If your garden isn’t in full swing yet, it’s about to be. Even here in Montana, with our long winters and short growing season, spring produce is beginning to wind down: Lettuces and spinach will soon be bolting, the asparagus crop has tapered off, and the strawberry bed has been picked nearly clean. In their place, summer produce is ready to burst forth, launching itself into the annual race to grow faster than I can harvest and process.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ve seen how I deal with spring’s vegetable bounty: #dailysalad. But with a large garden, summer vegetables need a different approach. The next few weeks are not just about filling bellies with the freshest produce possible but also about preserving those vegetables so that they can fill bellies the rest of the year. Here’s how I’ll be spending the next few weeks.
Freezing is hands-down my favorite way to preserve vegetables. I think it best captures the flavor of home- and local-grown produce. It can also be the easiest preserving method: some garden treats, like cherry tomatoes are simply washed and tossed in a freezer bag. Even prepared foods that take more effort, like vegetable purees and Grilled Tomato Pizza Sauce, are ideal for freezer storage because you can freeze them in small containers or ice cube trays, making it easy to defrost just the amount you need for your midwinter recipe.
Because I’m not a fan of pressure canning, canning vegetables means pickling them: it’s the only way to safely preserve such low-acid produce in a water bath. Fortunately, I love vinegar: I toss it with my salad greens, put brined and pickled vegetables on pizza and veggie burgers, and pour on leftover brine when cooking potatoes. I even drink the stuff.
But canning is just one way of pickling vegetables, and the ubiquitous cucumber pickle is just one of many homegrown vegetables that can be preserved in brine. I’ll be sharing some new pickling recipes this month, and later this summer I’ll introduce a new section on my favorite pickling method: fermentation. To learn even more, sign up for a summer pickling workshop.
Although I tend to dry more fruits and herbs than vegetables, backpackers, bikepackers, and anyone else carrying their meals for many miles will want to use this method to condense their homegrown food into lightweight meals. If you want to dry vegetables, a dehydrator is a necessary investment that will quickly pay for itself—particularly when you calculate the cost of commercially freeze-dried backpacking meals.
Grilling and Smoking
Grilling isn’t a preservation method in itself, but it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare food for preserving. It retains a vegetable’s flavor and even adds some. Smoking can be a preservation method for vegetables, but I prefer it for its ability to flavor without cooking. If you’re going to make one value-added product this summer, I highly suggest Home-Smoked Chili Paste.
A preservation bonus of grilling is that it lets you separate solids and juices so that you can create two recipes from one round of harvesting—say, Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa and Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix or Grilled Tomatillo Salsa and Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas. And even though oven roasting can give a similar effect, outdoor grilling doesn’t overheat your house or make a big mess in your kitchen.
Twice as Tasty
Some of the inspiration for today’s post is that I pulled my first full-size beets from the garden over the weekend. This month, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite ways to prepare, preserve, and enjoy them: roasted, smoked, pickled, and all three. As bell peppers start to ripen toward the end of the month, I’ll explain how you can grill and save them for winter—assuming they make it past your dinner plate.
This month also starts a new cycle of Twice as Tasty workshops. In addition to pickling, I’m extending the jamming workshop for those who want to learn to preserve the fruits of summer. If you’re new to grilling vegetables, gather some friends for a backyard barbecue and I’ll show you the ins and outs of grilling produce for meals and preservation. Read more about this lineup of current workshops here. I’ve also just added a bonus summer workshop: Creative Cocktails: Syrups and Shrubs. Happy summer!
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