Planting a garden is a resourceful, rewarding way to provide your family with plenty of delicious produce to enjoy during the colder months. There are several methods of preservation that can help ensure that your harvest will last through the winter and beyond.
Blanching & Freezing
Blanching is the quickest and easiest way to preserve foods like spinach, chard, green beans, broccoli, and zucchini. Many other foods may be blanched and frozen, including corn on the cob. To blanch and freeze your produce, you will need:
— a large basin or sink to wash the produce
— a blancher pan or basket, which can be obtained from a variety of online retailers
— a long spoon, preferably wooden
— a countertop or cookie sheet for cooling the produce
— freezer-safe plastic bags in the size of your choice
Before beginning, check online or in a relevant reference book for suggested blanching times for the produce you wish to preserve. Then remove the basket from your blancher pan, fill the pan with water, and put it on to boil while you clean the produce. Ready a countertop or cookie sheet to cool the produce after blanching.
In the sink or basin, wash your produce thoroughly in cold water, being sure to check for any insects or hidden dirt. If there seem to be a lot of pests hanging around, adding a little salt to the water to help remove them, then rinse well.
If desired, chop the produce before blanching. Long beans can be cut or broken in half to make storing them easier, stems can be removed from chard and kale, and larger produce like zucchini may be sliced or shredded.
Place the clean produce in the blancher basket, lower it carefully into the boiling water, and blanch for the recommended time, stirring if necessary. Then drain the produce and transfer it to the prepared cooling area. Note that some blanching methods will say to run the produce under cold water to cool it. This is not recommended, as rinsing blanched produce can wash away vital nutrients.
Once the produce is cool, you can pack it in freezer-safe plastic bags for storage. Make sure that the bags are designed to prevent freezer burn and that they seal tightly. Then simply toss the filled bags in the freezer to be taken out whenever garden produce is desired.
Canning is a bit more labor-intensive than blanching, but well worth the time. Canning is perfect for preserving fruits, jams, jellies, sauces, and even vegetables. Imagine being able to pull a jar of homemade spaghetti sauce or strawberry jam off the shelves instead of having to run to the store and buy it!
Since the steps and cooking times involved in canning vary widely depending on what you want to preserve, it’s not possible to detail them all here. However, the website PickYourOwn.org has many detailed instruction guides for canning everything from jams to juices. You can also check your local library for books on canning and food preservation.
Before canning, you will need some basic items:
— a pressure canner or water bath canner
— canning jars in your choice of sizes
— lids and rings for the canning jars
— jar tongs for moving hot jars in and out of the canner
— a clear space to place processed jars so they won’t be disturbed as they cool
If you don’t have access to a canner, you can improvise a water bath canner by placing a vegetable steamer at the bottom of a large, deep pot. Just make sure that the pot is big enough to keep at least an inch of water covering the top of your chosen jars as they are processed.
Cucumbers aren’t the only thing that can be pickled. Adventurous gardeners may wish to try pickling things like zucchini, cabbage, green tomatoes, or even Brussels sprouts. Other fun ways to preserve foods by pickling include making relish or trying your hand at kim chi, a spicy Asian condiment.
Like with canning, pickling methods differ depending on the produce you choose to pickle. Some produce may need to be soaked in water or brine before being transferred to jars. Some pickles are processed in a canner, and some may be left to cure in the refrigerator with no prior processing time. And, while cucumbers often must be left to cure in their brine for a length of time before being eaten, other pickled veggies can be consumed as soon as the next day.
For pickling, you will need the same basic equipment as for canning unless you choose to make refrigerator pickles, which do not require a canner. Regardless of which method you decide to use, PickYourOwn.org is a great resource for recipes and other pickling information. Recipes for refrigerator pickles, kim chi, and more can be found on a variety of recipe websites across the Internet, and in many cookbooks.
The time and effort required for each of these preservation methods is small when compared with the benefit of having garden-fresh produce available all year round. Taking the time to properly put up your harvest will save you money in the long run, and brings a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that all the hard work you put into your garden will keep paying off even in the dead of winter.