Edibles

Preserve the Harvest

Preserve the Harvest

When fall approaches, that could mean only one thing—harvest! If you’re like us, you have more than you can eat in a week. So we’ve been thinking about all the ways we can preserve our harvest to enjoy in the months to come.

Before you start preserving, make sure you:

  • Use fresh, disease-, and blemish-free vegetables. Overripe, diseased or blemished veggies can spoil your whole batch.
  • Sanitize work surfaces, equipment,
    and containers.



1. Freezing

Before freezing, most veggies should be blanched (plunged in boiling water momentarily) or cooked. Onions and peppers are the exception; they can be sliced and frozen in portions, making it convenient to quickly add to dishes like stir-fries or burritos prepared on the fly. Look to a county extension agency, the USDA, or a food preservation website for specific blanching and cooking times.

Our favorite freezer foods:

  • Marinara sauce. Tomatoes can be prolific plants, so make a huge pot
    of marinara and freeze it in
    meal-sized portions. Try our easy,
    roasted tomato marinara recipe.
  • Roasted peppers. Roast any pepper over an open flame (grill or gas stove) or in the oven. Freeze in portions. Think of all the money you’ll save when you pull this pricey grocery store item out of your freezer!
  • Salsa Verde. Tomatillo harvest is heavy at the end of the season. Salsa is a good way to use your other vegetables and herbs, too. Freeze portions of your Salsa Verde to warm you up in the winter to come.
  • Basil. Quickly blanch basil leaves in very salty water, to keep it fresh and vivid green. Pat dry leaves, and blend with olive oil using a blender or food processor until a soft paste. Freeze basil oil in ice cube trays for making pesto later or to use in other recipes.

Tips for freezing:

  • Freeze herbs mixed with olive oil or butter in ice cube trays, then put the herb cubes in freezer bags. First, using a measuring spoon, put water into the ice cube slots to see how much each cube portion is, then you will know how many herb oil/butter cubes to use in your recipe.
  • Freeze whole fruits and vegetables like cherry tomatoes on a cookie sheet first, and then place them in a freezer bag; that way they don’t clump together into a frozen block, making it easy to remove only what you need.
  • Be sure to label and date portion sizes on frozen items. This labeling will help with recipes later, and since most frozen food should be used within 6 months to a year, it will help you keep your freezer up to date.

2. Dehydrating:

A dehydrator is a great tool for preserving the harvest, but there are also “low-tech” methods. Nearly any vegetable is a good candidate for dehydration with exception to watery vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, and cucumbers.

Low-Tech Methods:

  • Simply hang herb stems from a string, out of direct sunlight, in a dust-free area until crisp. Once dried, place herbs, on or off the stem, in sealed containers and use within 6 to 12 months.
  • In low humidity areas, you can build a “solar dryer” by sandwiching vegetables between two screens that are propped up on blocks or sawhorses. Place the solar dryer in an area that is about 85°F and if situated outdoors, be mindful of rain or other weather conditions that could ruin your efforts.
  • With a watchful eye, use the oven, set to a low temperature to dehydrate your harvest
  • When using a dehydrator, dehydrate one crop at a time to avoid the flavors mixing.

Our favorite dehydrated food ideas:

  • Dehydrate vegetables and herbs for a soup mix to use on a cold winter day; for camping; or to give as gifts. Freeze, or pack dehydrated foods in a minimum of oil, to extend life.
  • Vegetable leathers (just like fruit leathers but with vegetables) are a delicious and nutritious snack for kids on the run.

3. Fermenting:

Home fermenting, also know as pickling, is fun, rewarding, and requires minimal equipment. The practice of fermenting originated long ago as a way to preserve food without refrigeration. Fermented foods are generally soaked in brine for a period of a couple hours to several weeks. During this time, colors and flavors change, and acidity increases. The fermenting food stays below the level of the brine, therefore oxygen free, preventing main culprits like mold or bacteria from spoiling the goods. All that is needed to start the fermenting process is a glass or ceramic container and salt. Follow a fermentation recipe to be sure the acidity is high enough to be safe.

Our favorite fermented foods:

  • Sauerkraut. Add shredded or chopped cabbage to a brine solution. Many other vegetables and spices can be added for variety.
  • Sour Pickles. Old-fashioned brine-fermented cucumber pickles are customizable, crisp, and delightfully tasty.
  • Kim Chi. A traditional Korean side dish, versatile, and delicious. Kim chi is often made using Napa cabbage, radish, bunching onions, and hot peppers, but 200 or more recipes exist. Kim chi can simply be eaten with steamed rice, or incorporated into fried rice or savory pancakes.

4. Canning:

If done safely, nearly all fruits and vegetables can be canned. Safe canning eliminates bacteria, yeast, mold, and enzymes, which spoil food. Once you know safe canning methods, you will need some equipment to get started, including canning jars and lids, a pot or pressure cooker, and possibly a few more tools for handling jars safely. All the foods mentioned in freezing and fermenting can also be canned.

Our favorite canning foods:

  • Jams. Vegetable jams are delicious! Follow a recipe for canning tomato or pepper jams and enjoy for breakfast, lunch, or dinner all year.
  • Pumpkins. You don’t have to wait until “Pumpkin-Spiced-everything” season to enjoy fresh pumpkin from your garden. Cut into cubes or pureé before canning.
  • Green beans. Nothing beats fresh picked beans eaten right in the garden except possibly dill green beans. Crisp, dilly, and garlicky, this ready-to-serve side is a welcome ray of sunshine on the dinner table.

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