Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A Gardener's Preserves

Backyard gardens can be a great way to yield fruit and vegetables that you have grown yourself. You get a feeling of joy and accomplishment from growing your own foods. Another added bonus, you can plant what your family eats in abundance, to save you some money and trips to the store. I found growing my own, is a fun way to try new heirloom varieties to spice up my eating routine.

For some of us, gardening can be an overwhelming thought. Feeling lost with having no idea where to start tends to lead many to not starting at all. Well, let me let you in on a secret... it's a failure-free zone. Sometimes you succeed at growing one item one year and the next years you don't. Maybe Mother Nature decides to throw in an early frost, well there goes your peppers! Maybe you find a tucked away spot to grow your zucchini but then nothing grows because it was too shaded. All you can do is learn from year to year. Yet it is not all frustrations, maybe you planted 8 tomato plants assuming 4 will likely die. Turns out they all love the spot and now you are overrun with tomatoes! That is a good problem to have. You make tones of friends with fresh produce! 

Gardens are great because they are always changing, you are always adapting and since the majority of vegetable plants are annuals, every year you get to start with a blank slate.

When you have success with the plot of produce you will notice that you go from having nothing ripe to basket loads. Yet how do you utilize all of that beautiful harvest without letting things go to waste?
This is where pickling, dehydrating, drying, freezing and canning comes into play.

Personally, this year has been my busiest year for preserving my crops. I feel like a squirrel. I am experimenting with new recipes and methods with the hope of enjoying my produce into the winter months. Some might be great, then I will make sure to save these recipes for next year and some might be mediocre. If you have fun doing it and get to reap the rewards of your hard efforts year round, there is no downside!

Now lets talk about ways to save some of your produce.


This age-old technique is a great way to preserve herbs, fruits and vegetables with a lot of purposes in your home. 

If you have a perennial herb (perennials come back every year) with a woody stem, such as rosemary, mint or thyme, you snip a stem of the herb, rinse and pat dry then bundle the herbs. You can use an elastic band or twine to bundle and hang the herbs upside down indoors. Make sure you check on your herb bundles because as they dry they will shrink and you will have to tighten the bundle.  Once dry you can leave them hanging from some home decor, or put them in an airtight container an enjoy some of your flavour intense herbs in the colder months cooking. 

This year I pulled out our dehydrator and dried a bunch of herb leaves (sage, basil, Thai basil, tarragon and cilantro) and started storing them in mason jars, this is what I will use for cooking once my plants outside start of die off. The dried herbs pack a flavour punch when you use them, Yes more so then the store bought dried herbs. 

A first for me this year is drying chamomile flowers, mint and lavender with the attempt of turning them into loose leaf teas! I figure being fresh it may not have to steep as long as older tea leaves and with a little-personalized tinkering, it might be really tasty. If not, I can always use them for baking or tossing them into espom salts for baths. Win, win in my eyes. 


In the spring, I went a little crazy seeding a heirloom tomatoe called Bumblebee Tomatoes, yes a big factor in buying them was the name, and as a result, I have a bunch of plants! These plants loved their location in the backyard and have provided me ample tomatoes. I like tomatoes but not enough to be able to eat them all before the next harvest is ready. So,  I have dehydrated them and then submerging them in olive oil to make my own sun-dried tomatoes. The goal is to make some sun-dried tomato pesto, from my tomatoes, as it seems to be our new favourite pizza sauce.  I now have a greater respect and understand about why sun-dried tomatoes are so pricey. It takes a fair amount of tomatoes halved, insides scooped out and dried for about 6-8 hours to yield a 125 ml mason jar! When I have enough dried and submerged in oil (I am giving them about a month) I would like to try this Pinterest recipe I found for Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

I didn't stop there though. I also dehydrated some raspberries and blueberries to add them to baking, trail mix or oatmeal when the fruits are out of season. Other fruits that dehydrate really well are apples, peaches, pears and strawberries. 

If you do not have a dehydrator you can still have your own sun-dried tomatoes or dried fruits by using your oven (or BBQ) at low temperature (120-160 F) for approximately 8-12 hours. Depending on the thickness of the fruit sliced or the amount of water in the fruit will determine the amount of time needed. I would check it at the 6 or 8-hour mark and use your better judgement. 


Another great way to store your produce is with pickling. Some produce pickle so beautifully you should showcase it as home decor in the kitchen. 
You need a vinegar brine base to get started. Typically you can use any kind of vinegar you choose that goes with what you are pickling. You can use the white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine, rice wine and the list goes on. You use about 3.5 cups vinegar to 2 cups water. This goes in a saucepan with some sugar, salt and spices (such as fennel, pink peppercorn, garlic, dill, or mustard seeds). Simmering the brine, until the salt and sugar have dissolved you can then pour it over your sliced produce which is waiting in the sanitized mason jars. Be creative with what you want to pickle and what brine recipe you want to use. Start with a brine recipe and then customize it. Some things you can pickle are carrots, hot peppers, onions, beets, corn, cucumbers and beans. 

Now you don't have to grow all of these things. Most of us do not have an abundance of land or the time to maintain it. Yet at the farmers market, the vegetables in season will be at a great price so stock up and keep some for daily meals and other squirrel away for winter. 


For the first time last year, I canned enough salsas and pasta sauces for myself and to give away as Christmas food hampers. It was a huge hit! People loved the homemade touch and the flavour of summer when we are knee deep in snow. Hint hint

This year I may have planted a few too many tomato plants, so we are doing it again!  I stuck with two of the recipes that were a hit last year  Fire Roasted Salsa and Arrabbiata Pasta Sauce. These will store well over winter (in a cool dark place) and act as great and tasty gift in the winter!

Fire Roasted Salsa

Truth be told,  canning can feel a little over whelming. You have an abundance of ingredients to chop, mix , dissolve and simmer. It makes your eyes bulge out when you are making over a dozen pasta sauces and trying to seal the jars. There is an easy fix to this. Make it a PARTY! By inviting friends or family over,  helps delegate some of the work and have fun doing so. Everyone is thrilled because they get the best take away of all, food!

If you decide ahead of time what is going to be made that day and divide up the ingredients for people to bring an item to two, or if each person brings the ingredients for their recipe the host can provide the cans and lids. The second option allows everyone to experiment with a recipe never tried before.


Another great way to save delicious seasonal produce is by freezing it. When I head to Niagara-on- the-Lake region this year, I pick up 3 baskets of peaches and blueberries. When you get them home rise the soft fruits, like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries and lay them on a baking sheet. Carefully place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours and then you can transfer the berries to a bag. These are great for baking, adding to smoothies or topper on nice cream. For the peaches I just washed and sliced. Tossing them in a bag to add to my smoothies in the morning.

I also did the freezing method for some of my Roma tomatoes when they were ripe but not enough to make a bulk pasta sauce recipe. You take the Roma whole and put it in a freezer safe bag. When you have enough and ready to use, simply run the tomato under warm water and the skin peels off. Then you are ready to sauce! So simple! 

Finally, a combination of freezing and canning is freezer jam. I had a bucket load of raspberries so I decided to make some jam. The process is similar to making jam for canning but you just tighten the lid and place it in the freezer rather than water bath to seal the can. I tried this for raspberry jam this year and it was a great success! 

Gardening is all about having fun and experimenting. No on knows exactly what will thrive and what won't, but it is a great feeling to go out and harvest some of your own produce. When you create something that starts so small into a luscious green space with edible items, it encourages you to eat more of what you grow and have an appreciation for what goes into farming fresh foods.  

Besides watching things grow, sometimes it feels like over night, I also found it was a great space to sit and clear my mind after a challenging day. Just watching the bees jump from flower to flower and admire all the labour of love you put into the space really helps clear your mind. There has been many studies looking at the correlation between gardening and a person's mental health. The articles are easy to find but if you want one example of a community garden in Toronto and how it helped in various ways the residents you can read up on it here  .

So, next time you are at the farmers market pick up an extra bag of produce and give preserving a try. 

If you are intrigued by some of the ideas here, I encourage you to start with some raised boxes or a few planters and see what you can grow. 

August 20 2018

June 3 2018

Feed the soul, get your hands dirty and never stop learning! 

No comments:

Post a Comment