Saving Summer

The bounty of August, September, and October can be overwhelming. I have spent the past few months preserving those summer flavors we will miss during the winter here, many of which I had to buy at the local farmers market without my own garden this season. :-(

Part of one day's harvest from last year's garden...what to do with it all?

To keep my ambition in check with my actual energy level and time available, I have come to a stack-ranked list of food preservation to do's that keep fall manageable and fun: 

  1. Turn it into Pesto
  2. Freeze it
  3. Ferment It
  4. Dry it
  5. Can it

Turn It Into Pesto

When I return from a farmers market run or from my own garden when I have one, there are so many options for making pesto, from the vegetable parts that might otherwise end up in the compost to the excess of herbs that grow like weeds at the end of the season. I have never encountered a sauce that freezes so easily and tastes so fresh in the middle of winter. With the help of a food processor, preparing pesto is nearly effortless in comparison to the reward in flavor and nutrition I can preserve for later enjoyment.

All pesto basically has seven ingredients that many of us already have in our kitchens:

  1. 1 - 4 Garlic Cloves
  2. 2 tbsp. Lemon Juice
  3. 1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  4. Salt and Pepper to Taste
  5. 2 c. Greens
  6. 1/3 c. Nuts or Seeds
  7. 1/3 c. Cheese

These last three ingredients can be highly variable depending upon what you have on hand.

  • Greens Variations: Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Carrot Tops, Spinach, Chard, Kale, Collards, Beet Tops, Roasted Beets
  • Nut/Seed Variations: Pine Nuts, Walnuts, Pecans, Pistachios, Almonds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds
  • Cheese Variations: Parmesan, Feta, Romano, Mozzarella

Carrot tops make amazing pesto and are full of nutrients: Vitamin A (110%), potassium (250 mg), vitamin C (10%), and calcium (2%).

 Bright green carrot top pesto! Preserve the color with a little olive oil on top before you pop it in the freezer or the fridge.

 

Freeze it

I spend the summer growing veggies, not cooking; it is too darned hot to stand in the kitchen over boiling sauces and salsas. Also, I grow too much to eat it all fresh in the summer and not everything ripens at once to make a big enough batch of anything worth canning. The best solution I have found so far it to toss whole tomatoes and whole tomatillos into a zip lock freezer bag or gallon jar as they come on and deal with them later.

This is the first year I have a freezer in the garage (a life goal realized) so in the past, I would do my best to eat to the bottom of the freezer portion of my fridge in the spring, so I had room for all my frozen summer produce. There must be some neurological hard wiring we have to cook and bake in the Fall because online all I see are folks posting pics of their canning and baking. I am no exception, and this is when the tomatoes and tomatillos come out to be turned into salsa and sauces or intermittently thrown into a dish I am making on the stovetop for some fresh summer flavor mid-winter.

Can you or should you blanch them? You could, but I am too busy in the summer to even consider doing this for veggies I know will stand up better in the freezer in their own natural wrapping. I reserve blanching for green beans mainly and sometimes corn.  I have fond memories of mother cutting corn from the cob to blanch and freeze; raw kernels that stayed together were named "corn cookies" by my sister and me who stole them shamelessly from the "ready to blanch" pile. If you want kids to eat veggies, grow veggies!

Oh and that excessive amount of zucchini? Grate it in the food processor and freeze it in 2 c. increments in your freezer for winter baking...adding this to any batter leads to the most moist and delicious cakes, sweet breads, and muffins.

 

Ferment It

Fermenting is something new to me and I will be honest, I am still overcoming my nervousness about eating my own ferments; however, so far so good.  This fall I made a batch of kimchi with savoy cabbage, carrots, garlic, ginger, and jalapenos. My husband and I have been enjoying this on homemade pastrami sandwiches (he brined and smoked the pastrami) and the sandwich is out of this world.

 

 Fermenting is all about the brine made by the water content of your vegetables, the salt, and the lactobacillus that miraculously come from the air.

As a former science teacher, fermenting appeals to my need to experiment and gather empirical evidence. There is chemistry involved in getting the right salt to weight of vegetable ratio. For this most recent batch, I followed the advice on this website. It is a little bit saltier than the first batch I made several years ago following a recipe that also recommended a salt to vegetable weight ratio, but darned if I cannot find this recipe again. Next batch I think I will make my ratio 1 tbsp to 2 lbs. of veggies and see how it goes.

 

Dry It

Moving into our new home, we inherited four apple trees and three pear trees, all of which are prolific. We also live in an area abundant with farms, orchards, and ranches. Much of this bounty is comes available in the fall all at once and the easiest way to preserve it for later eating is to dry it.

Again, I like to keep it simple. As the pears and apples fall, enter the mandolin slicer and food dehydrator (a life goal realized three years ago). I slice the apples and pears into 1/8-inch slices, lay them in a single layer on the dehydrator tray, sprinkle with cinnamon and dry for four hours at 135 F. These make an amazing snack for the girls to take to school or to add to oatmeal mid-winter for a taste of summer.

 

 Dehydrated Peach Fruit Leather, Dehydrated Pear Chips, Dehydrated Apple Chips

My hometown is famous for its peaches and I always buy a case. We eat as many as we can, the juice leaving sticky trails throughout the house, however, a box of peaches cannot all be eaten before the ripe fruit turns, so enter the blender. I do blanch the peaches for one minute and the peels come right off. I then cut them in half and blend them into a puree, add them to the dehydrator trays and in about 4 to six hours we have fruit roll-ups for months. The girls, especially my youngest, L cannot get enough!

 

Can It

Canning can be fun and I do like to enjoy salsa in particular in the winter, but it is a commitment of time and energy and it is better with company. Consider inviting friends over to share in the burden of chopping, stewing, sterilizing, boiling, and testing the seals of your culinary creations. Projects like this are always better when you can chit chat.

When I was younger, my parents, back-to-the-land hippies in the 70's, built community around an agrarian lifestyle and had friends that raised meat chickens.  Every year, we would go for a full day with other families to butcher and preserve these chickens for the winter. There was a definite division of labor by the sexes and the generations; the men would catch and kill the chickens and dip them in boiling water to release the feathers and talk about the weather; the women would pull the feathers, gut and butcher the chickens, pack them for the freezer, and talk about the men; the kids would watch the chickens run around with their heads cut off and laugh, look at the repurposed gallon ice cream buckets full of chicken guts with horror and curiosity, and occasionally run between the kitchen and the barn as requested by the adults to take this or that to the other place.

I know this story is a bit of a bird walk from the topic of canning, but this is one of my most vivid memories from my childhood and it was built around a community preparing for the winter, completing a big chore, and doing so with laughter. This is a legacy I look forward to passing down to my girls as we build community in our new town. Next year, post Delta variant, I am hosting a sauce and salsa canning party!

 

 Passing on the legacy of growing and preserving summer.

I would love to hear more about how you and your community save summer. Please feel free to add to the comments below. Please note, the comments are moderated so your comment will not appear immediately.

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