Preserve the Harvest
article by P. Allen Smith | photography by Karen E. Segrave
As the summer winds down and we look forward to the cooler temperatures of fall, the thought of hanging up our garden tools may be enticing. But before you curl up into hibernation, there’s still a lot of work to be done! The late summer is a fruitful time in the garden. My garden is always bursting at the seams with ripe tomatoes, herbs, berries and vegetables. If you are picking them faster than you can eat them, then it’s time to look at ways to preserve your summer harvest. There are great ways to extend the life of your garden by canning, pickling, freezing and drying the fruits of your labor.
You probably remember watching your grandmother pull a can of delicious home-canned green beans out of her cupboards. The process is easy, and once you get the hang of it you’ll be canning anything you can get your hands on!
There are two ways to can — either by using a pressure canner or the boiling water method. These methods produce a tight vacuum in the jars to remove oxygen, keep air out, destroy enzymes and prevent the growth of bacteria, yeasts and mold.
Canning can seem like a daunting task when you are just getting started. You will need to buy some supplies (and find room in your pantry) for this project, but the benefits are an extended shelf life for your goods and a big savings at the grocery in the coming months.
To get started, you’ll need Mason jars with threaded, self-sealing lids, which are available in ½ pint, pint, 1½ pint, quart and ½ gallon sizes — I prefer the wide mouth jars. Jar lifters are helpful to handle the hot jars. You’ll also need a pot that is large and deep enough to hold the jars you are using and leave room for water. Or, if you are planning to do a lot of canning, you may want to invest in a pressure canner.
Low-acid foods, like vegetables should be preserved using a pressure canner. Highly-acidic foods with a pH of 4.6 or higher—including all fruits, pickled or fermented vegetables, and jams and jellies—can be prepared with either a pressure canner or the hot water method.
Safety is so important when canning—one careless move can end up making people sick—so if you are new to canning only use pre-tested recipes, and be sure to read all of the directions in your starter kit (if you choose to buy one) before you get started.
Canning is a great option for lots of fruits and vegetables. Some of my favorite things to can are tomato sauce, green beans, pickles and jams. You’ll want to choose only the best, freshest and blemish-free produce from your garden.
Here are the basic steps:
Clean the jars and lids with hot water and soap, rinse well.
Sterilize the jars and lids by submerging them for 10 minutes in boiling water.
Keep jars hot until you are ready to fill. You can put them in a pot of simmering water.
Fill jars with hot food, leaving headspace as recommended in your recipe. Headspace allows the food to expand during processing and helps create a vacuum seal.
Wipe down the rim of jar to clean and ensure a good seal.
Place the lid on and tighten the screw bands just enough to secure. Don’t over tighten.
Process in either a pressure cooker or hot water bath depending on your recipe.
Carefully remove jars from canner and cool. Listen for the lids to pop, indicating a good seal.
You can remove the screw bands once the jars are cool. The lids should be secure on the top of the jar.
Store jars in a dark pantry that stays between 50 and 70 degrees F.
Pickling is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Traditional pickling happens when a fruit or vegetable is fermented and cured for about 3 weeks. There’s also a faster method known as quick pickling where pickles are not fermented, but brined several hours or overnight with vinegar and seasonings. There are tons of vegetables that are delicious pickled like cauliflower, cabbage, beans, peppers, onions and beets.
Here’s a delicious, basic recipe for quick-pickling:
6 cups of vegetables harvested from the garden
3 cups apple cider vinegar
3 cups water
1/4 cup kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole Allspice
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
10 garlic cloves, peeled and thickly sliced
Wash and slice your harvested vegetables if necessary. Leave things like green beans and okra whole.
In a large pot, bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil.
Divide the garlic and spices into 2 quart-size Mason jars. Add the veggies on top of the spices leaving about an inch at the top of the jar.
Carefully pour the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, submerging the vegetables entirely, but leaving at least a half-inch of room between the liquid and lid.
Cover the jars with the lids and let them cool. After an hour or two, move them to the fridge and let them sit for at least 6 hours or so. Keeps up to two weeks.
Probably the easiest way to extend the life of your summer garden is through freezing. Fruits and vegetables can last months if frozen properly. There are a few simple steps to take to extend their freezer life. Choose plastic freezer bags for dry foods and freezer-proof glass containers for liquids. Regular glass jars are likely to break in the freezer so look for a container that is built to withstand low temperatures.
Berries can be washed and dried and dropped into a freezer bag. Most small berries, like blueberries, raspberries and blackberries can be frozen whole. Larger fruits like strawberries and peaches should be sliced and sprinkled with a little sugar. Let the sugar stand 30 minutes to create a protective glaze, then pack the slices into freezer bags.
Vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. Blanching is a simple process of dipping the veggies in hot water then soaking the in ice water to preserve the color, flavor and texture. After you’ve blanched your veggies, lay them out on a flat sheet to freeze individually first, and bag it all together afterward.
Harvest your herbs now to have a fresh-from-the-garden taste in your meals throughout the year. For sage, tarragon, thyme, bay, oregano and rosemary, bundle a small clump of herbs together with a rubber band and hang them in a dark, dry and warm room. When you notice the leaves are dry to the touch, gently remove the stems and put the leaves into labeled jars and store away from sunlight.