Cool morning temperatures, yellowing Honeylocust leaves, plus plants weighted down with vegetables point towards late summer harvest season. A quick pass through my yard revealed ripe tomatoes, several cauliflower, onions, currents, and another round of green beans. Meal planning is easy this time of year given the abundance of fresh produces. Each day means more beans, more currents, more onions… but comes a point on how many times I can eat fresh green beans in a row for dinner. It’s time to start preserving the late summer harvest.
Gardener’s have you preserved any of your bounty for the coming months? While you may have reached your limit on eating a particular vegetable fresh from the garden, you will have new-found enthusiasm about eating it come January when even production in cold frames begins to wane. And let’s face it, we crave those summer flavors. Picture it now: beans standing on end with a few plump garlic cloves nestled at the base of the pint-sized jar or white florets of cauliflower punctuated with bright red peppers, each evoking memories of summer.
If you have never preserved fruits or vegetables before, here are a few methods that you can try:
- Canning (water bath or pressure)
But regardless of which method that you use, please keep these things in mind:
- Select firm, ripe produce; do not use overripe items
- Cut away any bruises, blemishes, or insect damage
- Wash your fruits or vegetables prior to preserving
Dehydration is the process of removing moisture from fruits and vegetables. But before putting your veggies on a drying tray, determine which ones are recommended to go through the blanching process (submerging food in boiling water for a brief period of time). Keep in mind that some veggies can skip this step. Examples of such produce include: onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. One thing I learned from experience is to dry like foods together. For instance, drying onions with grapes means that you will have onion flavored raisins.
Freezing is an equally easy preserving process. But unlike dehydration, blanching is a must. However, all vegetables are not the same so blanching times may vary.
Canning is more labor intensive than dehydrating or freezing, but I love the results. Depending on whether the fruit or vegetable is an acid or alkali determines the canning method; water bath or pressure cooker. Please note that water bath and pressure cooker methods are not interchangeable. You must also follow an altitude chart (provided in good canning books) for either method to ensure best results. As someone who moved from Iowa to Colorado, altitude affects the length of time for processing.
Acid foods, such as: tomatoes, sour cherries, plums, and food for pickling (such as cucumbers and cabbage) can be preserved using the water bath method. Follow instructions, such as those provided in the Ball Blue Book, an excellent book on canning, for your desired acid food. in some circles, the Ball Blue Book is considered to be the bible of canning.
Low acid foods, such as: carrots, beets, green beans, and corn can be preserved using the pressure cooker method. These foods must be superheated (temperature higher than boiling) for the time as specified in the recipe.
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria. Examples of foods/beverages produced through fermentation include: sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, beer, and wine. (Our surplus fruit is generally made into various fruit wines.)
Gardeners by preserving your harvest, you can enjoy summertime flavors all winter long. Start preserving now!