by Elena Gustavson, RAFFL's Everyday Chef. It is October, and as the days inch towards winter, there is a frantic rush to harvest what is left in our gardens and find a place in the cupboards, pantries, coolers and freezers. You see it at the markets too, with displays stocked full and overflowing with fresh eating produce, cabbages, greens, gourds, squashes and roots. It is delightful!
My favorite season for cooking is autumn. The heat of the kitchen seeps out into the rest of our house, staving off the morning and evening chills that punctuate this time of year, while I happily chop, stir, simmer and bake the hours away, not only putting food on the table, but putting food “by” for the cold days of winter.
Beginning in September, we are making apple cider, sauce and butter, picking herbs and hardy greens for the freezer, grabbing garden tomatoes for ripening, freezing whole or making chutney and looking forward to the fall berry season. By October, we are picking what is left in the garden for storage in our makeshift root cellar and the various drawers where we can tuck every onion, potato and squash we have harvested or bartered for. By November 1, with only a few hardy vegetables that like the cold, we are putting beds away for the winter and preserving what we can.
There are many ways to preserve food; some are simple and some are not, but most everyone can preserve a good portion of food and stock their larders. With a few simple tools, some supplies and a range, see below for some ideas of how to preserve our favorite vegetables.
Freezing: If you have plenty of freezer space, freezing your food is a fantastic way to preserve fresh food quickly, safely and with nutrition intact. Some foods require blanching or cooking, while others just need a quick rinse and an airtight seal.
- Try freezing whole tomatoes, berries, apple slices, peeled cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped onions.
- With a pot of boiling water and a colander, you can blanch (boil briefly) and drain greens like spinach, chard, kale as well as vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots before freezing in bags.
- For herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil, process into a paste with olive oil and then freeze the resulting pesto/pistou into ice cube trays or roll into logs, wrap in parchment and plastic first.
Canning: There are two methods of canning and lots of great information on the interweb, magazine articles and in books to give you the details, but the main thing to remember is that high-acid foods (berries, citrus) can be canned using the water bath method and low-acid foods (most vegetables, meats) can be canned using the pressure cooker method. Check out this site for more information.
Dry Salting: Different from pickling, which uses a salt AND acid based brine, salting is an ancient and very simple way to preserve food. The salt brings out the moisture from food and makes it “inhospitable” to the microbes and bacteria that would normally cause spoilage. Lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, use a low salt concentration to not only protect against spoilage, but also to create an environment that welcomes gut-friendly bacteria. High salt methods of preserving create an inhospitable environment for ALL bacteria and is still used by some to preserve things like green beans.
- Layer shredded carrots and zucchini, sliced onion, minced garlic with sea or kosher salt and pack tightly into canning jars with lids. “Burb” the jars everyday to prevent buildup of pressure. Refrigerate or store at 40F or less to stop fermentation and keep.
- Make kimchi or sauerkraut out of cabbage, radishes, carrots and onions. Use a wet brine of salt and keep vegetables submerged and away from air.
- Check out the site Home Preserving Bible for a great collection of tips, techniques and recipes on dry salting.
Syrups and Shrubs: Both of these old fashioned methods work especially well for berries and other fruit, but I have had equal luck with tomatoes, herbs and spices too. Use them in beverages, dressings and marinades!
- For syrups, mix together two cups of berries, one cup of water and one cup of granulated sugar in a pot. Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour the syrup, solids and all, into a wide mouth canning jar and cap. Let cool completely before refrigerating.
- For the old fashioned shrubs, make an infused vinegar then turn that into a syrup. Check out detailed, but simple, instructions at The Kitchn.
Butters: An often overlooked way of preserving some herbs and fruits is by making compound butters. With sharp knife, you can make quick work of herbs and fruits, mixing and mashing them into softened butter. When done, roll logs of butter into parchment and freeze or put into ice cube trays and pop the frozen chunks into a freezer bag for easier storage.
- Herb butter of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Call it Scarbo-BUTTER Faire, just for fun.
- Fruit butter of blueberry, cinnamon and a pinch of sea salt
- Basil or cilantro butter mixed with garlic
- Hot pepper butter with lemon rind