There is scanty rainfall in the country and prices of food stuff are on the increase in the markets. The economy is biting harder. For those who can afford to buy and store food stuff, how best can they preserve the fragile food items at home? ODIRACHINMA IHEGAZIE takes a look at it
The prices of goods and services in the country are on the increase. It has assumed a two-pronged problem as people complain of lack of money to buy foodstuffs due to the economic situation in the country. From cities to the villages, people are going through difficult times in terms of socio-economic condition.
This year’s late arrival of the rain is the major problem farmers are facing. Food crops are not yielding well because the delay or scarcity of rainfall in many parts of the country. This has made food stuff scarce and costly in the markets. Some consumers lamented that it is difficult for them to buy just small quantity of foodstuff like fresh pepper, tomatoes, onion due to its outrageous prices.
Nevertheless, many Nigerians are of the view that the best way to avert the high cost of goods in the market is to take good preservative measures in order to make sure that there is enough food for the people at affordable prices at all times.
A civil servant, Mr. Nicholas Nwatu, said that he wondered: “How can people cope in this economic hardship, especially now that prompt payment of salaries has become serious issues nationwide, both in public and private sectors? Method of preserving food during this period of scarcity is therefore important”.
He therefore called for adequate silos for storage and preservation of foodstuffs during harvest, saying the items should be released to the markets during planting, festive periods and other activities that normally affect food supply.
There are different ways of preserving and storing food stuff, especially the perishable ones for future uses. Taking tomatoes as one of the perishable vegetable for example, there are many ways it can be stored. Some of the ways include, freezing, steaming, drying and canning.
Mr. Samuel Orji believes that the freezer is the best means of preservation but lamented that people look down on it. “When we talk about storing and preserving fruit and vegetables, we usually think of jams, pickles, and canned goods. But the freezer is also a much-overlooked tool for preserving.
It’s not really a good option for most city-dwellers because you cannot pack a good quantity of some of these vegetables and fruits like tomatoes in a tiny freezer. But if you live in a larger home or have access to a chest freezer, then you can preserve these fruits and vegetables so easily”, he said.
Mrs. Grace Bassey maintained that perishable vegetables like tomatoes and pepper may be preserved by frozen whole, sliced or puréed. She added that it can be frozened raw or cooked, as juice or sauce, or prepared in the recipe of your choice.
Method of preservation according to Mrs. Bassey include selecting ripped tomatoes for freezing, sort the tomatoes and throw away rotten ones. Wash them in clean water and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towels.
Prepare tomatoes as described above. Cut away the stem scar. Place the tomatoes on cookie sheets and freeze. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes from the cookie sheets into freezer bags or other containers and seal tightly.
However, Mrs. Joy Ikeh argued that, dehydration removes water from tomatoes in order to preserve them. She added that amount of time it takes to dry tomatoes depends on the tomato variety, the air’s humidity during the drying process, the thickness of the tomato slices or pieces, and the efficiency of the dehydrator or oven.
“The best tomatoes to dry are firm, ripe and meaty. This type is usually oval shaped and called an Italian, Roma, plum, pear, or paste tomato. These varieties contain fewer seeds and more pulp and so produce dried tomatoes of better quality. Varieties such as beefsteaks that contain high levels of gel surrounding the seeds are not recommended for drying”.
Mrs. Ikeh stated that the secret to dehydrating tomatoes successfully is to control the temperature and air circulation. If held at too low a temperature less than 32°C, the product will dry too slowly, giving bacteria or mold a chance to grow. But at higher temperatures, the tomatoes will dry very well and make it to stay for a longer period of time.
Many believed that properly dried tomatoes have a dark red color and feel dry and leathery, but not hard or brittle. When you touch a properly dried tomato in the center, no tomato pulp should stick to your finger.
They said that tomatoes do not have to be sun-bleached before drying, urging that those living in high temperatures areas can preserve their tomatoes through drying.
Experts advised that during sun drying, air must circulate around and under each tray, so the trays should not be stacked. The cheesecloth or netting should be raised above the trays so that it does not touch the tomatoes. Turn the tomatoes from cut-side-up to cut-side-down once a day for even drying.
Many house wives believe that this step is important as it prevents the dried tomatoes from reabsorbing moisture. It will probably take at least 5 to 6 days, and perhaps as long as a week, to complete the sun drying process. The time will vary according to the air temperature and the size and type of tomatoes being dried.
Mrs. Peace Kalu said that canning is another method of preserving and storing tomatoes for future use. There are two types of canning, which include water-bath canning. This method sometimes referred to as hot water canning, uses a large kettle of boiling water. Filled jars are submerged in the water and heated to an internal temperature of 212 degrees for a specific period of time.
Pressure canning: This system of canning uses a large kettle that produces steam in a locked compartment. The filled jars in the kettle reach an internal temperature of 240 degrees under a specific pressure that’s measured with a dial gauge or weighted gauge on the pressure-canner cover.
Experts said that these information are necessary in order to assist Nigerians preserve fragile food stuff in this season of scarcity.