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Gardening Columns

Preserving the Bounty

First published on on August 28, 2008, by Suzanne DeJohn

I suspect I'm like most gardeners, full of mixed feelings about this time of year. On the one hand, I'm relieved that cooler weather will soon arrive, especially after this year's hot, dry summer. On the other hand, the hint of fall in the air brings frantic efforts to make the most of the harvest. Whether you grow the food yourself or buy it from local farmers, take time now to preserve the flavors of summer.

I've narrowed down my food preservation efforts to focus on foods that we especially enjoy, those that are hard to find, and those that seem most appreciated as gifts. Here's what I've done, and plan to do, to preserve the bounty.

I used to can tomatoes but gave it up a few years ago. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare and cook down tomatoes -- and it usually needs to be done during the hottest days of the year. Friends of mine can whole, unpeeled tomatoes, then cook them down as they need them during the winter.

I still can pickled beets and applesauce in the cooler temperatures of fall. My hand-cranked "food strainer/sauce maker" makes preparing applesauce a breeze. After cooking down the apples -- peels, cores, and all -- I put them through the strainer, which separates out the pulp and ejects the peels and cores. There's very little waste, and cooking the apples with the skin not only saves time, it also gives the sauce a pink tint. Then it's ready for processing in a hot water bath or pressure canner.

Over the years I've been experimenting with different ways to prepare various crops for freezing; here's what I've found:

Fruit: Blueberries and strawberries can be frozen whole, by spreading them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once they're frozen, I transfer them to a freezer bag. I also cook down some of the fresh fruit into an unsweetened sauce and freeze it in ice cube trays.

Herbs: Pesto is a staple in our house, and freezing it in ice cube trays makes it easy to add to pastas and soups. I've been experimenting with blending fresh herbs with a little olive oil, then sealing the paste in small zippered freezer bags. By flattening the paste in the bag, I can break off pieces as I need them.

Vegetables: Most vegetables should be blanched (scalded in boiling water or steam for a short time) before freezing them. Blanching stops the action of enzymes in the vegetables that, left unchecked, can result in a loss of quality.

When the work overwhelms me, I remind myself of how fortunate I am that I don't depend on my garden for my entire sustenance. If a crop has failed or something doesn't get canned, I can always buy it. I often wonder what life was like for the people who built our house almost a hundred years ago. Preserving their garden's bounty wasn't a hobby for them, it was a matter of survival. As much as I enjoy gardening and canning, I certainly don't long for those "good old days!"

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