Saturday, August 29, 2015

7 ways to preserve excess garden veggies

Eat garden vegetables and fruits ripe, raw, fresh, and within a couple minutes of picking. Make an effort to eat most of the foods you harvest in their natural state. With any excess garden vegetables and fruits, give away to family and friends, of course, and sell any at farmer's markets to make extra cash.
Usually I don't sell produce, and any excess fruits I have will be eaten fresh or given away to friends and family, but we also preserve much of what we harvest.
For example, we dehydrate, pickle, can, and freeze extra garden vegetables to preserve for eating later. This year was the first time ever making pickles and jelly, and both were a success.

1) Dehydrate tomatoes, squash, and other fruits. Dehydrating is a slow process, but it is a natural alternative to storing frozen or canned foods. "Drying foods, like freezing, does not stop the enzymatic action that causes fruit to mature and eventually decay; it only slows it down" (Chadwick, pg. 42, 2009). From Chadwick's book "The beginner's guide to preserving food at home", she will teach you much more about preserving foods with each method, give you examples on how to store every vegetables properly, and provide many helpful tips.

Before dehydrating tomatoes or squash, sprinkle a little salt and black pepper so that as these slices are drying, they are also absorbing the herbs and spices. Store in glass jars with air tight lid or other air tight container.
Years back when we had hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, we dehydrated several batches which we sliced, then added basil and black pepper on top to absorb the flavors as the tomatoes were drying. If you don't have a dehydrator, there are tips on how to naturally sun dry vegetables online. If you don't want to sun dry, freezing vegetables will be the next easiest and healthy way of preserving excess garden vegetables.

cucumbers I pickled
2) Pickle cucumbers and peppers.  Last year we pickled five quart jars of jalapeno peppers. This year wasn't a good year for peppers, but it was a really good year for cucumbers. I don't eat pickles, or anything pickled, but I thought it would nice to experiment and give away or sell jars of pickles. I pickled 8-10  cucumbers to make 5-6 pint jars using this recipe: 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp salt, 1-2 tbsp of mustard seed, black pepper, 1/4 cup of fresh dill; bring mixture to a rolling boil while you're slicing cucumbers and placing them in sterilized jars. Start prepping canner, or boil 1 inch of water in a tall pot to can pint jars. Once you have placed all your sliced cucumbers in jars, add mixture to each jars, filling till cucumbers are covered, then put lids on jars and can in pot of water for 10 minutes. Then place in fridge to eat 24 hours later.

tomatoes I canned
3) Can beans, tomatoes, and corn. These are the most common garden vegetables to be canned. Beans are usually canned with the green outer shell. I prefer beans dehydrated or canned without the shell. Tomatoes are usually canned after boiling off outer skin. Canned tomatoes are perfect for adding to vegetable chili during the winter months. I made several quart jars of salsa with our garden tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and onions. With tomatoes I received from James' Aunt, I was able to can a few pint jars of tomatoes.

4) Freeze vegetables and berries, and other fruits. Freezing is my favorite way to preserve garden vegetables (and dehydrating) because it is the fastest method of food processing, and it gives you a product that is closest to fresh. This process maintains the natural color, fresh flavor, and high nutritive value of fresh garden vegetables.
The only downside to freezing vegetables is that you may run out of room in your freezer, or you may not have a fridge at all--which is why I have a solution for this in tip #7 in storing vegetables in a root cellar.
We foraged a lot of blackberries, raspberries, dewberries this year which is why we made so much jelly this year, but also we froze bags of berries to add to smoothies. When freezing berries or other fruits and veggies, tray freeze by spreading out all fruit and veggies evenly and separately, then freeze; and once frozen, pour the berries (or other fruits) into a plastic bag.
I froze all my fruits and vegetables without blanching, which will store fruits and vegetables for several months.
The yellow squash performed excellent this year, and there was no way we could have ate every squash we grew, so I chopped the yellow squash and put in plastic bags to store in the freezer. I ended up freezing 10 bags of yellow squash. Cooked yellow squash over rice was our dinner every night for two weeks, then I started to freeze the rest to make stir fry later in the year.

berries I made into jelly
5) Preserve berries, grapes, and other fruits into jam or jelly. I mentioned we forage lots of berries this year, and some of the berries were frozen for smoothies, but most of the berries were preserved into a jelly. The intent behind making the jelly was to sell and make some money on the side. Actually I haven't sold any, and I have ended up giving most of the jars of jelly away. But James and the siblings really like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so they are appreciating all the free jelly. I never ate jelly prior to making blackberry jelly this year for the first time, so I have been eating the jelly on toast.

6) Juice tomatoes, apples, and other fruits. Gardeners that can tomatoes usually also can tomato juice. Tomato juice is usually for vegetable soup or chili. Juice apples and other fruits harvested from the garden to drink fresh. Some gardeners like to make apple cider, cider vinegar, and hard cider with apple juice. Something I like to juice to drink fresh is watermelon rinds. Once you have eaten the watermelon, run the rinds through the juicer, and the juice will taste similar to the pink fruit itself. Fresh juice will store for several days in the fridge. Most people would encourage you to pasteurize juice to store for longer, but I hardly see this as necessary, and pasteurizing anything will denature vitamins and minerals.

7) Root cellar will store all your winter squash and root vegetables for weeks and months. Apples, grapefruit, and other citrus also store for a long time. A root cellar is cold enough to store vegetables without using a fridge, which saves you money on your electric bill.
Carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables store well when covered over with sand or sawdust in a container. Pumpkins, cushaw, butternut squash, and other winter squash need to be left in the sun to cure for up to 2 weeks before storing in a root cellar.
Almost every year of growing butternut, I have ended up harvesting over 10 fruits to eat on throughout the winter. I never need to put the squash in a fridge or root cellar, though. I almost always store the squash on a shelf in the kitchen, and eat all the squash within a couple months of picking from the vine.  My favorite recipe for winter squash is to saute with onions and carrots (with sugar) and serve over rice.

Remember to pick the best produce for storing, and any bruised or imperfect fruits should be eaten immediately. This includes using the freshest and best quality produce for canning, pickling, and preserving.
Although berries should be picked early in the morning, vegetables picked late in the afternoon or early in the evening will keep better. This is because the vegetables "have been manufacturing natural sugars and nutrients all day; once the sun goes down, they will use up part of these sugars and nutrients and are at their low ebb in the morning" (Chadwick, pg. 16, 2009).


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