It's that time of year when we're buried in tomatoes, cucumber and green beans — yea! But how can we preserve produce flavor and vitamins for the future. Preserving the harvest was a popular topic in hort society publications over the years. Here are some great tips from the past:
Fresh is best whether you are pickling, freezing or canning. In 1963, Shirley Munson noted that "speed from the garden is one of the most important rules to observe" in preserving the harvest, especially vegetables such as corn that loose their flavor quickly. Pick your produce and process the same day.
Fruit ripened on the tree or vine are best for freezing. Select fruits that are slightly more ripe than those you’d use for canning, but avoid those that are mushy/soft. Rather than picking fruits when green and then ripening, let them ripen on the tree or vine as they’ll have more vitamins and a richer flavor, according to an article from the 1976 August/September issue of the Minnesota Horticulturist.
Blanch vegetables before freezing. Mrs. Munson, who regularly wrote on preserving over several decades, offered this tip in a 1976 article. Blanching helps greatly with flavor, nutrition, and color retention of vegetables when you preserve them by freezing. Make sure to plunge the blanched vegetables in ice cold water immediately.
Preserving cucumbers in the freezer. Pickling is a tried and true way to preserve cucumbers, but if you’re looking to try something new, William Nunn of Champlin suggests freezing: “We don’t make many pickles anymore, but instead slice the cucumbers, mix with celery seed, onions, peppers, and a vinegar-water-sugar substitute-spice solution, pack in plastic containers, and freeze,” according to a quote from the August/September 1979 issue.
Experiment with drying food at home by using your oven. While it usually takes an hour or two longer than when using a dehydrator, your oven is an easy option to try out this preservation method. How to get started? Paul Vossen provides instructions in a 1979 article: Don’t overload your oven with trays too full, about 4-6 pounds of prepared foods is the limit. Aim to maintain a temperature of 140 degrees fahrenheit; keep the oven door open to help with this and increase ventilation. Only use bottom heat, no broiler. Time will vary depending on the foods you are drying.
Water-freeze herbs to use in soups or gravies. Freezing herbs is a great option when looking to preserve color, but keep in mind that this method destroys texture. To water-freeze, you’ll need an ice cube tray. First chop your herbs, then add ½-1 tsp to each cube of the tray. Fill with water, freeze, and store in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer. When using, you can directly add the cubes to soup or gravy, or thaw by placing in a strainer and running warm water over them. Tip provided by Mary Grommesh Bydlon of the Twin City Herb Society in 1978.
What is your favorite way to preserve the harvest?