Preserving Your Summer Garden Bounty

Preserving Your Summer Garden Bounty

Summer is a great time of abundance – fresh veggies and fruits are everywhere at low, seasonal prices. Whether you’re a keen gardener or love to stock up at the local farmer’s market, now is the time to think about preserving this bounty for those cold, lean winter months. For the DIY-minded vegan, there are several options for preserving summer fruits and veggies for later enjoyment, but not every method of preservation is well suited to every piece of produce.

Canning Your Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Canning involves packing fruits and veggies in a jar or container, heating it to a high enough temperature to kill any microorganisms that would cause spoilage and removing the air from the container to keep the produce fresh. It’s an involved process best executed when you have a large quantity of vegetables.

Not all vegetables are suited for the process of canning. Loss of texture and taste is a concern for vegetables like green beans and asparagus — they lose all crunch and turn soggy. Others turn into complete mush, like broccoli, lettuce, and cabbage.  Still other produce, when subjected to the heat necessary to safely preserve them, change flavor and color as is the case with kohlrabi, eggplant, and zucchini.

Some fruits and veggies must be modified prior to canning. For example, Brussels sprouts, celery and cauliflower must be pickled before canning as a way to preserve their texture and increase the safety of the process. When in doubt, seek advice from a trusted source such as the USDA or your local county extension on whether a fruit or vegetable can safely be canned.

Freezing Your Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Freezing vegetables is another method of preservation. Frozen produce doesn’t last quite as long as canning, but it can be better for preserving the texture and vitamin content of your fruits and vegetables. Food frozen at its peak freshness packs nearly the same flavor and nutritional punch as it did prior to freezing.

In order to safely freeze vegetables, you’ll need to blanch and shock them. Blanching is the process of scalding them with boiling water or steam for a short period of time, which stops the enzymatic actions that cause the food to lose its texture, flavor and vitamin content. After blanching, dunk them into icy water to stop them from continuing to cook from the heat in a process called shocking.

Fruits don’t usually require blanching, but for those that tend to turn brown, like apples, you may want to dust them in ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which will serve much the same purpose as blanching – stopping the enzymes that cause a breakdown in the produce. Once you’ve prepped your summer bounty for freezing, thoroughly dry it and store it in an airtight, waterproof container.

Drying Your Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Who doesn’t love a good fruit leather? Or the satisfaction that comes with preserving the herbs you grew yourself? Drying is a preservation option that works well for some fruits, veggies and herbs.

Drying requires long, slow and low heat. If you’re making fruit leather, for example, you’ll get the best results with a dehydrator that slowly draws the moisture out of the fruit. When drying root crops like onions or garlic, you’ll need to hang them in such a way as to facilitate airflow in a spot that’s not humid and away from direct sunlight. The same goes for herbs. Drying by natural means takes anywhere from weeks to months.

If you can’t wait that long and don’t have access to a dehydrator, consider turning your oven on its lowest setting (150 degrees Fahrenheit, generally), leaving the door open enough to allow the moisture to escape and letting the oven act as a dehydrator over the course of a whole day — a process that seems unsavory in the summer unless you like the idea of heating up your whole home.

Food Preservation Safety

There’s a safe way to preserve your summer food bounty. Do your research and when in doubt, consult with your local health department, USDA annex or county extension office about the best way to safely preserve your summer fruits and vegetables. Date and label each container of preserved food, with the source if possible, to identify any problems down the line and to ensure your saved food gets used during the window of safety.

What’s your favorite summer food to preserve and what method do you use?

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