Tag Archives: food preservation

How to Make the Most of Fresh Garden Produce

If you’re anything like me it’s absolutely devastating to see any of your garden produce go to waste. When we grow our own food we’re tied to it from the moment the first seed is plunged into the soil. Unlike produce off the grocery stores shelves that seems to magically reappear, no work involved, we cannot ignore the hard work that went into our backyard produce. We become much more aware of the all the work, the sowing, weeding, watering, harvesting, that goes into each individual carrot.

On a side note perhaps if the world had more growers, more people who still had a connection to the land, we’d be less likely to waste any morsel of food no matter who grew it.

Even with all the best intentions it can be hard to use up the harvest from even a modest size garden. Chances even if you cook from scratch a lot your family has a collection of recipes that you rotate through fairly often and not all of them are going to be great for using seasonal produce. Really using the products of a garden can take a lot work. Hopefully these tips make it a bit easier.

Succession Planting

One of the best ways to avoid the produce overwhelm is to plant in successions. Check out our succession planting post to avoid getting slammed with all your vegetables at once.

Invest in a Good Cookbook

More specially, find a cookbook that actually focuses on seasonal, local eating. Typical cookbooks have a jumble ingredients from all over the world and all different seasons all smashed into a single meal. If you want to make the most of your harvest finding a cookbook that focuses on making local produce the star of the meal is the way to go.

Southern Exposure offers several books with seasonal recipes like, Winter Foods by Brett Grohsgal and Julia Shanks or Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine by David S. Shields. There are many others out there as well. Chefs like Alice Waters and José Andrés are advocating for local eating and many have cookbooks to help people put local foods back on the table.

Create a Collection of Recipes

Don’t scramble last minute. While there’s still little produce coming out of the ground collect recipes you think your family will enjoy that use seasonal produce. I like to write mine on notecards but this could be as simple as saving recipes to a file on your computer. Growing a lot of green beans? Look up some green bean recipes. When you’ve got buckets full of beans in your kitchen all you need to do is flip through your recipes for some easy meals.

Seasonal recipes can be found on the SESE blog throughout the year.

Learn to Be Flexible/Use Flexible Recipes

In our house we have several meals that make it easy to use whatever in season. Year round we eat homemade pizza almost once a week. In the spring it’s topped with fresh baby greens, green onions, and maybe even some morels if we’re lucky. A little later we’ll be topping it with broccoli, then peppers and tomatoes and fresh garlic as the season goes on. In the dead of winter we’ll use dried tomatoes, frozen greens, stored onions and garlic, and sometimes peppers we put up during the summer. Other examples of these flexible recipes include:

  • Pot Pie – Take any pot pie recipe and swap in some seasonal veggies, peas in the spring, broccoli, then green beans later in the year.
  • Stir fry – Whatever veggies you have on hand lightly fried with a protein source, some seasonings, and soy sauce served over a bed of rice.
  • Shepard’s Pie – A layer of protein (we often use lentils), a layer of veggies (carrots, onions, peas, green beans, sweet corn, etc.) followed by a layer of gravy then a layer of potatoes.
  • Minestrone – Dry beans, season vegetables, stock, and seasoning.

Having simple go to recipes that you can add a variety of vegetables is a great way to avoid cooking burn out. Always trying new recipes can be a handful but a few basic ones can save you on those hectic evenings. Shepard’s Pie, Pot Pie, Minestrone can also be made ahead of time and frozen for later use.

Try to Plan Your Meals at Least a Week in Advance

This one can be tough especially if you’re a new gardener but gardens are more predictable than you think. When I harvest our first few cherry tomatoes I know that by next week we’ll probably be flooded with them and I can select recipes ahead of time and make sure I have other ingredients that go with them on hand. This also helps save money because we’re not constantly running into the grocery store for easy last minute meals which lets be honest usually means processed unhealthy meals as well.

Preserving the Extra

No matter how much you eat fresh there will probably be extra. While some prefer to give any extra away it’s a great idea to put some up for winter. Here’s some tips to help much sure you’ll use what you put up.

  • When preserving food put it up in the size containers you’ll actually use up at one time. If you live alone and cook small meals don’t pressure can your green beans in quart jars opt for pints instead to avoid waste.
  • Don’t put up tons of food you’re not sure you’ll like. Want to try pickled beets? Awesome can a few pints to try and then freeze or store the rest in your root cellar. If you find you and you’re family will gladly eat a ton of them you can do more next year.
  • Keep a list of all the food you have in storage. Reviewing this list before planning meals for the week is an excellent way to make sure you include them in your meals.

There’s so many benefits to growing your own food. You’ll save money, eat better, and reduce your environmental impact but you won’t reap any of these benefits if you don’t actually eat what you grow. Unless you just have a few container plants planning on eating fresh salads isn’t good enough. A single tomato plant can yell 30 pounds of tomatoes! Succession plant, find seasonal recipes, meal plan, and put up extra to make the most of your garden this year.

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3 Storage Tomatoes You Can Grow to Eat Fresh Tomatoes Next Winter

Eating local comes with a plethora of benefits. When you eat from your backyard or even local farms you get healthier, fresher ingredients. You also lower your environmental impact because eating food from close to home saves tons of energy that’s typically used to transport and refrigerate food from all across the globe.

But eating local can also be really tough. Most have us have become accustomed to having easy access to fresh produce whenever we want it. No matter how much we can, dry, and freeze during the summer months that fresh, grocery store produce starts to look really tasty each winter, even if we know those pale mealy tomatoes will never come close to our backyard slicers.

While there’s no real replacement for sinking your teeth into a freshly picked tomato, still warm with the summer sun you can still enjoy fresh homegrown tomatoes in the winter. Southern Exposure offers three tomato varieties that are good for fresh winter storage.

Garden Peach Tomato

Garden Peach Tomato

This indeterminate tomato is ready to harvest in just 73 days. If harvested green just before the frost the Garden Peach is an excellent storage tomato. It also has outstanding flavor, vigorous vines, and is split resistant.

Long Keeper Winter Storage Tomato

Long Keeper Winter Storage Tomato

Though it’s quality doesn’t quite match a fresh, summer garden tomato most find it to be superior to supermarket tomatoes. Plus it allows you to eat fresh, local food well into the winter. Some customers even report storing Long Keeper for 4-6 months! The Long Keeper is a semi-determinate tomato that’s ready to harvest in 78 days and ripens 6-12 weeks after harvest.

Reverend Morrows Long Keeper Winter Storage Tomato

Reverend Morrows Long Keeper Winter Storage Tomato

The Reverend Morrows Long Keeper is a determinate Louisiana heirloom. It’s 83 days to harvest and has good storage qualities.

If you intend to use any of these varieties for winter storage it’s best to plant them in late spring or midsummer depending on how long your season is. You should plan to be harvesting them just before your first frost if you want them to keep into winter as long as possible.

Once harvested these tomatoes should be stored at room temperature with air space in between each tomato. They won’t last as long if they’re touching. Only unblemished tomatoes should be stored. You should also go through the tomatoes weekly to check for ripe ones that can be used and remove any that are rotting.

Adding one of these awesome varieties can help you add more local food to your diet on a year round basis. They’re well worth a little extra effort!

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Putting Up Produce the Old Ways: Fermenting, Drying, and Cellaring

For the modern gardener keeping a surplus harvest means blanching and freezing or canning. These methods certainly have their virtues but it’s important to remember they’re not your only options. For hundreds of years humans put up their harvests without the aid of modern canning jars or electricity.

For some in areas with frequent power outages or off grid houses freezing produce may not be the best option. Canning, especially pressure canning, can be relatively time and energy intensive. Plus fermenting, drying, and cellaring all have their own benefits.

Fermenting

It sounds a little weird but fermented food may be some of your healthiest preserves. Fermented food has lacto-bacteria that has been shown to improve gut flora. Your gut flora is important to your digestion but new studies have also shown gut flora to be an important facet of your overall health.

Easy fermented foods include pickles, kraut, and kimchi but nearly any vegetable can be fermented. Check out this post for a more in depth look at fermenting vegetables.   

Drying

Drying or dehydrating produce is probably one of the easiest methods of preserving produce and it can be much less energy intensive than canning or freezing but still keep for a very long time. Dried produce can be eaten as snacks or rehydrated for use in soups and stews during the winter months. It’s also great lightweight food for families who enjoy camping or backpacking.

Before electricity was available drying food was mostly used a preservation method in warm, arid climates where food could be quickly dried outside before it rotted. Today you can find many plans online for solar dehydrators which will help those in more humid climates achieve the same effect. Thankfully for those in really humid areas or without a passion for DIY projects there are tons of electric dehydrators available on the market and most are very affordable.

Cellaring

Don’t skip this section just because you don’t have a root cellar! There’s many ways to store produce fresh even if you live in a small apartment. Check out this post, How to Store Crops Without a Root Cellar for our best ideas.

A lot of produce can be kept fresh in storage including onions, carrots, beets, turnips, winter squash, even cabbage and brussels sprouts! Cellaring is a method in which heirlooms will often have the advantage. As many were bred when people put up all or much their own food heirlooms often have some of the best storage abilities. Keep this in mind this winter as you’re choosing varieties.

Succession Planting

For anyone who dreads spending time preserving a great way to avoid a lot of food preservation altogether is to use succession planting. This is when you start plants at different intervals so that they’re ready at different times. Rather than planting all your green beans in one day plant a row or two (depending on your family’s size) one day and then plant again in a few weeks. This will spread your harvest out over a longer period of time ensuring you can enjoy more of it fresh!

For more tips check out, Succession Planting 101.

These methods may be old but they’re still awesome! Fermenting, drying, and cellaring can help you avoid food waste and keep healthy, local food continuously available.

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