The Holiday Season is just around the corner – are you ready? From turkey to ham, sweet potatoes to cranberries, or stuffing to pumpkin pie, this foodie season is a perfect time to raid the garden (or the pantry if you have stored your garden bounty well) to make dishes that warm hearts and remind us all that friends and family are truly the foundation of our lives.
Properly Storing Your Garden Bounty
Dry Storage: Let’s explore three types of products and how best to store them for later use
- Potatoes – potatoes need cool and dark – 55-60 degrees is pretty good – and they need to be relatively dry. Sweet potatoes require a bit more effort to store (sort of like squash below) – they first need to be cured (open, warm and plenty of air flow) to allow them to last. Next, wrap them individually in newspaper, place in a brown bag (or box) with an apple (helps prevent budding) in an environment just like for regular potatoes.
- Squash – when picking squash, cut the squash from the vine (with a little of the vine still attached). If you pluck the squash from the vine and tear the vine away from the fruit, this creates a “wound” that will prevent the squash from curing properly. Let your squash sit in a warm airy environment for seven to 14 days – any product that develops blemishes during this time will not store properly – designate these for immediate use. Once your squash is cured, you can store them like potatoes for up to six months depending on the variety.
- Onions – first tip, never store your potatoes or squash near onions. Onions give off a lot of ethylene gas and this will cause the other products to misbehave! Onions should not be refrigerated (unless they are spring sweet onions – then wrap them in paper towels and refrigerate – but these are not great for storing anyway!) – but need to be stored in a cool, dry environment. Check out this image for a few tips.
Freezing: When freezing vegetables, you can often save their essential flavor and a lot of nutrients – but doing it the proper way will help. Here are three veggies that freeze well.
- Tomatoes – so, if you want tomatoes for soups, stews and sauces, freezing is great. Tomatoes for “slicing and eating” can’t be frozen. Simply cut them to the size you want, put in a sealable bag and freeze. This will preserve the flavor for Winter (or Holiday!!) use.
- Zucchini – blanch the raw Zucchini for three to four minutes and then transfer them to a bowl with iced water (to stop the cooking) and dry. Then simply slice, chop or grate your Zucchini for later use. Holiday time is perfect for breads and muffins made with Zucchini!
- Herbs – if drying your herbs is not an option, you can freeze them – and there are a variety of ways to do this:
- Bare Herbs – heartier herbs (rosemary, sage, dill, etc.) can be spread on the vine on a baking sheet and placed in the freezer. Once frozen, they can be packaged and used a sprig at a time.
- Frozen in Water – more tender herbs (mint, parsley, cilantro) can be chopped and placed into an ice cube tray (or you can simply stuff who leaves into the compartments) covered with water and frozen. Once frozen, the cubes should be removed and placed in an airtight container until needed.
- Frozen in Oil – basil, thyme and oregano can be turned into a pesto – and then frozen. Add leaves and olive oil into a blender/food processor and pulse a few times. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the cubes into an airtight container and you are good to go!
Canning: this is a much more scientific approach to preserving the fruits of the earth and requires some pretty basic tools, a little time and the proper containers. Since so many vegetables and fruits can be canned, we will share here the major canning “types.
- Pickling – one of the basic methods of preserving foods. This common technique for cucumbers and other vegetables involves creating a brine, essentially cooking the vegetables in the brine and then putting the entire brine/veggie combo into sealed jars. Follow this link for common pickling approaches: Home Pickling Basics
- Water Bath – this method works for fruit, tomatoes, jams and for items that are already pickled. You will immerse the storage jars into a water bath and boil (212 degrees) for a minimum of 10 minutes (timing does not start until the water returns to a boil). Jars must be sealed and covered by at least an inch of water. Check out this link for detailed instructions: Water Bath Canning
- Pressure – this is a much more complex method and should be used with all low acid foods to avoid the development of the botulism bacteria. This is more common for meats, dairy and low acid foods that are not pickled.
Ripening: At the end of each gardening season, we have seen many folks give up too early. They tend to use Labor Day (at least here in the Upper Midwest) as the unofficial end to the gardening season. We have found multiple ways to extend the gardening season – from succession planting (greens, radishes) to cool weather crops (any of the cole varieties) to tenting to end of year ripening (check out this video of how we ripened late season tomatoes: Ripening Late Tomatoes.
We have shared how to “cure” other vegetables and most fall crops will be okay until it gets super cold. Peppers can be ripened a bit by leaving them on a sunny windowsill. Most other items including beans will survive as long as the plant survives – but first frost will also hurt the product.
Our guidance – wait until a hard freeze is coming and encourage your plants to produce right up to the very end. Then you can start planning for 2020!!
Do you have any late season tips? Are there favorite ways to preserve your bounty for holiday cooking? Let us know!