Preserving Your Summer Bounty (article from the Summer 2015 newsletter
So you’re at the point in your summer garden where abundance reigns. And just what are you going to do now with all the extra zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and greens? Let’s not forget all of the herbs, including mounds of basil! You’re finding that you can only eat so much and your refrigerator is brimming with all of your excess produce. You’ve given so much of it away. But a few months from now, when the cold weather arrives, you will have exhausted everything you grew. You’ll be missing all of your organic, homegrown produce and running off to the store to purchase vegetables of questionable quality. Does it have to be this way?
I wanted to learn how to prolong the fruits (and vegetables!) of my labor year round and so I attended two workshops at FBGA to learn more: Ayala Jonas’s “Eating 12 Months From Your Garden” and Adriann Musson’s “Making Herbal Oils, Vinegars and Butters.” I also attended Leda Meredith’s workshop “Preserving the Summer Harvest” at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Drying, cold canning, and freezing to preserve your food are discussed here. I will save other common methods, such as fermenting, pressuring canning and hot water baths, for another time.
Adriann presented a very enjoyable workshop on making use of herbs you grow in butters, oils, and vinegars. Adriann discussed making sun-cured herbal oils and vinegars by placing them in the window and shaking them everyday for about 3 weeks. Herbal butters can be made in a double boiler: heat butter to melting point and put in herbs of your choosing. After cooking for 10 minutes pour into clean containers and then refrigerate. The butters will harden and they are delicious! We all got to take home our cooked butters with herbs in containers that were provided as well as herb infused oils and vinegars that we chose from a vast variety.
Ayala suggested that you try to grow more of what you want to preserve. It takes some planning and you should be open to new types of veggies to build up your repertoire. Ms. Meredith encouraged the use of good quality white or red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar in preserving, though red wine vinegar won’t show the vegetables as well and she discourages the use of distilled white vinegar.
Refrigerator pickles require little vinegar to be safely preserved, have a mild flavor and more crunch. This method combines acidity in the brine with cold storage for safe preserving. You can pickle turnips, green beans, beets, hot peppers and cucumbers quite easily.
Ms. Meredith talked about herbs that have oils and lend themselves to air drying, like oregano, thyme, mint, lemon balm, rosemary, tarragon and marjoram. Basil does not air dry well and it will turn brown if you freeze it. To preserve parsley, basil and cilantro, steam it, squeeze out the water and then roll in wax paper and place individual rolls in freezer bags. Ms. Meredith recommended something similar – swishing your cilantro or basil in boiling water for 30 seconds before removing the water and freezing. (Making pesto with basil after a swish in boiling water will prevent it from discoloring.)
Ayala said we should not water our plants before picking when you aim to freeze. She suggested steaming greens, including chard and turnip greens, squeezing out the water and running them through the food processor. Place them in ice cube trays and after frozen, put the individual cubes in freezer bags (remember to squeeze out the air!) and then use to flavor soups. You can slice up your zucchini into thin ¼ inch rounds or so, and place them separately on parchment or wax paper on a large metal baking tray and put them in the freezer for several hours. Once frozen, place them in a zip lock bag, squeeze out as much of the air as you can and quickly refreeze them. In this way, the slices stay separate and can be taken out a few at a time for soups and stir fries. I’ve done this with tomatoes as well, slicing them into chunks, placing them on a cookie sheet with waxed paper and then bagging them in a zip lock when frozen.
If you want to dry your produce, consider buying a dehydrator which comes with a guide for vegetable or fruit drying time. The oven can be used as well on low heat, below 200 degrees. Your recently harvested garlic will not last the year; hard necks, which grow better in this region, may only last up to 6 months. Adriann says that grinding them into garlic powder is the way to preserve your garlic harvest through the year. Zucchini dries well, retaining its taste when reconstituted. Dry your plum tomatoes in an oven or dehydrator and store in container or freeze – they are delicious! Don’t dehydrate herbs because they lose their potency with heat. It should be noted that vacuum sealers can be used for whatever you freeze, keeping what you’re preserving even better by preventing freezer burn and ice buildup.
The Internet is chock full of information, just always double check the methodology to make sure it is correct and safe. Leda Meredith’s book “Preserving Everything” is well worth purchasing to learn about canning, culturing, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating and storing fruits vegetables and more. Ayala Jonas recommended the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (yes, Ball of the famous Ball jars!) and also listed several worthwhile web sites to check out including:
The USDA web site should be referred to for safety procedures that must be followed when preserving, whether by hot water bath, pressure, refrigerator, freezing, or drying. Safety first!
Quick refrigerator Dill Pickles (cucumbers, cauliflower, carrots, radishes can be used)
1 pound small firm cukes
½ pint water
1/8 cup plus 1 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
¾ tbsp. kosher or non iodized slt
½ tbsp. sugar or 1 tsp light honey
1-2 tbsp garlic
½ tsp whole mustard seeds
¼ tsp whole black peppercorns
1-2 dill flower heads or 1 generous spring fresh dill or 1 tbsp dried dill
optional: 1-2 grape leaves or 1 ½ “ piece horseradish leaf
Cut off sliver of flower end of cuke (end opposite stem) end that had flower attaches contains enzymes that can soften pickles. Cut off both ends if you don’t know. Slice cukes length wise into halves or spears.
Bring water, vinegar salt and sugar or honey to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once brine reaches a boil, turn off heat and let cool to room temp. Put garlic, mustard seeds, peppercorns and horseradish leaf if using into bottom of clean glass jar. Tip jar to side and pack in cukes, pack tightly. Tuck in dill and remaining leaves. Pour cooled brine over the cucumbers. They should be completing covered by liquid. Screw on lid and place in frig, waiting 4-5 days for the flavor of the pickles to develop. Enjoy!