We are at that time of year when the freezer and cupboards are looking empty, ready for the new harvest season. I always try to think ahead a little bit about the best way to preserve what we pick so it can be best enjoyed over the course of the year to come. I try to match it to what we will actually consume, and post it as a to-do wish list where I’ll see it over the summer.
For example, quarts of canned tomatoes, for our family…usually 2 per week is a good number, but during the summer we eat them fresh, so about 80 quarts is about right to get us through the year. Applesauce, about a quart per week, so I set a goal of getting about 50 quarts into the pantry, usually an assortment of plain, some flavored with cinnamon, some with other fruits cooked in- cranberries or grapes. I do my hot water bath canning in the driveway over a propane burner in a giant pot that was a craigslist find a few years ago.
Hot peppers are nice to dry and put into a grinder with some Himalayan salt and dried garlic. And a couple of gallon freezer bags of chopped frozen peppers is a good amount for us- I keep one with sweet red peppers and another green. I’m not thrilled with the texture of frozen onions- I think they get tough, plus they keep so well in the garage in their out-of-the-field state, that I don’t do anything with preserving onions anymore, unless it is to pre-cook them in combination with other veggies as a recipe base.
I keep some tomatoes frozen whole for use in pasta or kale type salads in the tomato off-season…the flavor is far superior to winter supermarket tomatoes, and the softer thawed texture in a dressing isn’t noticeably different than a fresh tomato in a vinaigrette. At least, for our family that is the case (note, we aren’t the fussiest of eaters!). Just stick them in a freezer bag whole, as is, and place in the freezer. Plum tomatoes work best. Thaw most of the way before slicing, as frozen tomatoes shatter easily. Running the frozen tomato under water allows the skin to slide right off. (note, I’m not recommending this for a tossed salad- the texture would be noticed there. Our tossed salads in winter get very boring around here…)
Other veggies are prepped for their final use. Green beans just get blanched and frozen, although they could be canned, and the same with snow peas, corn and broccoli. Asparagus soup went over very well this year, so this year the freezer will be stocked with asparagus already cooked and pureed with onion, ready to toss into a pot on one some of those nights where we are running between 4H, swim lessons, or karate. Eggplant is sliced, breaded and cooked before freezing ready to heat and eat, or grilled and pureed with other veggies and balsamic vinegar to make a delicious dip that thaws easily to become a sandwich spread or chip dip. Winter squash and pumpkin, though it has a long shelf life, is more convenient for me to bake and puree all at once, and then freeze, so that it is ready for heating and seasoning, as a soup base, or for quick breads.
Jams and jellies seem to be made in random quantities here, because I’m not good at predicting which will be the family favorites of the year, but it seems like the Concord grape jelly and heirloom apple jellies are eaten consistently, and the raspberry jam is in high demand for use in butter cookies. We always try a few new combos in small batches, too. My favorite is raspberry rhubarb, which surprisingly uses pineapple as well. We inevitably have some failures, and these are used as syrups.
The last few years we have come to rely on curries as a quick meal, and I’ve done batches of chutneys to pull out for serving on the side. I always think I’ve put away too much as I’m searching for freezer space for them, but we ran out by January this year, so I need to increase for next year or add another kind. I think our favorite was apple onion, but the nectarine raisin chutney was pretty good too.
Take a few minutes to think ahead about realistic amounts of what would be consumed during your year, and how best to preserve it so that it is ready to use for the way your family eats. I own waaaay too many cookbooks and still go online first to search for recipes, but for canning my go-to is the Ball Blue Book, usually available for sale near canning jars or online. I have many tattered copies, because they release a new version every few years. Acid levels matter with canning, to keep foods safe, so always be sure to stick with tested recipes for canning, and resist adding extra amounts of things like peppers and mushrooms that could upset the balance of acidity.
A great site, if you are new to preserving food, is http://pickyourown.org/allaboutcanning.htm.
Happy planning~ it is going to be a very tasty year!!