Preserving Summer’s Bounty

September 15, 2009  •  Technique

This is the time of year that every foodie adores – harvest season. Incredible fresh produce at incredibly reasonable prices seems to just keep rolling in, week after week. The flavors are at their peak, but before you know it the snow will be flying and you’ll be staring at those hard, imported, tasteless tomatoes again in the grocery story. Although it may seem like a lost are, or worse yet, like something you just don’t have the time to do, putting food up for the winter can be simple. And the payoff of enjoying the bounty all through the winter makes it totally worth the effort. I figured a summary post with links to all of the easy ways to preserve foods might jump start you.Let’s start with tomatoes – not just because I’m swimming in them, but because they are simple to preserve. I opt for freezing them because it’s quick and simple.I’ve been doing a batch every few days as I harvest mine – only takes about 15 minutes, and now I have a freezer shelf full of these pint jars. If you have an abundance of plum or cherry tomatoes, you might try oven drying them. I love the chewy goodness that creates – and store mine in the freezer just in case there’s a little moisture left in them.If your tomato plants are still working overtime like mine, you’ll probably be left with green tomatoes that just won’t ripen. You can only eat so many fried green tomatoes, so puree the rest and keep it in the freezer to make Green Tomato Bread. Or make the bread now and freeze it for later.
Next up, peppers, which happen to be one of the easiest things to preserve. I like to simply roast mine and store them in plastic bags in the freezer. you can use them in soups, dips, stews, chilis, salads, tarts, salsas, brushettas…need I go on? You get the picture – these are handy to have around! I like to do mine on the grill so you don’t stink up the house. If you buy them roasted from the market, I think it’s best to remove the seeds and store them in flat pieces.

Some of you may have the skills and patience to make pickles from scratch, but I’ve got a secret way to make them easily and quickly – okay it’s not that secret if I blog about it. But just know they are ready to eat in a few days, but last months.Herbs can be tricky. I vastly prefer fresh herbs over any other version, but I live in Colorado, which means they only grow outside half of the year, and the other half is so dry inside that it’s almost impossible to grow a kitchen herb garden (although I have done it).Some herbs dry pretty well – mint and dill, for example – if you just bundle them up and hang them upside down in a dry place. but I find that tarragon and basil, which happen to be my two bumper crops as you see, don’t taste like anything when dry. I prefer to make pesto or herb butter with them. Both store well in the freezer.

You can also make flavored vinegars by simply putting a clean sprig of an herb in a jar with vinegar and letting the flavors marry.

What to do with the rest of that CSA bag full of incredible stuff? Here are some quick ideas:
  • Soup! (That one link will take you to recipes from Barley Jambalaya to Zucchini Soup, including 10 other options.) All soups use vegetables – either as a background aromatic or as the star of the recipe – and they freeze well for enjoying on a cold winter night.
  • Tarts! Savory tarts (you might still think of them as quiche) can be made with an infinite combination of vegetables and other ingredients and also freeze well.
  • Prep Ingredients! Freeze things like diced peppers, onions or celery so they’ll be ready to quickly throw into a soup, sauce or stew on a busy weeknight.
  • Freeze Vegetables! I don’t like alot of vegetables frozen, but I think green beans and corn freeze well. I don’t like to do anything to either of these vegetables first. Just cut the kernels from the cob and snap the ends off the beans, and freeze them in plastic bags. You’ll be transported to summer when you have Corn with Basil Butter or BBQ Green Beans in the middle of the winter.
  • You can also make jams, jellies, and preserves with most fruits, but since I’m still sitting on too many jars of this from previous years, I won’t be doing any this year. Instead, I intend to dry the remaining plums from my lovely Italian plum tree to enjoy over the winter as a snack. Look for that post later this week.

Think this is too much to do on your own? Gather up a group of your best friends, share a few laughs (and perhaps a glass of wine) as you bang it out together. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

Thanks for all of your good wishes – I’m finally on the mend and even ate lunch today. Recovered just in time to make it to the Colorado Mountain Winefest this weekend to celebrate my birthday with 20 friends! I’ll post details of the event on my Travel Journal Blog when I return!

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