There are few things in this world better than pulling fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs from your garden. However, once it is time to harvest, many gardeners are overwhelmed by bushels of tomatoes, 4-foot-high rosemary, and enough zucchini to circle the earth. How is one family supposed to eat all this excess? While neighbors may be excited to find the seven summer squashes you left on their doorstep, here are some ideas so to help you begin preserving vegetables.
What do cucumbers, okra, watermelon rind and jalapenos all have in common? They taste great when pickled! All you need is brine and a few canning jars with airtight lids. Collect your desired raw veggies or fruits and properly wash each piece, then remove undesired parts. Tightly pack your canning jars full of the edibles, and begin your basic brine! For every pound of produce, combine 1-cup vinegar (any type but balsamic), ½ cup sugar, 1-cup water, and 1-tablespoon kosher salt in a saucepan and bring it all to a boil. You can get creative here by adding herbs or spices like peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and garlic cloves to give your brine a kick. Pour the hot liquid over the produce, then seal the jars and allow everything to cool for 24 hours in order to ensure the flavor fully soaks in. Refrigeration will keep your pickled creations for roughly one month. For long-term preservation, seal the jars completely through the full canning process
Here is a great recipe if you are feeling stumped on what to do with those leftover watermelon rinds:
Pickled Watermelon Rind
Fill a canning jar with diced or speared watermelon rind (preferably the thick, white part- not so much green). This should be about 1-1.5 cups. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, bring the following ingredients to a boil:
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of organic cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon of iodized sea salt
- 1-2 inch piece of fresh ginger (to taste)
- 1-2 inch piece of lime rind (to taste)
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 1-2 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds (to taste)
After the mixture has reduced only slightly after boiling, pour the liquid and spices over your watermelon rind in a jar. Allow cooling for at least 1 hour before sealing the jar. Keep in fridge for up to 1 month. Enjoy!
While dried herbs lend a mellow hint to any dish, fresh herbs add an extra kick that can take a meal to the next level. They tend to be more pure in flavor and concentrated in nature- especially the aromatics like mint and rosemary. One handy method we use to store fresh herbs conveniently throughout the year is freezing. First, pick bundles of your summertime herbaceous plants and gather a few ice cube trays (plastic Easter egg shells work well also). Wash your herbs and gently pick through the leaves to clear away unwanted stems and debris. Next, chop the leaf matter and fill the bottom of each compartment half way. You can make blends, or keep it simple with single-herbs. Take a moment to consider what you prepare most often in your kitchen- Soups? Pot-roasts? Cocktails? Using everything from oils, broth, simple syrup, and water, pour the desired liquid over the fresh herbs. Freeze your trays overnight for herb cubes that will outlast the summer months. In order to prevent freezer burn, separate the frozen cubes into labeled freezer bags.
Good news- you do not need a full-scale dehydrator to preserve your garden gifts. There are many dehydration methods out there, but one simple technique everyone can do is oven dehydration. This works best overnight to keep your house from heating up during the day.
After gathering the vegetables, flowers, herbs, or fruits you wish to dry, properly prepare them by cutting away undesired matter like pits, peels, and seeds. Be sure to blanch your fruits and veggies to rid them of the enzymes that cause spoilage. Next, preheat your oven to its lowest temperature (ideally 140-170 degrees) and begin slicing each piece of produce into thin slices -preferably ¼ – ½ inch thick- and arrange a single layer on cookie sheets or stones. After placing everything in the oven, it is important to keep the oven door slightly ajar in order to encourage air circulation. Wedging a folded kitchen towel in the oven door should do the trick! Occasionally flip the pieces to ensure even dehydration. Every piece of produce is different, so check this chart for ideal drying times.
We hope this helps you and your family think of some creative preservation methods. As always, if you have any questions on when and how to properly harvest your garden’s gifts, we are here for ya! Also, if you will be away on vacation during these summer months and you are worried about keeping your garden healthy, call or email us to schedule maintenance visits. We are always here to help.