It’s all too easy to get complacent as the summer harvests come thick and fast. Sometimes it’s even an effort to keep up – another zucchini anyone?!
But it is a wise gardener who puts aside some of this seasonal bounty to dip into during the leaner winter months. Preserving as much of the summer crop as possible was once essential for survival. Now it’s just a joy to have a little something put aside to bring out a ray of summer sunshine on a chilly winter day.
Freezing and drying are easy ways to preserve food. Most vegetables, fruits, and herbs can be stored in this way.
Freezing is by far the quickest and simplest way to put aside your harvest. Only the firm, blemish-free fruits, and veggies should be frozen. Freeze as soon as possible after picking.
Portion control. Freeze in portion-sized quantities then you can defrost the exact amount for a particular recipe.
Blanch then chill. Most vegetables need blanching before freezing so they don’t turn soggy when defrosted. Plunge small batches of produce into a pan of rapidly boiling water. Quickly return the water to a rolling boil. Boil for about a third of the full cooking time. Now transfer to ice-cold water (use ice cubes) to immediately stop the cooking process.
Icy reception. Gently pat dry between clean dishcloths then pack into airtight containers – freezer bags or clip-shut plastic containers work well. Add a label to show what’s inside and the date of freezing.
Freeze these. The following are very easy to freeze. After blanching: carrot, beans, peas, and spinach. Whole, no blanching required: berries and currants. In a sauce: tomato. Chopped up into ice cubes: leafy herbs, such as basil and cilantro.
Drying is the oldest method of preserving food. It doesn’t require any special equipment, though a dehydrator will speed the process up and is a good investment if you hope to dry often.
Slice thinly. The first task is to wash your produce before slicing it thinly. Thinner slices dry quicker than thicker slices, saving both time and energy.
How to dry. Arrange the prepared slices onto baking trays. Place these into an oven set to its very lowest temperature setting. Leave to dry over a number of hours, checking occasionally. Dehydrators are more efficient and you can process multiple trays at a time.
Pack away. Once the pieces have shrunk in size and are crisp-dry pack them away into sterile, airtight containers. Store somewhere cool and dry.
Drying herbs. Gather bunches of herbs into small, loose bunches. Hang upside down in a warm, dry and well-ventilated place, out of direct sunlight. In warm weather your herbs should have dried within three days. Store the leaves whole in airtight jars. They will keep for up to a year if stored in a cool, dry place.
Dry these. Tomato, pepper, whole shelled beans, zucchini, apple and fruit purees (as fruit leathers).