Simple Produce Preservation Ideas
Keeping a summer garden is busy enough. Weeding, pruning, watering, planting take quite a bit of time. It's sometimes hard to remember to harvest. And then harvest, and harvest, and harvest...
What should you do if you have too much produce to eat before it goes bad? The answer is to find a produce preservation method that works for you.
Humanity traditionally knew how to store the bounty of summer for fall and winter until the next spring started to produce food again. Here are some ways you can preserve your abundant produce.
Freezing may be the easiest way to preserve food to be used at a later time. Be sure to have enough freezer space on hand, so clean out your freezer each spring or purchase a small chest freezer. I like to keep a list of what's in the freezer so that I don't forget about something and find it too late. Frozen produce won't necessarily come out like fresh produce, so plan to cook whatever you freeze. Foods with a lot of water content don't freeze well - like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and melons.
How to: Chop up veggies and place in a quart or gallon freezer plastic bag. Be sure to label it. You alternatively could process produce, especially basil or other herbs, onions or garlic, in a food processor and spoon into ice cube trays to freeze. Once frozen, put the cubes in to marked baggies to toss quickly into meals.
Drying is a great option if you are low on space or like having travel snacks on hand. Your drying options are the sun, the counter (with a fan blowing preferably), or in a dehydrator. You can find a simple dehydrator for $30, or splurge for a fancy one like an Excalibur. You can snack on your dried foods, or rehydrate them and add them to soups, stews, or stir frys all winter long.
How to: Place your thinly cut produce on a baking sheet in the sun, or in the dehydrator. They are ready when they crack when bent. Place in a sealed jar or container in a dark, dry place.
Canning is a great way to preserve food, but it does require some equipment and education. Acidic foods are normally canned, but you can find a canning or preserve recipe for nearly everything. Just be sure to use a recipe so that you don't grow bacteria instead of your produce. You will need a large stock pot or pressure cooker, jars and lids (clean or new), a jar grabber (essential), and your ingredients. If you would like to try your hand at canning, search the internet for your ingredient plus canning recipe, like this "tomato canning recipe."
Another super easy way to repurpose undesired produce is to make a broth with it. Keep a "broth bag" of extra produce in the fridge, and make a weekly broth from it. Add a dash of salt plus apple cider vinegar with your veggies, bring to a boil, and simmer for 4-12 hours.
Each family had a root cellar. You know what they used it for? To store roots! This was a north facing hill carved out into a small room to keep storage produce cool, but not frozen, through the winter. Though you may not have a root cellar or nice hill in your backyard, you can easily mimic the model.
Simply keeping a box in a dark corner of your basement will keep winter veggies for a few months. Be sure that no produce is touching directly, and remove any rotten produce. Another option is to fill a box, container, or 5 gallon bucket with sand and place the produce inside. A more involved option is to create a make-shift root cellar out doors either in a wood box, straw bale box, or hole in the ground. Cage in a space inside of your box, and then fill with sand. Place the veggies in the sand, again not touching but close together is fine.
Using salt or vinegar is another tried and true method to preserve produce a bit longer. Below is a recipe for a verdurette, a seasoning or bouillon cube replacement.
- 1 part fresh greens
- 1 part alliums (onions, leeks, ramps, garlic)
- 1 part fresh root veggies
- 1 part fresh herbs
- 1 part sea salt
Process all in a food processor, and spoon into mason jars. Seal, and place in the refrigerator for up to one year.
If none of these work for you, or you simply don't have time, consider composting all your excess produce or even getting a small flock of backyard chickens to turn produce into eggs!