Autumn is a busy time for gardeners as summer harvests end and winter sowing begins. One of the problems you may experience is just what to do with surplus. There’s only so much you can eat right now, and it seems an awful shame to let all that Autumn bounty go to waste.
Fortunately, you don’t need to! Apart from the option of trading or sharing with gardening friends, or donating your surplus to worthy charities, you can keep yourself in autumn harvested summer produce for quite a long time if you play your cards right.
1. Store your harvest fresh
Before you consider the different methods of preserving harvested produce, do check the storage life and how you should store each type of veggie. You may be surprised at how long some veggies will keep. Before putting veg aside to store, ensure that you’re only storing the healthiest produce. Any form of rot can spread rapidly, ruining your efforts. While your harvest is in storage, check it regularly and either discard or process anything that shows signs of going off.
You may be surprised at just how long you can store certain types of veggies, especially root crops. Beetroot, for example, can last for as long as 5 months if the leaves are removed and they are kept in a cool, dry place. Carrots, on the other hand, need cool, moist conditions for storage, but they too can last for months.
2. Freeze or dry your harvest for the Winter
Almost any vegetable can be frozen. For best results, do a little extra research on the veggies you have in mind. To get you started, though, here a few tips.
Most veggies need to be blanched. That means submerging them in hot water followed by an ice bath. Now, drain them and pat them dry with paper towels before freezing. For greens, which tend to clump into a solid mass, blanch until they’re wilted, spread them out on a tray, and then gather up the individually frozen pieces and transfer them to a sealed container.
With peppers (Capsicums,) you can skip the blanching. SImply clean and chop them as if you were going to use them now, freeze them on a tray, and then transfer them into ziplock bags or sealable plastic containers.
One thing I always seem to have too much of are tomatoes. If you have enough freezer space, you can freeze them whole after a minute’s blanching followed by cooling, but I invariably don’t have enough freezer space, so I cook them down, allowing moisture to evaporate until I have a fairly concentrated mush and freeze that instead.
If you have a dehydrator, you’re onto a good thing. Many dehydrated veggies can be stored for months on end and they can even last as long as a year. Once again, do your homework before getting started. Different veggies will require different types of treatment.
3. Make sauces, jams and pickles out of your harvest
Get inspired with the age-old storage methods of your forefathers. There are records of pickling going back for 4,000 years, and before there were fridges and freezers, it was the only alternative to regular fresh storage. What better way to keep this heritage alive than trying it yourself? Best of all, you can pickle just about anything: carrots, cucumbers, peppers, green beans, squash, tomatoes – even watermelon can go on the list.
It’s not just a matter of making a regular brine either, you can get really creative, adding herbs and spices to your mixture for new and exciting flavours. Isn’t that why you garden anyway? There are tons of pickling recipes to research, and being able to add your own twist to the spices makes for lots of fun.
Most sauces and relishes are just variations of the standard pickle, with more ingredients more finely chopped and blended. Once again, there’s plenty of scope for creativity.
Shelf-life for pickles and relishes vary depending on the recipe you chose, so do remember to label them with the date and plan to use them up in good time.
Jams may be the easiest of all, but don’t forget that you can use some really interesting ingredients. Have you ever tried carrot marmalade or tomato jam? How about chilli jam or beet jam? Maybe it’s time you did!
From Garden to Kitchen
In a world in which everything seems to be done in a mad hurry, you may think that all of this sounds like a lot of work – and I won’t lie – it can be! I frequently end up googling up a ton of recipes and ideas, adapting them a little to suit me, and putting them to the test. I’ll be honest – I’m no domestic goddess when it comes to the kitchen. All the same, my family seems to think I’m turning into one, and my veggie garden gets the credit!
To my surprise, I find spending a day pottering about my kitchen finding ways to use home produce extremely rewarding. Best of all are the times when I can look at the dinner table and say that most of what we’re about to eat is home-produced. I’m sure you feel the same way, so don’t miss out on opportunities to stretch your summer produce so that it lasts for the winter too!
How do you make the most of your harvest?