Preserving the Harvest

Today, I’m going to share a few quick tricks and other ideas for preserving your bounty.  My personal favorite things to preserve seem to be condiments- hot sauces, salsas, ketchup, krauts…for whatever reason (probably because it’s easy) condiments and teas are what I tend to focus on.  I’m also a big fan of freezing things instead of canning because I don’t have a ton of time but we do have a chest freezer.

When it comes to preserving, think about what it is you like to eat and what you have a bounty of!  Preserved foods also make lovely gifts.

  • Freezing:  If you have the space, the freezer is by far the easiest tool in your arsenal.  Too many tomatoes?  Pop them whole into the freezer to use in the winter for stews, sauces and chili.  Got a glut of green beans and no time to can?  Do a quick blanch (read: dunk in boiling water) and then freeze.  Here’s a handy chart on blanching times for various veggies.
  • Drying:  a food dehydrator works well for this.  Cut produce into small or thin pieces and dry until almost crisp.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, using screens on a hot day can work (cover with a sheet or tent with thin fabric to keep bugs off- then freeze once dry to kill anything suspect).  Chances are someone you know had a dehydrator you can borrow- and payment in a bag of dried fruit or veggies is always welcome!  When drying herbs, you can just put them in a basket in a dry, warm place, or bundle and hang from rafters.  Now is a great time to dry those teas for winter!
  • Canning: admittedly canning takes time and some specialized equipment.  Again, you may have a friend who has all the stuff in their garage waiting for you!  I like to can tomatoes since that’s something we have an abundance of and use often in the cold months.  This year I hope to do tomatoes and make some ketchup in the crockpot and can it up in little half pint jars.  Peaceful Valley has a nice writeup on canning tomatoes here.  The main takeaway that I’d like to leave you about canning is that it’s not as hard as it seems!  Honestly, it just takes time and attention.  Just follow the instructions and try to make a batch of something.  Better yet, talk to a grandma and have her teach you!
  • Pickling:  So there’s level one pickling- called a quick pickle.  Not fermented, this is usually vinegar, salt or sugar and spices that you let something marinate in and use within 2 months.  You can do this with cucumbers, onions, green beans, beets, carrots- you name it!  It’s so easy!  Make a small batch and have fun with it.  No canning required.   Level two pickling is canned pickles which are shelf stable like you’d buy at the store.  There’s also fermented pickles which have all the good beneficial bacteria and are my favorite.  This article gives a great rundown of each pickle type and step by step instructions to make live culture pickles.
  • Fermenting: While we’re on the subject of live culture foods….be a food scientist!  Let things bubble and brew!  Your digestion and health will thank you!  Check out this video on fermentation for beginners.
  • Packed in salt: the main thing I’ve done this with are lemons- and preserved lemons are so good. I also tried to make olives this way once and failed!  This method feels pretty medieval and requires a lot of salt, and is most commonly used with meats.
  • Proper Storage: when kept in a cool, dry, dark place (free from insects and rodents) many foods will keep for a good long while without issue.

Not so long ago, our winter survival depended on what we could preserve from the abundant times.  As fall approaches, we are entering the time to put away your harvest for the dark days of winter.  Have fun with it!