Preserve That Harvest

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You can taste a little of the summer
My grandma’s put it all in jars

― Greg Brown

Congratulations! Your garden has yielded a bountiful crop of fresh, nutrient-rich sweet, and crunchy fruits and vegetables. You’ve eaten as many fresh vegetables as you can and shared some of the rest with family, friends, and maybe even your local food pantry. But even so, you still have plenty left over. It would be a shame if it went to waste. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. There are ways that you can preserve these fruits and vegetables so that they can last throughout those bone-chilling winter months of cold, snow, and misery.

Canning – the process of using a combination of heat, acid, and salt to preserve fruits and vegetables in glass jars. Fruits and vegetables so preserved can last up to year in some instances.

Drying – the process of removing the moisture from foods, either through exposure to air, sunlight, or heat (either in your oven or a commercially-made dehydrator. Dried foods do not look as colorful and shiny as canned foods, but are still quite edible and contain more nutrients than do their canned counterparts. Note: before drying produce, it is important to blanch it first. Blanching is the process of heating food without cooking it. This step is important, because blanching inactivates the enzymes that cause food to spoil.

Freezing – the process of preserving food by storing in temperatures below zero, usually in a commercial freezer (not the freezer that comes with your refrigerator). While freezing does not stop the clock on food spoilage, it slows it down considerable by slowing the growth of microorganisms. Freezing is considered superior to all other methods of preservation in that the concentration of nutrients, as well as texture, color, and flavor is greater than that of food preserved by other preservation methods

Jams and jellies – Jams and jellies are the results of turning fruits, vegetables, and herbs into concentrated, sugar-rich spreads that can be added to toast, meats, or anything else your creative mind can think of.

Pickles, relishes, and chutneys – similar to canning, it’s the process of using heat, acid, salt, herbs, and spices to create spicy creations from your garden produce. While produce so preserved doesn’t exactly qualify as nutritious, they add a zing and a zest to more nutritious meals (think of a sandwich with a pickle on the side). As an aside, I have to give a shout-out to my friends Sue and Judy Lazar for the wonderful tomato chutney they make and for the fact that they always save a jar for me.

Vinegars and seasonings – Vinegar is made through the fermentation of fruit juices and grains. The combination of wine alcohol, oxygen, and acetobacters produce this tangy concoction that has been used throughout recorded history as a medicine, cosmetic, preservative, flavor-enhancer, cleanser, disinfectant, beverage, and digestive aid. You can combine a vinegar varieties such as balsamic, champagne, cider, malt, white rice, sherry, and wine with your own produce or herbs to create your own flavored vinegars.

Cold storage – placing produce in a cool dark environment (basement, window well, root cellar, etc.) with the proper amount of humidity to maintain as much as possible produce in its fresh form throughout the winter. This is probably the simplest form of food preservation.

So don’t let all that extra produce go to waste. Use one of the above methods to put it in a state where it will last through the winter. Then on those cold winter nights, you can pop open a jar, bottle, freezer pack, or cold-stored container to bring a little light of summer into an otherwise bleak season.

Be Thankful for the Results of Your Gardening Efforts

Gratitude

 

When the calendar turns over to November, our thoughts naturally turn over to the holiday of Thanksgiving. We’re all familiar with some of the history of the holiday. The harvest celebration at Plymouth Rock that took place among the settlers and the Indians is considered to be the first Thanksgiving. President George Washington then proclaimed the holiday in 1789. It was then made a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. President Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to one week earlier to the second to last Thursday of the month, and eventually this was codified into law.

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays in which gifts are not needed. Just getting together with family and friends to celebrate out togetherness – laced, of course, with generous helpings of turkey, stuffing, and other delicious foods – is gift enough. And of course, in keeping with the nature of the holiday, we all try to think of things about which to be thankful.

As a gardener, you have much for which to give thanks.

Did you have a bountiful harvest with lots of fruits and vegetables which you ate fresh, canned, dried, or put into winter storage? Be thankful.
Did you successfully keep the critters and the insect pests from forcing you to share your harvest? Be thankful.
Were your fruit and vegetable plants free from disease? Be thankful.
Did you try some new cultivars this year that surprised you with their goodness? Be thankful, because you’ve expanded your tastes beyond the same old same old. Did those new cultivars disappoint? Be thankful, because now you know what doesn’t work in your garden.
Was your garden a complete failure? Be thankful, because at least you put forth the effort, and like the hopeful Chicago Cubs fan, you have your battle cry of “wait until next year.”

And just the fact that you got out in the fresh air and sunshine, stuck your hands in the dirt, and became one with the rhythms of nature adds up to a great deal for which to be thankful. You’re a gardener, and you have much to be proud of. So celebrate! Rejoice! And above all, give thanks!