It's August, and the vegetables and fruits you planted last spring have started coming...and coming, and coming...What do you do with all this produce? You don't need a canner to preserve your harvest! You can freeze your fruits and vegetables for later use in the long, cold days of winter.
Freezing is by far the easiest way to preserve your home produce. Many varieties of vegetables and fruits can be saved this way, including: corn, beans, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, berries, cherries and herbs. If you are freezing veggies, blanch them first: boil or steam vegetables for a short period of time, and then rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching preserves texture, color and flavor in your frozen veggies, cleanses the surface of dirt and bacteria, and slows vitamin loss. It also wilts or softens veggies, making it easier to pack them into your storage container. I store my frozen produce in zipping freezer bags, but you can also use rigid, plastic storage containers.
Fruits can be frozen with or without sugar, depending on how you want to use them later. The key to successful fruit preservation is to choose ripe fruit, clean thoroughly, and cut out any blemishes or over-ripe areas. I have frozen hulled, whole strawberries on cookie sheets, and then transferred them to plastic zippy bags. These are excellent as ice cubes in lemonade. Another good choice is to mix cut berries with sugar. When the sugar has completely dissolved, pack them in rigid, plastic containers and freeze. Blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries can all be frozen using this method. For peaches, apricots and other stone fruits, add ascorbic acid ("Fruit Fresh") to reduce the amount of fruit browning.
Herbs can be frozen or dried. Wash herbs thoroughly and then freeze on a cookie sheet. Transfer your herbs to an air tight container (again, I choose zippy bags because they store flat.) The trick to using frozen herbs is to chop them while they are still frozen. Freeze high moisture herbs like Basil, Chives, Mint and Tarragon. If you have a warm, dry area, you can dry low moisture herbs. These include Bay, Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Summer Savory and Thyme. Hang several stems upside down in a paper bag. When your herbs are completely dry, store them in an airtight container.
For more information about preserving your garden produce, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site at www.uga.edu/nchfp/, or try one of the many great books that address this subject, including: "The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving the Harvest," by Carol W. Costenbader and "Keeping the Harvest" by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead. (The last is my personal favorite, and contains the best bread and butter pickle recipe I've come across!) Until next time, happy gardening and healthy eating!
People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best.