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November 11, 2020

Preserving the Harvest: Getting the Most from Your Fall Produce, Part 1

By Amanda Rose Newton

Gardeners, not just football fans, know fall is game time! That is when our gardens are getting ready to produce everything from squash to peppers to tomatoes.

For many of us, 2020 served as a great motivator to get out into the garden as well as a reminder of the many gaps plaguing our world’s food system.

Producing fresh food at home is one of the most rewarding practices a gardener can partake in, and often, even the smallest gardens produce an overwhelming bounty.

Food preservation, whether by making sauce, jams, freezing, or drying can help you prolong the life of your garden fare as well as leftover grocery store produce past its prime. If reducing your food waste wasn’t enough to feel good about, preserved foods make lovely gifts. Just in time for the Holiday season!

Drying Fruits and Vegetables

Dried fruits and vegetables, which usually come with a large price tag at the store, are incredibly easy to do at home.

Do you have an oven? Then you can dry just about anything! It’s all about low and slow temperatures and keeping items sliced as thin as possible.

Tomatoes and peppers can also be dried on warm days in the sun! For oven-dried fruits and veggies, place a thin layer of each on a baking sheet and pop in a 150-degree oven for 2 hours. After the two hours is up, rotate it, and throw it back in for another hour. From here, use your own preference for how dry you would like your fruits or veggies to be.

Freezing

If you happen to be the owner of a vacuum sealer, you should be freezing everything!!

Freezing is a great option for preservation as nutrients are not lost and the beautiful color will stick around a little longer without pesky oxygen lurking around. For quick meals, all you need to do is take out a bag of veggies and throw it into a pan, and heat through. No thawing needed!

If you are a fan of freeze-dried fruit, this is also something you can do at home, though your results will not be quite as crunchy as the grocery store version. For best results, use fruits with high water content (berries), make sure they are not touching each other on a baking sheet, and store in a deep freezer for several days. Once removed, allow thaw and watch for color change. Any darkening means moisture is still sticking around and sublimation (solid to gas) hasn’t happened! You will know you are in the clear when the fruit retains its color.

Pickling

Fermented food is both a science and an art, and for this pickle affectionate, nothing says love quite like a homemade jar of pickled veggies!

Microbes, like the bacteria that can lead to illness, has difficulty surviving in acidic environments. Dousing your vegetables and fruits in vinegar is one way to ensure they will keep pathogens out and ensure your food is safe for consumption even weeks down the road.

You can bolster the antimicrobial activity by adding in herbs and spices like garlic, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. If canning is intimidating to you, pickling is a great way to start! Unlike the canning process, food does not need to be completely sterile before jars are sealed.

If pickled cucumbers are not your thing, kimchi, sauerkraut, and even fruit pickles may bring you around. Pickled grapes (yes, it’s a thing) are one of my favorite foods in the world, and I have included the recipe for you below!

How to make Pickled Grapes

Makes 2 pint-sized jars, good for 3 weeks

1 lb red or black grapes
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half
1/4 tsp salt

1. Trim the stems from individual grapes, exposing a bit of the flesh
2. In a medium saucepan, heat all the ingredients above, without the grapes.
3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then over the grapes. Set aside to cool to room temp.
4. When the grapes are cool, pour them into the jars, topping off with additional liquid.
5. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Best served cold, as part of a mixed pickle plate.

Jelly, Jam, Preserves, Marmalades, Conserves

All the above involve fruit but the process is unique to each. Jelly just uses fruit juice, with additional pectin and sugar.

Preserves and jams use crushed fruit and juice, marmalades include the peel, and conserves invite spices and even nuts to the mix.

Whatever your favorite simple fruit jams are, this is by far the easiest (and tastiest) way to use up fruit past its prime.

Freezer jam is a way to get around the challenges of achieving high pressure needed to ensure sterility. All you need is fresh fruit (the juicer the better), a box of pectin, sugar, and water. Once heated on the stove and cooled for 24 hours, jars can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or a freezer for up to a year. To get you going here is an easy recipe to make your own freezer jam with the fruit of choice.

How to make Freezer Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:
2 c. crushed strawberries
4 c. sugar
1 box (1 3/4-ounce) Premium Fruit Pectin
3/4 c. water

Method:
1. Add sugar to the crushed berries and stir to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Stir pectin and water in a small saucepan. Bring water to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly for one minute.
3. Pour the pectin mixture over berry/sugar mixture and stir for 3 minutes, or until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4. Immediately fill containers, leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top
5. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. To use immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
6. OR you can store in the freezer for up to one year. Then simply thaw in refrigerator before using.

Jams, pickles, and dried fruit make a beautiful and practical gift that friends, and family are sure to remember for years to come. If you don’t have a garden, you can still give a gift from the harvest and support your local community by purchasing canned goods from our Farmer’s Market.

If you haven’t had Amy’s smoky tomato jam or Bolding Family Farm’s papaya preserves, you are missing out!

Part 2 of the Preservation series will cover all things herbs, from drying to crafting your own spice blends to give a personal touch to your Thanksgiving feast.