September 3, 2012 | Best of the Food Web, Technique, Vegetables
I was recently offered a chance to head out to my CSA farm early in the morning to join a few other members for harvesting tomatoes. You can take what they provide weekly in your distribution, but if you’re willing to put in the labor, you can harvest a boatload for putting up. I took them up on that offer, and then returned home, faced with not only over 100 pounds of tomatoes……but a pile of red and white onions that hadn’t hardened over very well with papery skin to protect them. Rather than risk them rotting, I decided to put them up……along with the purple peppers I loaded up on before leaving the farm. There’s just one problem, I’m lazy when it comes to preserving food. I could go through the proper processing to ensure safe canning, but I don’t usually want to put forth the extra effort, not to mention I harbor fears of killing someone with some wild bacteria I set into motion. So if you’re like me, follow this guide for getting the most out of putting up either your own garden harvest or your fall haul from the farmers’ market or your CSA farm.Peppers and onions are easy – simply give them a rough dice – or a fine dice if you like – and pop them into a bag in the freezer. Since you are mostly using them as an aromatic to start a dish, or in soups and stews and chilis, it doesn’t matter that they break down a bit when frozen.Plum tomatoes make outstanding sauce. Don’t worry about blanching and seeding – simply rough chop them and boil in a large pot until very soft, about 45 minutes. (Don’t add water – the tomatoes will release their water to cook the tomatoes.)Let them cool before pressing them through a food mill to remove stems, skin, and seeds, then return the liquid to the pot and reduce. What starts out as a full pot of tomatoes will end up being about a quarter of a pot of sauce. I don’t add any seasonings or even salt, but simply pour it into containers to freeze.My farm was overflowing with gorgeous huge beefsteak type tomatoes, and for these, I simply do a rough chop and crush them into containers to freeze. While you are crushing them, get some of the juices to come out so that the pieces of tomato in the container is fully immersed in tomato water. I keep the lids off when freezing (especially important if you freeze in jars as the expansion can crack the glass) until they have frozen and expanded, then tighten all the lids the next day.If you use plastic containers like this you don’t have as much risk with freezing and expanding. Now some people think you should seed and skin your tomatoes before putting them up – you certainly can, but know that doubles your work at a minimum, I just don’t mind the skin and seeds in my soups and stews, and you can always run them through a food mill when thawed before using if you need to remove that later. Also be warned that when you thaw them, they will separate into pulp and tomato water. While the water does have a pretty intense tomato flavor, I often drain off much of the water to yield a more intensely flavor tomato pulp.Corn is simple – just slice the kernels from the cob and freeze in bags or containers.I used to make pesto to keep my basil for the winter, but I’ve discovered an even better solution – a simple herb puree. I whirl the leaves in the food processor with just enough oil to make a very thick paste, then freeze the paste in ice cube trays which I then pop into a bag. That one cube of pureed herb is quite intense, and since it doesn’t have any cheese, pine nuts, garlic, or other additions, it’s pretty pure and can be used for multiple dishes. If you want pesto later, simply add in those extras when you thaw it. This same technique can be used for other soft herbs such as tarragon, sage, and mint. Since they are all green, make sure you label your bags!For sweeter red, orange, or yellow peppers, I like to roast them on the grill, remove the skins, and store them in bags in the freezer. I also use this technique for chile peppers. Here’s how to do it, if you’ve never tried.For leafy greens, you’ll have more space to store them if you strip the leaves from the stems……and then blanch in boiling water to wilt them. Squeeze out all of the water and bag in individual or family size servings before freezing.Although my beloved peach tree in my yard died last year, I wrote before about freezing peaches whole, with the skins intact. It’s genius, really. No work at all!And my very, very favorite way to put up plums is to dry then overnight in a low temp oven, then pop them into bags to keep in the freezer.Although theoretically I shouldn’t need to freeze them if they are dried, I like them a little moist still and this step prevents any bacteria from growing.I don’t love freezing most other vegetables as their texture changes too much when frozen. I do like shredding zucchini and freezing that to use in cakes and breads.But a better option for me is to make a creamy vegetable soup from whatever vegetable I’ve harvested and freeze the soup.If you want to make pickles, Refrigerator Dills are the easiest way I know how.In another month or two when the winter squash starts showing up, you’ll be tempted to load up. Although they do last a pretty long time on the counter, if you want to keep them all winter long to use in sauces, soups, or other dishes, simply roast them and freeze the pulp. I mix all of them together into a big bag of yellow squash pulp.If you are left with a bunch of green tomatoes at the end of the season, you can puree them and freeze the pulp to be used in place of tomatillos in stews or chili, or make Green Tomato Bread and freeze it, or make this unusual Green Tomato Relish.And finally, if you have a bunch of smaller plum tomatoes or large grape tomatoes, try oven drying them like the plums.
That’s about all I can think to share with you about preserving the bounty this fall – if you have “lazy ways” for doing things also, please do comment!