It’s that time of year again. You have a bumper crop of certain fruits and vegetables in your garden, someone has shared their bumper crop or you’ve made a trip to the local farmer’s market or fruit stand. The question becomes what do you do with all of it? Here are some ideas for storing the harvest. Consider these ways you can preserve your fruits and veggies for use later in the year.
This is probably one of the first methods to store food for future use. Consider Indians who used fruits, nuts and meat to create pemmican, a dried bar that provided much needed nutrients in the winter when hunting was scarce. You’ve probably also seen beef jerky. You can dehydrate fruits and vegetables from your garden that can be added to soup in the colder months.
Dehydrating can be done outdoors in the sun, in a solar oven, your conventional oven or a dehydrator. Each method has its own benefits so you will want to consider which one is best for you and your situation.
Canning is almost as old as dehydrating. Nearly everything can be canned if done properly. Canning of most vegetables will require the use of a pressure cooker. If you haven’t ever canned vegetables, you may want to get help from someone who has the experience to make sure you have canning success.
Canning fruit is much easier. They do require a water bath but it doesn’t have to be done in a pressure cooker. Technically, tomatoes are a fruit, so water bath canning is the best method if you want to can whole tomatoes for soups or chili, crushed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce or salsa. You might be surprised how much money you can save by using home canned sauces.
If you have more cucumbers than you’ll be able to eat, consider making homemade pickles. There is nothing quite like them. You will also need onions, sea salt and vinegar. Most people think of cucumbers when they hear “pickle” but the fact is you can pickle many different types of fruits and vegetables in a similar manner. Peppers, apples, pears and relishes are also prepared in much the same way.
There is a lot to be said about filling your freezer with produce from your garden. It is great to be able to open the doors to the freezer and seeing corn on the cob, carrots, broccoli and other foods. It isn’t advisable to try to freeze fresh lettuce or potatoes; you probably wouldn’t want to eat them. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to store the harvest but remember that you may lose the food in your freezer if the power goes out.
It used to be common for families to have a root cellar to store their fruits and vegetables. This isn’t quite as usual these days, but the concept still has merit. Check with your local extension agency or land surveyor to see if it would be possible to create a root cellar on your property.
Freezer Friendly Fruits and Veggies
Preparing foods ahead of time makes it possible for you to save money on your grocery bill. You can find fruits and vegetables on sale during the summer and into fall months when they’re in season and cheaper. It helps to know which are freezer friendly fruits and vegetables so you can plan ahead to fill your freezer.
Not all fruits and vegetables will freeze well fresh from the garden. Fruits can often be frozen without much preparation but the same can’t be said about vegetables. Most vegetables will require you to blanch them for about 5 minutes and then dip them into ice water to stop the cooking process before they can be frozen.
Start by choosing fruits and vegetables you plan to freeze at the peak of ripeness. The food should be firm and without bruises to ensure the best taste when they are used in the future. Don’t be afraid to sniff the fruit to see how it smells which may indicate how it tastes.
When freezing fruit you may be concerned that it will darken. This can be avoided by adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in simple syrup that is added to the fruit prior to freezing. Fruits that freeze well include:
* Berries of all kinds
Fruits that don’t freeze well include watermelon and citrus fruit sections. While you may find these fruits frozen, you will notice the texture is totally different when thawed.
Most vegetables can be frozen but the texture may be off when you thaw them. For this reason, it might be good to plan to use some frozen vegetables in soups or casseroles. Vegetables which freeze well include:
* Beans – most varieties
* Cabbage (only use for cooking)
* Greens (Kale, mustard and turnip)
* Peas (black-eyed and green)
* Sweet potatoes
* Rutabagas and turnips
* Summer squash
* Tomatoes (stewed, only use for cooking)
Vegetables you don’t want to freeze include lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, endive, parsley and radishes.
Remember that even though the majority of fruits and vegetables are freezer friendly, they won’t be exactly the same as fresh. The taste should be very similar but the texture could be considerably different. If you have an overabundance of fruits and vegetables, however, freezing them is one way to store them for long-term use.
Freeze-Ahead Meals and Sauces
Have you ever wished you could fill your freezer with meals that are already prepared and ready to heat and eat? Oh, yeah, those are called TV dinners, but you’re not convinced they’re that healthy or they don’t come in the foods your family likes. You could make your own freeze-ahead meals and sauces. It will take some time but it can be so comforting knowing you have those meals for those evenings you simply don’t want to cook.
Preparing freeze-ahead meals will take time. You will want to plan which meals to prepare, make a shopping list, go purchase the food and then do the actual cooking. There are a number of websites which share information on freeze-ahead meals and they usually recommend doing this type of cooking over at least two days.
One of the easiest types of meals to do as a freeze-ahead meal is a casserole. You can put the ingredients together in an aluminum pan, cover it and pop it into the freezer. When the time comes to eat it, it will be so easy you’ll be glad you spent the time making it.
Lasagna is one of the most popular meals for families to make ahead and freeze. You will need noodles, spaghetti sauce (homemade or store bought), cheese and meat. Prepare the lasagna as if you’re going to eat it right away except you won’t bake it now. When you have added the last cheese layer, place a cover on the pan. Let it cool in the refrigerator or place the casserole pan in a sink of ice water prior to freezing to ensure it freezes uniformly.
You can also make your favorite soups to freeze for later use. Chili is welcome in the colder months but you might not always have to time prepare it. Make a big pot of chili, break it down into normal amounts needed for your family, and place the containers in the freezer. When you’re hankering for a bowl of chili, it will be so much easier to reheat the frozen chili than making an entire pot.
Spaghetti is a common meal families prepare on a regular basis. Cans or jars of sauce at the store are expensive and it seems prices continue to rise. Rather than turning to store bought sauce, make your own and freeze it. Buy tomatoes when they are on sale and prepare the sauce with your favorite ingredients. Your family will be able to taste the difference and the love.
Perhaps you’ve come across a great sale on ground beef. There are so many ways you can use it. Cook the meat right away using onions and simple seasonings. You can freeze enough in one container for a variety of meals – spaghetti, tacos, shepherd’s pie, burritos, enchiladas or pirogues.
Freeze-ahead meals can be so helpful when you’re rushed for time. The effort at the beginning of the process might seem excessive but the time is definitely well worth it. To make the process easier, enlist the help of your family or cook with a friend! You can share the work load and the foods that prepared.
Ways to Dry or Dehydrate Fruits and Veggies
People who grow gardens each year hope that the garden will supply enough fruits and vegetables to be able to save some for the winter months. Some people choose to can their surplus while others freeze. Have you considered ways to dry/dehydrate fruits and vegetables as an alternative to canning or freezing?
You can dry food in a number of ways:
* Sun Drying
* Solar Drying
* Oven Drying
* Dehydrator Drying
To effectively dry food it is necessary to have the right combination of low humidity, air current and warm temperatures.
Sun drying is probably one of the oldest ways to preserve food but it depends on the temperature, weather and relative humidity. If you plan to use this method to dry vegetables, it is imperative to do so when there will be 3-5 days of warm temperatures and sunshine. While this is method is free, it takes so much longer.
Solar drying is similar to sun drying but it is also different. Solar drying is accomplished by creating a box with a glass lid, solar oven or placing the vegetables in the car window. You’ll have better luck if you have a long stretch of sunny days, but you must leave the windows open to allow for air circulation. This method is quicker than sun drying, but there is still a better way.
Oven drying is an option you may only want to consider for small-scale drying of 4 to 6 pounds of vegetables at a time. However, this method is not free as the oven will have to remain on the entire time the vegetables are drying. This method will take longer than a dehydrator and you have to rotate the trays to ensure even drying. You also may have difficulty maintaining the necessary 140 degrees in your oven or won’t have the proper air circulation.
Dehydrator drying is probably the best way to dry fruits and vegetables. Most dehydrators allow you to expand the number of trays; they are sturdy, safe and much quicker than any other method. They provide a constant heat source, you can set the temperature, and the fan allows for even air circulation.
If you’re considering drying or dehydrating the bounty from your garden, consider the four different ways. Some of the methods are free but they will require a good amount of time. Other methods will cost money but they are much more effective and the results are predictable.
The choice of which method you use is entirely up to you.