Preserving Your Harvest
There are many ways to preserve your summer harvest and extend your enjoyment of self-grown produce into the fall and winter. You might regret giving all your produce away come winter when you have a hankering for locally grown produce.
By Mara Higdon
(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener September 2015 issue.)
There are many ways to preserve your summer harvest and extend your enjoyment of self-grown produce into the fall and winter. You might regret giving all your produce away come winter when you have a hankering for locally grown produce. Some of the easiest and most economical ways are freezing and drying. You will need freezer-safe zip-lock bags or airtight Tupperware to store your produce. Start with fresh vegetables or fruit that are at the peak of ripeness. Make sure they are free of dirt by washing with cold water, air drying, and if necessary cut to a manageable size. To stop the ripening process and kill any bacteria, produce may need to be blanched or dipped in boiling water for a brief 1-2 minutes. Remove the vegetable from the boiling water and dunk into a bowl of cool water. Pack the zip lock bag till nearly full and seal after letting out as much air as possible. Using a permanent marker, write down the date and quantity.
Many items preserve best in sauce form, such as tomato sauce, applesauce, fruit purees. For these items, a few additional steps are needed. Once the wash step is complete, cut into pieces and throw them into a stainless steel soup pot. Bring to a boil while stirring to ensure the bottom does not scorch. The point here is to cook down the pulp and reduce the amount of water in the fruit. After 10 minutes, using a sieve, strain the skins and seeds out or leave them in. Usually, tomato skins are removed as they can affect the taste later on. This leaves you with a more concentrated reduction. Return the strained contents to the pot and cook for another 30 minutes. Let the sauce cool. Once cool, you can begin packing your zip-lock bags. Again, pack the zip-lock bag with the sauce and gently squeeze out the air. Write the date and the quantity on the bag and freeze.
Drying can easily be done in your oven or in a dehydrator. Dehydrators range in price from $45 – $100. As with freezing, you will need zip-locks or airtight Tupperware for storage. Wash and dry your produce and then slice thinly, cutting 1/8 – ¼ inch slices. The thickness of what you are drying is key and thinner is better. For berries, you can leave them whole, but it might take a bit longer to dehydrate. If you want to spice it up a bit, sprinkle your favorite spices on the sliced veggies: salt and pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne powder, garlic powder, and curry powder are a few recommendations. Lay your slices on the dehydrator, spacing them evenly. Stack the dehydrator trays and turn it on. Follow the instructions that came with your dehydrator. Typically it will take 8-12 hours to dry.
If using your oven, set it to 130-200°. Lay your washed, dried off, and sliced veggies or whole berries on parchment lined cookie trays, spacing them evenly. Put in the oven for 4-6 hours or till the slices look dry and wrinkly.
To store your dried veggies or fruit, put them into your zip-lock bags or air tight containers. Remove as much of the air as possible and label and date. Store them in a dark, cool area of your kitchen.
To use frozen items, pull out the item and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. Or use them frozen in smoothies or casseroles that will be baked in an oven. Dried items can be eaten as is, or reconstituted by placing in water or juice for 20 minutes as needed.
Mara Higdon was Programming Director of Gateway Greening in St. Louis when she wrote this article. She is now working and living with her family in California.