to cook up, preserve, and enjoy not only great-tasting food but also lasting memories of lovely times and delicious things shared with friends and family. After all, while there is a great deal of technical information involved in these processes, the goal isn't to perform a science experiment. It's to create your next great meal.

I hope you find the answers here to all of your preserving questions. But if you don't, give me a shout. The hotline's always open.

Part 1Getting Started

If you were to ask me the hardest thing about preserving your own food, I would have to say it's simply getting started. For many home cooks, taking their first turn at preservation can be intimidating. Learning to use unfamiliar tools and mastering the techniques seems too high a hurdle to clear. Even the most experienced home preservers can find themselves procrastinating before jumping into the season's first canning session as they tick through a mental list of equipment and ingredients they need to gather.

But preserving your own food doesn't have to be difficult or frustrating. "Getting Started" gives you all the tips, tricks, and information you need to slip right into the preserving pool. Whether you are looking to dip a toe in and test the waters — perhaps by simply drying a bit of fruit or freezing a batch of berries — or you are ready to jump head first into putting up your summer garden, this section gives you all the fundamental knowledge you need to get on your way.

Chapter 1Basics

Walk through the aisles of any grocery store and you are sure to find shelves so heavily stocked, it seems easy to argue against preserving your own food. We can get anything at any time these days. But it's important not to mistake quantity for quality. The best food still comes out of your kitchen, from your hands. You can make food that tastes better, that is better, than anything you can find in the store. It is easier than you think, and safer than you've heard. And you're sure to come across recipes that allow you to create things that are more fantastically flavorful than anything money could buy.

Why Preserve?

Q What's to love about preserving your own food?

A Oh, let me count the ways! For me, it's all about connection. Preserving my own food keeps me connected to my local farms during the fallow season. It just plain feels good to see food from the people I know and trust lined up on my shelves. It also connects me to my past as I resurrect the tastes and techniques that have been passed down through generations of my family and other preservers like me. And preserving food connects me to my friends and family. Sometimes we are all working together in the kitchen to put food up, and that feels great. I am also able to bring jars of my tasty preserved foods to friends when I visit or send them care packages across the miles. It's a way to feed some of the people I wish I could have around my table more often. Maybe that's a little sentimental, but food's pretty deep that way for me. Here are a few reasons I would recommend that you give it a whirl:

  • Delicious. Homemade food always tastes best. There isn't an assembly line out there that can compete with a good turn in a home kitchen.
  • No preservatives. You control what goes in the jar.
  • Preserves local agriculture. Canning is just another way to buy and eat local.
  • Uses up surplus. Waste not, want not.
  • Fun. Spending time with good food and maybe even some friends and family to help out — what could be better?

Q Can you really preserve your own food if you have a modern (read: busy) schedule?

A No doubt about it, preserving food takes time. But it doesn't always have to be a lot of time. There are projects that can be accomplished in a jiffy. While you might not always have the chunk of time you want to put up a year's worth of tomatoes, there are other preserving methods at your fingertips that can help you keep your pantry stocked. Here are a few quick preserving ideas for when you have more produce than time:

Kitchen Tip

Enlist reinforcements! It's super to have help when you are preserving your food. Even kids can pitch in, particularly with the prep — they are great at pitting cherries, peeling tomatoes, and skinning grapes. Getting help — even from the little ones — means your home food preservation will be fast and fun.

  • Freeze it. Frozen fruits, such as berries, can be added directly to recipes without defrosting. You can also save up your berries and turn them into sweet spreads and more, later in the season.
  • Dry it. Ten minutes is all it takes to run a piece of thick string through the stems of a couple pounds of chile peppers. Let them dry, and you will have spice all year long.
  • Chill it. Vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, and zucchini make terrific refrigerator pickles. Submerge them under your favorite brine and they will keep in the fridge for at least 3 weeks.

Q I've never been a gardener. Is home food preservation for me?

A That makes two of us! I have never had a green thumb, yet I put up loads of food. I source everything from local growers by either visiting them at their farms, shopping at the farmers' market, or going to the U-pick. And I am happy to say that when my gardening friends find themselves flush, they know that I have a will-can-for-food policy that will keep us both well fed.

Some farmers will offer a discount if you buy in bulk — by the bushel, case, or flat. If that sounds like too much for you, get together with some friends and put in an order together. It helps the grower move product, and it can make your grocery bill a little lighter.

Q Why does preserving continue to be popular?

A Preserving food is by no means a modern invention; it's how eaters smooth out an erratic food supply and has been practiced pretty much since humans began to eat. Methods of food preservation, having originated largely from the environmental conditions of the area, are numerous and varied across cultures. In cold climates, food was frozen, while in arid regions, food was dried.

Even today, a trip to a desert bazaar will still offer you an array of dried fruits that have soaked up the sun. In fact, drying food is one of the oldest food preservation techniques. It allowed nomadic tribes to preserve foods that would spoil and it made the food lighter so that it could be transported more easily.

Eaters also relied on "controlled rot" to work with the natural bacteria in their area to help them preserve food. Beer, one of the first recipes ever written, is the delightful result of preserving grain through fermentation. Wine, cheese, yogurt, and pickles are all aged foods suspended in a delicious state by the beneficial effects of bacteria on foodstuffs.

While canning as we know it relies on the modern invention of the three-piece jar, jarring and potting foods under a layer of oil or fat is the same concept of airtight food storage and a tradition that reaches back through the ages.

So the next time someone sniffs at preserving as a passing fancy, know that you aren't just being cool, but that you are also continuing an ancient food tradition.


Q What are the most common causes of food contamination?

A Contamination is a risk anytime you are preparing food. Preserving is no exception. Follow these easy tips for reliable, delicious results:

  • Follow your recipe. Can't say it enough. This is not the time for improvisation. Stick to the script to maintain the necessary acid balance that makes food preservation safe.
  • Keep your work space clean and organized. You don't have to sterilize your kitchen, but be sure that you give everything a good wash-down before you start.
  • Keep your food clean. Wash off all visible dirt, give sturdy foods a good scrub, and rinse all delicate items in several changes of water before you bring your food to the cutting board.
  • Check your jars. Make sure the lips are smooth, with no hairline cracks in the glass that can lead to seal failure or breakage down the line.
  • Use only fresh food. If it isn't good enough to eat, it isn't good enough to preserve.
  • Did I say to follow your recipe?

Q Do I need to use any special sanitizers on my kitchen surfaces and equipment before I start preserving food?

A When preserving your own food, you will get the best results when your work space is clean and organized. Home kitchens, however, can never be completely sterile, and you shouldn't worry about trying to get them hospital clean. You don't need to swab your counters down with alcohol, bleach, or any other harsh chemicals. Just wash equipment such as tongs, ladles, and pots in hot, soapy water, and wipe counters down before you begin.

When I am using the boiling-water method, I also like to lay out a clean tea towel. It not only gives me a fresh work surface, but it also catches the drips from this wet process. An apron is a nice idea, too, but not necessary. It's a good idea to tie back long hair to keep strays from making their way into your recipes.

You don't have to presterilize your equipment for any recipe processed for 10 minutes or longer. However, if your filled jars will spend less than 10 minutes in the boiling-water bath, then everything that touches your food — jars and all equipment — must be presterilized by submerging everything in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Q What is botulism and what causes it?

A Botulism, the "big B" of canning, is the illness caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria that can sicken those who are exposed to it and can, in some cases, be fatal. The bacteria are very common; they are often found in soil and can be present in untreated water. However, the bacteria need to be in a low-acid, anaerobic environment to produce the illness-inducing toxin. While one can create these conditions in a canning jar, you have to veer very far off course to do so.

If you follow these golden rules of canning, you can feel confident that your canned foods will be delicious and wholesome:

Follow your recipe. Never alter the ratios of produce to acid in your recipe; this will raise the pH to a level that may be unsafe for your preserving method. Process only high-acid recipes with the boiling-water method. Process nonacidic foods (such as vegetables without added acid, meats, and fish) using a pressure canner (see here).

Never try to cheat the clock. Process foods for the time indicated in your recipe. Adjust for altitude. Dry foods for the amount of time indicated, and do so slowly and thoroughly to avoid creating airtight but moisture-filled food, which can become contaminated.

Kitchen Tip

Hold the phone! Or at least make sure you're on speaker. Once you start a home food preservation project, you should move through the process smoothly, without interruptions that will make you start and stop. No stopping to take a call or run an errand. You don't need to rush through it, but keep a steady pace for the best results.

Q How can I tell if my food is contaminated?

A If you are following your recipe, there is very little chance that you will run into problems. While not all contamination is apparent, there are some signs to look out for. In the off chance that you see any of these warning signs, dispose of your food immediately:

  • Mold in a sealed jar. While ferments may have some mold that forms on top and can be disposed of, mold inside a sealed jar is not okay.
  • Fizzing or bubbling inside a jar of processed food.
  • Musty or boozy smells inside a sealed jar.
  • Color changes beyond a small amount of dulling or darkening in a low-sugar spread.
  • Slimy textures.

Q I have a collection of preserving recipes passed down from my family. Can I use those?

A I would never pull anyone away from family traditions. There is a lot of nuance in preserving food that can't always be captured in a book, and a lot of solid, tested knowledge that has been passed down for generations. If you and your family have been using a certain recipe or technique that has proven reliable and delicious for you, that's great.

However, many techniques, such as open-kettle canning, have been put aside to make way for more reliable methods with safer, more predictable results. I suggest you give these modern methods some thought and see if you don't agree that they allow for a greater rate of success.

If you have a recipe that is dear to you and you want to make sure it is safe, you might consider approaching your local ag extension office (cooperative agricultural extension service) to have them review it. They might give the thumbs-up or offer a simple tweak or bit of advice that can give you more consistent results. Samples can also be sent off to food labs for testing.

If you are just starting out, I suggest you avail yourself of the many modern preserving books that have hit the shelves in the past few years. We are always learning new ideas for making time spent preserving food more efficient and results more predictable.

Learn the Lingo

The names of homemade preserves, like jam and jelly, get thrown around all the time, particularly on restaurant menus, where they are treated with a nice dose of poetic license. The fact is, the terms cannot be used interchangeably; each has a distinct definition that describes its ingredients and preparation method. Here are some of the most common terms used for home-preserved items.

Chutney. In flavor, chutneys lie somewhere between preserves and pickles; even though they are often made with fruit as their main ingredient, they utilize vinegar for its preserving power. Chutneys are made with all kinds of fruits simmered with spices and savory flavorings, such as garlic and onions. Some common ones include mango, tamarind, cilantro, and onion chutneys.



On Sale
Mar 2, 2021
Page Count
256 pages

Sherri Brooks Vinton

Sherri Brooks Vinton

About the Author

Sherri Brooks Vinton is the author of Put ’em Up!, Put ’em Up! Fruit, and The Preserving Answer Book. Vinton began her food career on the back of a motorcycle. A cross-country ride brought her face-to-face with the negative impacts of industrial agriculture and compelled her to begin a quest for food raised with integrity. Since then, her books, appearances, and hands-on workshops have taught countless eaters how to find, cook, and preserve local, seasonal food. Whether developing content, organizing events, or consulting with clients, Vinton is always working to find her next great meal. To learn more, visit

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