Summer is over, and although you may be glad to bid farewell to the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes, doing the same to the luscious bounty of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other goodies may bring a tear or two to your eyes. Fortunately, with a little effort, you can preserve some of your favorites to last through the winter months so you can bring the flavor and taste of summer to the brisk, cold days of winter.
Basically, there are seven ways you can preserve foods at home. Some methods are easier and less expensive than others, and each one is better suited for specific foods over others. Also, how you choose to preserve each food item will depend on how you plan to use them. Dried apples, for example, may be best for snacks and trail mix but not for making a fresh fruit salad, while canned apples may be the perfect choice for salads and pies.
When you dry fruits and vegetables, and even herbs, you change the taste and texture of the foods. Dried foods can be stored at room temperature and can last many months, even years, and can be reconstituted.
Most fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be dried successfully. Use of a dehydrator is your best choice. Select one that has many different settings to accommodate different textures and sizes of foods. You also can dry foods in your oven at 130 to 160 degrees F. Fruits that are easiest to dry include apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, figs, grapes, peaches, pears, pineapple, and plums. Veggies that perform well include beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, corn, greens, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, and tomatoes. (You can also buy a book on how to dehydrate fruits and veggies).
Most herbs are well suited for drying, and air drying them by hanging in an area that has good circulation has the added bonus of providing you with their sweet aroma as they dry. Learn how to dry herbs here.
If you choose to can your fruits and veggies, you will need a pressure canner, canning jars, seals, lids, rings, a funnel, and a large pot to blanch the produce. You can use this method to can both raw and cooked food, and in both cases, it is critical that you secure a sterile environment for the food. You can choose to can everything from apples to zucchini, beets and Brussels sprouts to tomatoes and turnips and greens. Get expert help on how to can here.
One of the most positive things about pickled foods is they can last for years on your pantry shelves. The downside (for some people) is that pickling dramatically changes the flavor of the food. The process is simple: boil white vinegar, sugar, and salt and pour it over the selected fruit or vegetable and pack in an airtight jar. Pickling also allows you to use up some of your extra herbs from the garden. Learn how to pickle here.
Fermenting differs from pickling because it involves transforming carbs to alcohol or organic acids. Fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) is likely the most commonly recognized fermented food, but you can ferment just about any fruit or vegetable. Vegetables tend to take a little longer than fruits to ferment because they have a lower sugar content. Here’s how to ferment just about any vegetable you desire. Be sure to include some of those extra summer herbs!
This was the method my mother always used, especially for the pounds and pounds of excess greens, zucchini, green beans, and tomatoes (great for sauce) from our garden. Freezing is easy and quick, although it can completely change the texture of some softer produce, like strawberries. Some produce needs some special treatment before freezing. For example, potatoes should be blanched in ice water before freezing them, while apples should be treated with ascorbic acid. Get the complete skinny on how to freeze fruits, vegetables, and herbs here.
This approach utilizes vegetable oils and usually vinegar to preserve veggies, fruits, and herbs, so be prepared for a different taste from the original produce in the finished product. The best produce for oil packing include tomatoes, artichokes, sweet peppers, lemons, mushrooms, and herbs, especially basil for pesto. Learn how to oil pack here.
Salting is a millennia-old preservation method that is effective and allows you to keep foods for long periods of time at room temperature. The vegetables most suited for salting are beans, peas, cauliflower, beets, cabbage, corn, celery, and cucumbers. Salting is a bit more involved than some of the other methods. Learn how to use salting to preserve vegetables here.
Whichever method you choose to enjoy your summer harvest well into the winter months, let us know how it turns out. Share your favorite success stories with our readers in the comments below.