Preserving the Harvest

Preserving the harvestI just polished off last night’s left-overs of pasta bolognese made with 2 jars of home grown Sweet Acre tomatoes.  Every bite tasted like summer, and, not only did it make me want to brag about it, it started me musing about the wonders of preserving food and what a feasible thing it is to eat so well in the winter.

As ironic as it sounds coming from a vegetable farmer, I’m not a very enthusiastic cook. I’m proficient, but I don’t relish the daily task of inventing and cooking meals, even with the freshest ingredients right at my fingertips! An abomination, I know.

I do, however, relish the larger and less incessant task of preserving the summer’s harvest for the winter, when the delightfully fresh ingredients are a vague, sunny memory.   For some reason, the idea of chopping pounds and pounds of veggies to simmer for hours on the stove top in the summer heat is more appealing to me than the “daily grind” of cooking dinner. Call me crazy – I wouldn’t argue.

On the farm we tend to do more freezing than canning. It is less time (and gas) consuming, and we have the luxury of 3 chest freezers in the garage. Plus, by putting liquids (like sauces and soups) in zip lock bags, you can stack them flat on top of each other in the freezer so they take up very little room. For those of you who just rolled your eyes and groaned about the fact that you would never be able to fit a chest freezer in your house, be aware that there are smaller models available (for example). If you have a garage or a basement, you really don’t have much of an excuse!

Items that I freeze a lot of for winter consumption include:
Cherry tomatoes (whole, like berries)
Vegetable soups (tomato & pepper, winter squash, gazpacho, etc., etc., etc.)
Ratatouille
Tomato sauce
Cooking greens (Kale, chard, collards, spinach, etc.)
Fresh Chevre (no kidding!)

Canning food in mason jars is a more traditional method that may take longer, but requires no super powers (contrary to popular opinion), and leaves you with a beautiful product to display on shelves anywhere in your house. No special appliance required, just a canning pot, jars and a few inexpensive gadgets (easily found via Google search). As of yet I have not canned with a pressure canner, so have no advice on that here.

Items I usually can include:
Stewed tomatoes
Sweet tomato chutney
Ketchup
Apple & pear sauce

Pickling is a third method of food preservation I’ve tried with some success. Since recipes usually include lots of vinegar, citrus and/or sugar there is limited need for all the boiling associated with canning. All the same jars, lids and gadgets though.

Things I’ve pickled include:
Cucumber pickles (Bread and Butter have been more successful)
Beets
Any vegetable suitable for Kimchi (Napa cabbage, choi, radish, hakurei turnip, etc.)
Dilly beans
Garlic
Onions

The above is a very limited introduction to what can be accomplished through food preservation! I am myself no expert, just proficient at a few select recipes that help relieve the pressure induced by inevitable surpluses on the farm. Because, man is it depressing to throw cases of cucumbers and tomatoes on the compost pile!

Make your farmer smile this season by buying something in bulk and trying food preservation out for yourself. The smile on your face when you crack open a jar of summer time tomatoes in frigid January will be equally as big.

Resources:
Putting Food By; Hertzberg, Vaughan, Greene
The Art of Fermentation; Katz
The Joy of Pickling; Ziedrich
The Joy of Jams, Jellies & Other Sweet Preserves; Ziedrich