Success in the garden often means yer cup, plate and house runneth over with fresh produce; so dry, freeze and preserve the heck out of your excess bounty. Or share! (At Foodgrows, we have a vision to connect people who have a food growing passion … a place where you can meet with your neighbours to trade, share and perhaps even preserve, cook and eat together.)
Of course you can go solo and follow some of these simple ideas which will certainly get you on the road to making use of your bounty. Yes, retain the taste and nutrients of all that fresh produce while you defer the cooking to some future inspired time. After harvesting, take matters into your own hands by…
Has your herb garden turned out to be too much of a good thing? Are you overrun with too much say fennel, parsley or basil? After washing and drying them thoroughly, put them in individual freezer bags with sweet little name tags. Once defrosted they can be cooked (but not eaten raw.) Or take your favourite herb or combination of herbs, chop them up, add a little water and freeze in ice cube trays. Use them one meal at a time. They’re great for stews, pasta sauces and casseroles and yer ever lovin’ soups. Another use for all that excess rosemary, sage, chili pepper etc. is to add a fresh sprig to an elegant bottle of olive oil and be gastronomically delighted as it first infuses the oil, then your taste buds, with its wonderful taste and aroma.
Fruit takes well to freezing, just ask your smoothies. Fruit pieces and berries tend to stick together during the freezing process though, so spread them out on a cookie sheet covered with parchment or plastic wrap. Once they have frozen you can pile them into another container or bag. There they will all hang out without getting all clingy. No one needs icebergs of fruit in the freezer that require a hammer to get at.
Vegetables that freeze well are carrots, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and broad, runner and dwarf beans. To successfully freeze these, first wash them, then dry and cut them into bite sized pieces. Throw these bandits in some boiling water for a few minutes then plunge them into ice cold water. This is called blanching, not torture. The ice water stops the cooking process cold. Once these are drained well, and dried…freeze away. You can use trays as you did with your excess fruit, as some vegetables will also stick together, or not… just pour them into your favourite freezer bag or container. It is a good idea to add a date to that extraordinary label you created. (Remember Mr. Multitasker, stick them on before freezing.)
Frozen vegetables do not need to be defrosted before using! While cooking, just reach into your freezer and add them with a personalized flourish, and shizzam whatever you are concocting just got more delicious and healthier! It is important to note that vegetables with a high water content do not freeze well; zucchinis, tomatoes and cucumbers will not react well to this kind of attention. So cook these babies up first by making a ratatouille or pasta sauce or chutney with your excess and then freeze those delectable masterpieces in smaller containers once cooked and cooled.
Once the moisture is removed from a vegetable it will no longer be prone to rot. It is an age old process that has stood the test of time. Tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchinis are the usual suspects when it comes to drying; but don’t let that stop the mad scientist that lurks beneath your politically correct exterior. Go. Experiment. I won’t tell. You can be traditional and sun-dry, or oven dry, or even indoor air dry (on a rack opposed to a baking sheet for air circulation purposes)…. Or you can go that extra dry mile and get a coveted Dehydrator!(If you are a Raw Food enthusiast you know how crucial the drying process is to your alternative way of ‘cooking’.) And if you haven’t yet explored the Raw Food movement, let me tell you that it is so much more than the name suggest. So much more! Especially when it comes to that wonderfully concentrated taste. Raw foodies are deeply committed to the chic and amazing dehydrator contraptions. They will make drying and dehydrating a slick, easy and professional process. Snacking just got crazy healthy.
Squash, pumpkin, garlic, dried beans, onions and shallots can all be stored if you allow them to ripen and fully dry once you’ve harvested them. Yes, once harvested just hang the garlic and shallots in separate bundles in a cooler dry place. You can leave the stems and leaves on during this process. That is how to dry your herbs as well! Yep, just bundle and hang. Beans can lay out on a wire rack. Potatoes are best harvested on a dry day, just turn them up out of the soil and let them sunbathe for a few hours. Then you can go pick the ones that make the grade and lovingly place them in a doubled paper bag and fasten it tightly and place in a dark, cool, dry place. Or alternatively just chuck em’ in; they’ll be fine whatever your disposition may be at the time.
Everyone loves dried fruit. Making homemade fruit leather is very easy. Once you have successfully dried something, you must keep it in an airtight container so that moisture cannot sneak back in and undo all of your efforts.
Preserving and Pickling
Oh Granny, you had it so right with those jars of beans, beets, peaches, apricots and plums. What a treat to have something from your garden in the middle of the darkest days of winter. Preserving just takes a little time and effort but is so worth it; your children participating in the age old process will be getting a taste of that sacred kitchen of yours and techniques that are time honored and delicious. In general, it is vinegar or sugar that will be doing the preserving. If you are tempted to replace the sugar with honey in your fruits and jams, just know they will not last as long. Canning is a process in which food is preserved by getting them into airtight sterilized glass jars. They are heated to a very high degree which stops any bacteria, mould or yeast from even contemplating a visit. As the jars cool, you will hear a little sound which will let you know the seal has formed, giving you an airtight alibi. The reward is home grown food all winter.