It is finally spring here in the Upper Midwest after what has felt like the longest, coldest winter in history, and I’m making up for lost time: taking long bike rides, walking my dog around the lakes, and my absolute favorite spring chore: planting my garden.
If you've ever cut into a pale, mealy tomato during the dead of winter, you can understand my excitement about fresh summer produce. Eating a tomato right off the vine is almost a transcendent experience. But here, where growing season lasts for only a few short months, we have to work hard to make our summer produce last into the winter. And even if you live in a warm climate where you can grow food all year long, preserving produce is a great way to save money and make sure that you always have healthy, home-grown food on hand.
Here are a few easy ways to preserve your summer produce:
- Freeze it! This method works great for tomatoes, beans, peas, berries and a host of other fruits and vegetables. You can’t just toss a fresh tomato in the freezer, though: blanching is key to edible freezer veggies. Toss your tomatoes (or beans, or peas, or whatever) in boiling water for a minute or two, and then plunge them into a bowl of ice water. If you’re working with tomatoes, remove the skins, and then freeze your veggies in reusable containers (I like to use plastic bags because they’re easy to cut off).
- Cook it! Turn tomatoes into marinara sauce, apples into applesauce, tomatillos into salsa, miscellaneous veggies into soup…and then freeze them! You’ll have a freezer full of quick and fresh meals to eat all winter long.
- Pickle it! I had never had much luck growing cucumbers, so last summer I only planted a few seeds into a tiny corner of my garden. I don’t know what was in the dirt there, but those few seeds turned into upwards of 50 cucumbers. So what did I do? I pickled them, of course! You can pickle all kinds of vegetables – beets, beans, turnips, swiss chard stems, radishes, carrots, hot peppers, and the list goes on. Just avoid greens, as they generally aren’t firm enough to stand up to the pickling process.
- Can it! If you have a pressure cooker, you can can just about anything. Pickled and canned veggies also make excellent (and inexpensive) gifts!
What’s your favorite way to preserve summer produce? I love making big batches of veggie-loaded marinara sauce – it’s so nice to taste fresh tomatoes during the cold winter!
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.