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Can you can? Of course you can! Dr. Elizabeth Pavka looks at the nutritional aspects of preserving vegetables at home.

Q: "As fall approaches, I'm hoping to do some canning with the veggies my garden produced this growing season, and I'm curious about the nutritional aspects of this method. Are home-canned vegetables a nutritious option?"

--Heather J., Weaverville, NC

Thanks, Heather, for your very timely question. Many of us can relate to the overwhelming abundance of garden produce this time of the year. As a young girl, I helped my mother can in a hot water canner (see below). Later in life, when my children were small, I canned a cellar full of peaches, pears, applesauce, tomatoes, tomato sauce, pickles and relishes. Now, I freeze strawberries, peaches, blueberries, pesto and a few jars of tomatoes.

As a nutritionist, I tell my clients that fresh and frozen vegetables are generally more nutritious than canned. However, consuming canned vegetables is healthier than eating no vegetables at all. Always consume the liquid, too, because many of the water-soluble nutrients end up there. Please don't pour that liquid clown the drain. It won't nourish the drain, and you'll lose out on all those nutrients! You can keep the liquid in the refrigerator for a few days and add it to soups, stews or spaghetti sauce. Or, you can pour the juices into a jar kept in the freezer and take it out to make soups. You can even drink the juice from canned beets!

There are important, basic safety precautions that a person must know in order to can foods that are safe to eat. Vegetables from the garden are generally low-acid foods that must be processed in a pressure canner (which works at a higher heat than a water bath canner) to prevent the growth of botulism. Green beans, in particular, must be processed in a pressure canner, because you never know which green bean might have a botulism spore on it. In contrast, most fruits are high-acid foods that can be safely processed in a hot water bath canner. Newer guidelines recommend adding two tablespoons of lemon juice to one quart of tomatoes before canning to prevent botulism. And, we must adjust the water bath times and canner pressure for the higher altitudes here in the mountains.

Like so many skills, it's often easier to learn by doing under the tutelage of someone who knows. Cathy Hohenstein, MPH, RD, family consumer science agent with NC Cooperative Extension, will be offering classes in August in Asheville and Black Mountain on canning tomatoes. For more information about the classes or questions about canning, contact her at 828-255-5522 or

You can also learn by consulting books or the Internet. Here are a few good books and links: The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning, How to Dry Foods by Laura DeLong, faq/42.php>-30frequentlyaskedquestions; and The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, (book and DVD series So Easy to Preserve).

Finally, I want to share a note about freezing. Blueberries are one of my favorite antioxidant rich fruits that grow locally, and they're very easy to freeze. Because blueberries are one of the fruits that ripen after being picked, I let them sit overnight on the counter before freezing. And because they grow on bushes and don't touch the ground, I don't wash them. I simply spread them out in a single layer on a 9x13 cake pan or a cookie sheet with sides that has been covered with plastic wrap so they don't stick while freezing. I pick out any "non-blueberry material," cover the pan with a kitchen towel, and place it in the freezer for three to four hours until the berries are hard. Then, I spoon them into one-quart freezer bags, along with one tablespoon of water, to keep the air inside the bag hydrated so the berries don't dry out over the months in the freezer.


If you'd like to know how to freeze peaches without using sugar, send me an email request. Good luck on your canning adventures!

Have a nutrition question?

Email your question(s) to Put "Nutrition Question" in the subject line and include your name (first name and last initial will do) and city of residence.

Columnist Elizabeth Pavka, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, a wholistic nutritionist with more than 27 years' experience, provides nutritional counseling for a wide variety of health issues. Dr. Parka helps her clients prepare an individualized eating plan and often recommends vitamins and mineral supplements, digestive enzymes, probiotics, etc. that support health. She teaches classes, writes articles for local and national publications, consults with organizations about nutrition and wellness, and speaks before professional and lay audiences; she can be reached at 828-252-1406 or
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Author:Pavka, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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