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.