Harvest 2012: Put Up & Eat Up
The harvest is in, and we're pulling in tons of tomatoes, buckets of beets, and carrots and cucumbers by the carload. We can't possibly eat it all. So we're "putting it up," and saving plenty of our plenty for winter. That means pickling, yes, but not always. There are lots of easier ways to preserve summer's abundance.
I'm glad for each of them because I cannot abide the idea of putting food in the garbage just because no one stuck a fork in it in time. I especially cringe at the idea of trashing any part of the garden harvest because it's hands-down the best food of the year: fresh, organic, loaded with nutrients, and sublimely, gorgeously, fantastically delicious. Mark my words: I am not wasting so much a single precious cherry tomato.
That said, canning, with it's need for meticulous sterilizing procedures, is a pain. It's satisfying to do, but it'll eat up a day or two. So while we certainly can our share of goodies, we frequently employ other tricks to save as much food as we can to feed winter's hunger.
That starts with a freezer. Get one. You won't regret it. We just bought a nice energy-efficient upright for $300 that will pay for itself in food savings by this time next year. Once you've done the same, you're ready to go with these ideas in food preservation:
- Make basil pesto. We have giant bushes of basil waiting. Rather than dry it, which kills its brighter flavors, we make pesto, freeze it in ice cube trays, and store the cubes in freezer bags. It's great with pasta, in soups, on bread, or in any recipe calling for fresh basil. In cube form, you'll defrost only what you need.
- Dry your cherry tomatoes. I cut mine in half from top to bottom and pack them onto a cookie sheet. A few hours in a slow 195° oven creates dehydrated jewels that last all winter in freezer jars.
- Speaking of tomatoes, chop the big ones up into bite-size pieces and freeze them, too. They'll be ready for any recipe needing canned varieties, and they'll keep BPA off your menu, too.
- We freeze a lot of other vegetables, too: broccoli, carrots, beans, beets, and more. You have to chop and blanch them first to protect their flavor. Then you just freeze them by the serving for fresh sides all winter.
- There's also cold storage. You'll need an indoor space with a temperature around 32° and high relative humidity, which can be accomplished in the basement with an insulated storage container or room opened it to the outside via a window. Getting there may be a bit of a project. But once you're done, you can store all kinds of things for months.
- Finally, let's not forget refrigerator pickles, which are canned pickles minus all the sanitizing. Almost any recipe will do—just remember to keep them in the fridge and eat them within a few months.
Methods like these really help us stretch our food budget, and they keep our homegrown harvest of healthy whole foods going all winter long. Believe me when I say we appreciate them with every single bite. You will, too.
There's only one link you need in a blog post like this: the one for the National Center for Food Preservation, the go-to source for everything from blanching times to freezing instructions. Bon appetit!