It’s that time of year again: Your garden is reaching the end of its blissful season of producing homegrown goodness. Or you went overboard at the final farmer’s markets of the season. Either way, you have tons of options to take all that produce into the winter. There’s no right or wrong method, but there are some factors to consider when deciding how to save your fruits and veggies. First of all, pick produce that is nearing that perfectly ripe state — and only choose veggies that aren’t bruised or damaged. Now let’s go through a few of the most popular methods and their benefits to give you a head start.
Dehydrators are pretty easy to come by at garage sales, and that’s really all you need for this method. Buying a new machine can run anywhere from $30 to $150, but finding a used one might be easier than you think if you keep your eyes peeled. Or, DIY it in your oven with these tips
Same Flavor, Smaller Package
One big benefit of dehydrating your food is that it concentrates the flavor. Which makes sense, right? Because you’re literally removing all the water while preserving the tasty essence of your fruit or vegetable.
But First, Blanch It
This rule doesn’t really apply to fruits like peaches or grapes, but you’ll want to blanch vegetables before you dry them. If you’re unfamiliar with blanching, it’s when you boil a vegetable and then immediately cool it with ice water to stop it from cooking any further. So clearly, timing is important and that’s why it’s good to have a reference for each kind of vegetable
Consistency Is Key
Similar to cooking cuts of meat, you should slice your vegetable or fruit to the same level of thickness, otherwise they won’t dehydrate at the same rate. Don’t bust out the tape measure or anything, just use your best judgement. Or use a mandolin
, but please be careful!
Throwing your garden’s bounty into the freezer is probably the easiest route you can take. All you need is a bunch of zip-lock bags and a functioning freezer to get started!
Blanch It Again, Sam
Yep, even for freezing you should blanch veggies. Otherwise, your healthy little snacks will lose nutritional value and won’t taste the way you want them to.
If It’s Cookable, It’s Freezable
A good rule to follow is only freeze veggies you’d otherwise cook, like asparagus, green beans and pumpkins. Cucumber, celery and lettuce won’t keep quite the same way.
Special Rules for Berries
For the more fragile berry varieties — like raspberries or blueberries — there’s a different set of rules. If they’re wet, they’ll stick together and you’ll end up with one big block of red sugar. Instead, line them up on a large baking sheet and put it in your freezer. Once fully frozen, you can transfer your fruit to a zip-lock bag without fear of anything turning to mush.
Every Square Inch Counts
Before you commit to freezing pounds upon pounds of your goodies, make sure you have the freezer space. This might be an obvious statement, but it’s worth mentioning so you can clear out that extremely freeze-dried salmon you had good intentions for and the ice cream cartons you didn’t polish off (Who are we kidding? The ice cream got polished off).
Canning is arguably the most expensive method because you first need to gather all the ingredients and tools necessary if you don’t already own them. But it’s also a really great skill to have, and it lets you preserve everything from vegetables to meats to make some really interesting concoctions.
Gather Your Materials
Okay, so first off, let’s take stock of what you’ll need:
- Canning jars, lids and bands
- A jar lifter with rubber grips
- A small ruler or chopstick
For more specifics on each of these tools, you can check out this helpful guide.
Sanitize, Don’t Apologize
It’s better to be safe than sorry, so be sure to properly sanitize your equipment when canning. The National Center for Home Food Preservation warns of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, and gives us this helpful tip to ensure it doesn’t ruin your canning planning:
Boiling food 10 minutes at altitudes below 1,000 feet altitude should destroy this poison when it is present. For altitudes at and above 1,000 feet, add 1 additional minute per 1,000 feet additional elevation.
PH Is a Pretty Big Deal
You may not consider yourself a scientist, and that’s okay. But it is important to have a good grip on which foods are acidic and which aren’t because lower-acid foods still have a chance of growing bacteria even after boiling the jars. It can be as simple as changing your food’s pH by adding some vinegar or citric juice to the water in the jar. This guide breaks the whole process down nicely.
Too Deep to Fully Dive In
Please understand, canning is far too broad a topic to tackle in just one post. Besides, we wanted to lay out a few different options for you. But if you’re ready to commit to canning, here’s a great beginner’s guide to get you started.
Okay — so do you feel more ready to tackle harvest season? We hope so. It may seem sort of daunting, but you just have to jump in and get going. Your winter self will thank you for the fresh-tasting fruits and veggies.