Fragrant basil. Off-the-vine tomatoes. Blackberries. Oh, how I swoon over the fruits and vegetables of summer. The season’s end has me asking, how can I stretch my garden harvest through the long winter ahead? So, I’ve rounded up the following easy, creative ways to preserve your produce:
Oven Preservation: Roasting and baking can do wonders, without all the preservatives. Replace processed fruit roll-ups with homemade fruit leathers. Puree fresh raspberries, strawberries or other summer fruit with lemon juice and a touch of honey. The mixture is spread out thin and baked in a low oven, resulting in a wholesome sweet treat ideal for school lunchboxes.
Jerky is another healthy, protein-packed snack made better at home. Simply marinate thin slices of lean top round beef in soy sauce, lime juice and chopped jalapenos from the garden. The strips are slowly dried on baking racks for several hours at a low temperature.
And when my kale crop overflowed a few weeks ago, several bunches were transformed into roasted kale chips. Hearty leaves are torn, tossed lightly with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper, and then roasted in a low oven until crispy. Warning: they’re addictive!
The Canning Craze. While I’ve yet to delve into canning, it’s a hobby that’s back in vogue. Deborah Kates, a local expert on growing and preserving, has been an organic gardener for more than three decades. Pickling, freezing, curing, canning are all a part of her repertoire.
“With all the recent food supply scares, people want to know where their food comes from and preserving is one way to handle it,” says Kates.
Kates encourages me to give it a whirl. “Once you know what you’re doing, it doesn’t take hours and hours. The main goal is to get the air out of the jar, and to get a good seal.”
Kates teaches several local classes, including a “Preserving the Summer Harvest” series with Chester County Night School, which starts September 8. Call 610.692.1964 for info.
Freeze in Flavor. A warm cobbler with (thawed) fresh blueberries always takes the chill out of a cold January day. Stock up on fruits and veggies when they’re on sale and at peak ripeness. Frozen fruits can be stored for up to a year. Vegetables, which should be blanched first, keep up to a year and a half. Many soups and casseroles are freezer-worthy, too, making weeknight dinners a breeze.
Infuse herbs. Leftover garden herbs are just perfect for homemade aromatic vinegars and oils. From rosemary and sage to thyme and tarragon, pack your favorite herbs into a sterilized bottle, and then fill with warmed light oil or vinegar and let cool before capping. These homemade infusions make amazing salad dressings and dips.
Chef-spiration. Lastly, when you need inspiration, look to our local chefs. What interesting herbs, fruits and veggies are they pickling and preserving?
At Spice Indian Thai Bistro in West Chester and Newtown Square, spicy pickles accompanied our recent meal. Onions, mango, exotic vegetables and olives are pickled with chili, Indian spices and lemon.
At Village Whiskey in Philadelphia, Chef Jose Garces offers house-cured pickles as appetizers, all served in charming miniature mason jars. Options run from classic to creative, like the truffle-lemon artichokes or the cippolini and white anchovies.
Get Preserving. To get started, look to the internet for an abundance of recipes. Simply search an idea or the ingredients you have in mind. Check the local library for cookbooks like The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving at Home. Or, send me an email for the recipes mentioned in this article. Happy harvesting!
Main Line Media News, September 2010