Sometimes planting a summer garden can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have bountiful fruits and vegetables. On the other hand . . . you still have bountiful fruits and vegetables. Trying to keep up with your garden can be stressful. After all, you’ve invested the effort and energy into making the plants grow and the last thing you want to do is waste end result.
Here are three ways to preserve summer fruits and vegetables:
Jams, jellies, pickles and pie fillings—canning is a great way to preserve your summer harvest to enjoy well into the winter. It’s also deceptively easy. All you need is a deep pot to process the cans in, some mason jars, and boiling water. If you’ve never canned before then it’s a good idea to find someone to show you how to do it or to find a detailed guide online or in a cookbook. A botched job can lead to spoiled food or, worse, horrible food poisoning. But the basics of canning are: cook the fruit, fill sterilized jars with the fruit, cover with boiling water and boil for around 10 minutes.
During the dog days of summer the last thing you want to do is stand in a hot kitchen all day, working with boiling water to preserve your harvest. On these days you may want to consider just freezing your fruits or veggies. Frozen berries and other sliced fruits make great additions to smoothies. You can also use the frozen fruit to bake pies or bring it out to can on a cooler day. Peppers and broccoli freeze well and can be tossed into whatever your cooking while they are still frozen. Just be sure to wash, slice and dice them before you freeze them. This helps cut back on meal preparation time. You can also blend herbs with a little olive oil or water and freeze them in jars or, if only freezing a small amount, in ice cube trays. Then just pop out a frozen cube of herb puree and toss it into your soups or sauces.
If canning intimidates you then you could try freezer jam. With freezer jam you go through the same preparation steps as you do when canning jam but instead of boiling your jarred fruit for 10 minutes you just freeze it until you need it.
You can sun-dry tomatoes, peaches, plums, apples and just about anything else your garden produces—no fancy dehydrator necessary. Just slice them up, spread them out on a baking sheet and cover them with a light sheet or a newspaper (to keep the flies off). Be sure to give them a turn once or twice a day. Depending on the amount of sun you get in your area most fruits will be dry in two or three days. You can then use them to makes breads, pies, or add them to a trail mix.
If you find yourself with an excess of salad greens you can sun-dry them (they should dry within just a few hours) and then blend them up in a blender or food processor. Store your homemade “green powder” in a cool and dry place and sprinkle it over eggs or into smoothies for an extra nutritional boost. Kale chips also make a delicious snack and are an effective way to eat a lot of greens—more than you could in a salad. Just lightly toss the kale in salt and olive oil before setting them out in the sun to dry for a few hours.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor long after summer has gone!
Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.