How to store your harvest
Autumn is harvest time in the garden. Crops from orchards and kitchen gardens are all maturing and ripening in the long warm days. Here in my kitchen I am surrounded with buckets of tomatoes, quite a few cabbages and the normal over abundance of zucchini. As well we have apples and pears ripening and armloads of mint. And a neighbour just dropped off more zucchini! A batch of zucchini pickles is called for.
There’s a limit to how much you can eat fresh, but there are lots of ways to preserve fruit and vegetables to use them over the months ahead. Methods range from freezing, bottling or drying to making jams, sauces, pickles and chutneys. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut (a type of pickled cabbage) are also very popular.
With good storage some fruit and vegetables last for weeks if not months and can still be used fresh. Long storing vegetables include pumpkin, potato, onion, garlic, carrot and parsnip. On the fruit side apple, pear and citrus store well.
To store produce it needs to be ripe but not over ripe, free of any damage or blemishes (which could lead to rots), clean and kept in a cool, dry, airy spot. This could be a pantry, cellar, cool shed or laundry. Carrots and parsnip can be stored in the ground (that is harvested as needed) or stored with their leafy tops removed in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the fridge. Apples can also be stored in this way or layered into boxes or on racks in a cool spot. Potatoes must be stored out of light to avoid potato greening (they should not be kept in the fridge). Regularly check all stored fruit and vegetables and remove any that have begun to spoil.
Freezing is the quickest way to preserve most fresh produce. Many fruits and vegetables can be frozen either fresh or after they’ve been blanched (dipped briefly into boiling water and then into cold water) or cooked such as by stewing or steaming.
To freeze items so they are loose, place them spaced apart on a flat tray lined with baking paper, freeze and then store in individual bags. Cherry tomatoes, peas and soft fruits such as blueberries and strawberries are easy to use when they are frozen in this way. Place a measured quantity such as cupful into each bag to be used later in muffins, pies, smoothies or in savoury meals.
Chopped herbs can be frozen in ice-cube trays with a little water. Once they’ve frozen hard, place them into plastic bags or containers in the freezer to add to soups or casseroles as needed. Note: always mark all frozen containers and bags with their contents and the date.
Bottling (known as ‘canning’ in the US) is an old-fashioned but rewarding way to preserve many fruits such as apricots, peaches, plums and tomatoes as well as some vegetables. Any glass bottle can be used but the traditional bottling bottles are thick-walled, wide-necked glass bottles, which are sealed with rubber rings, lids and clips. The contents of the bottles are preserved by immersing filled bottles in a water bath, which is heated to 90C for around an hour. Preserving kits come complete with bottles and a heating unit. A well-known brand is Fowlers Vacola.
Fruits are bottled in sugar syrup or water and can be bottled whole or sliced. Tomatoes can be diced and bottled in their own juice ) or with added water or tomato juice) and citric acid. Most vegetables are bottled in water or in brine (a salt water solution). All are very decorative. Food bottled so it is vacuum-sealed lasts for up to a year or more.
Many fruits and herbs can be dried. This can be done by hanging bunches of herbs, garlic or onions in a dry airy room, or placing sliced fruit on racks in the sun, in a warm oven or in a food dehydrator. Fresh apples are particularly delicious dried to use as snacks or for rehydrating and cooking.
Jams, preserves, sauces, chutneys, pickles and cordials
Products that families eat everyday such as jam, tomato sauce or cordial, are easy to make at home using homegrown produce. Most recipes call for one to two kilograms of fruit or chopped vegetables. While no special equipment is needed to make these products at home, a large heavy-based pan is essential to use for jam and pickle making to hold the quantities needed while clean, sterilised glass jars with lids are needed to store the finished product. Label all preserves with their name, contents and the date.
Look for recipes and preserving instructions in complete cookery books, preserving manuals or online. My ‘go to’ books for all food preserving are Sally Wise’s A Year in a Bottle and A Year on the Farm (both ABC Books).