As the growing season winds down, I get plenty of questions about what to do with the last weeks of homegrown harvests and the last crops from farmer’s markets. By now, you’ve likely eaten your fill of your favorite fresh dishes and processed your favorite canned and frozen goods. If you’re like me, you’re torn between wanting to be done with the labor of weeding and harvesting and wanting to capture those last few tomatoes, those last few broccoli stalks, to enjoy after snowfall.
I’ve already shared many of my favorite ways to save excess and end-of-season produce. This month, I’ll continue to share some of my favorite fall canning recipes. But this week, I wanted to bring together in one post some of the ways I quickly save the last rounds of in-season veg.
If I want to store something without fuss, freezing is my first choice for most vegetables. Here’s how I quickly pack excess veg into the freezer for later use:
- Basil and other herbs. Mince in a food processor; freeze in an ice cube tray, either with just a little water or as a pesto base; and bag.
- Broccoli. Blanch, bag, and freeze for soups.
- Carrots. Shred in a food processor, bag, and freeze for sweet bread.
- Chiles. Bag whole and freeze as a substitute for fresh.
- Cucumbers. Grate, squeezing to drain off the juice. Freeze the gratings and juice separately in an ice cube tray and then bag the gratings for Tzatziki and smoothies and the juice for cocktails.
- Garlic cloves. Mince in a food processor, pack into an ice cube tray before topping with oil, freeze, and bag as a fresh clove substitute.
- Eggplant. Grill, puree, and freeze for spreads.
- Onions. Grill if desired; chop in a food processor, spread on a tray to freeze, and then bag to use as a substitute for fresh.
- Rhubarb. Chop, bag, and freeze for crisp.
- Sweet peppers. Grill if desired; chop in a food processor, spread on a tray to freeze, and then bag to use as a substitute for fresh.
- Tomatoes, cherry and other small sizes. Bag and freeze to use as a substitute for fresh in pasta and other dishes.
- Tomatoes, full size. Grill, straining off the juice. Freeze the solids in ice cube portions to use in pizza sauce and as a substitute for fresh; freeze the juice in cubes or containers to use in Bloody Marys or in soups.
- Zucchini. Shred in a food processor, bag, and freeze for quick bread and pancakes.
For smarter processing, weigh or measure your produce before it goes into the freezer, dividing it into the portions you’re most likely to use, such as 1-3/4 pounds of cherry tomatoes for Tomato–Basil Mac and Cheese and 1 cup of eggplant puree for Baba Ghanouj. Write the weight on the zip-close freezer bag or freezer-proof container, along with the contents and date.
Dehydrators make quick work of preserving a range of foods, but unless you’re a backpacker or bikepacker, you likely have little use for dehydrated vegetables. Herbs are another story: most people are in the habit of reaching into the cupboard instead of the freezer when they want to add an herb to a dish. If you have a food dehydrator, you can quickly save some of your herb harvest by filling trays, plugging in the unit, and walking away. Herb seeds, like coriander (cilantro) and dill, are even easier: Cut off the stems of seedheads, stuff them into a paper grocery bag until completely dry, and then shake the bag or run your fingers over the stems until the seeds come loose.
For smarter processing, separate the leaves of soft-stemmed herbs, like basil and parsley, before dehydrating them. Herbs with woody stems, like rosemary and oregano, can be dried on the stem; once dry, run your fingers down the stem to release the leaves. Store dried leaves as whole as possible, crushing them only when you’re ready to use them.
For certain items, dry storage is one of the simplest, quickest, and most effective ways to save the season. The challenge is finding the proper place to store each box of fresh produce to ensure it’s longevity. Once you find homes for your treasures, setting them aside is quick and easy.
- Beets. Pull, clip off the greens, and bury in sand.
- Carrots. Dig, clip off the tops, and bury in sand.
- Garlic heads. Dig, dry completely, clip off the stalks, and store.
- Onions. Pull, clip off the tops, dry completely, and store.
- Potatoes. Dig, dry briefly, and store.
- Pumpkins and winter squash. Harvest and store.
For smarter processing, sort through your vegetables as you prepare to store them; any that are damaged can be used first fresh or frozen. Check on your stored vegetables regularly and compost any that start to spoil before they affect the entire box.
Twice as Tasty
This month’s posts will focus on canning, a time-consuming yet effective way to save vegetables. But some shortcuts will let you quickly save your harvest now and process it in a boiling water bath later. For example, as tomatoes and tomatillos ripen throughout the summer, we grill the harvest and freeze the solids and juice separately. At the end of the season, we spend a full day processing the frozen solids into salsas, sauces, and bases for cocktails. Storage beets, carrots, garlic, and onions can be pickled later in the year. I often freeze excess berries and other fruit to turn into jam and chutney when I have time in winter.
Whether you process them now or later, this month’s recipes will give you new ideas for using your harvest. Next week, I’ll give you two ways to jam up pears. Later this month, you’ll learn how to turn beets into relish or chutney. Tomatoes will round out October, whether in the canner or in the freezer.
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