Storing the harvest to savor later
It is officially fall. We’ve passed the equinox. The trees are ablaze in red and gold. Frost has come. The harvest season is nearing its end.
Before the age of cross-continental transport, our grandparents preserved the harvest for the winter. They used cold storage root cellars for potatoes, onions and root vegetables like carrots and beets. They canned, turning fruit into jams and jellies, making tomato sauces and salsas. They brined and pickled other vegetables, like cucumbers and green beans. By storing the harvest, you too can enjoy summer’s flavors in winter’s dark, cold days — just like your grandparents did.
Today, commercially canned and frozen produce is relatively inexpensive and available to us all year long. Preserving food from your garden or farmers’ market is labor-intensive, but it can limit your exposure to harmful chemicals (such as pesticides, food dyes, preservatives and other artificial ingredients). Commercially prepared condiments, sauces and spreads contain preservatives, other artificial ingredients, flavor enhancers like MSG, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and an excess of added salt and sugar.
Most vegetables and fruits can be frozen. The fresher they are, the more flavor and nutrition is preserved. So don’t leave the veggies in your fridge prior to freezing or canning them. Plan to do it as soon as you bring them home from the market or CSA.
Many people pack their freezers and cellars with individually canned or frozen items to use during winter. Tomatoes are often canned; green beans, cauliflower or broccoli are frozen. But you can also combine vegetables and cook them into products like tomato sauce or dishes like ratatouille. That way, they are ready with little fuss when you want to eat them.
Preparing your own frozen or canned meals from local, organic produce harvested at its peak of ripeness puts you in control of what you consume. Fruit and vegetables that are ripened on the vine are higher in vitamins and other nutrients than those picked green to ripen during transport. For example, tomatoes will have more vitamin C when they’re harvested at their peak of ripeness.
Here are some ideas for meals you can prepare and freeze using the season’s bounty.
6 bell peppers, any color
2 cups cooked orzo pasta, prepared according to package directions
1 bunch spinach, arugula or combination
6 ounces Crumbled feta cheese
8 ounces fresh, tender green beans (about a cup)
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups cooked black or pinto beans
6 ounces sharp cheddar or tex-mex cheese blend
1 cup fresh minced parsley or cilantro
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
To prepare peppers: Wash, slice in half lengthwise, then remove tops, stems, and seeds. Place peppers on an oiled baking dish and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees F.
For the Greek filling:
Cook pasta and steam greens. Combine pasta, greens, and feta cheese in bowl; fill peppers. Place in freezer bags and freeze.
For the Southwest filling:
Wash green beans. Steam to desired tenderness. Chop.
In bowl, combine chopped beans, corn, black beans, cheese and parsley. Stir to combine. For a spicier version, add chopped chili peppers or powdered chili. Fill peppers, place in freezer bags and freeze.
To serve, remove from freezer. Place in oiled baking dish. For the Greek peppers, decorate tops with sliced black olives. Place in preheated 350 degree F oven and bake 30 – 40 minutes.
Option: Replace peppers with zucchini to make zucchini boats.
Replace orzo with a cooked grain, like rice, quinoa or barley. Also try using corn kernels.
Easy Stovetop Ratatouille Stew
Ratatouille is a veggie stew which makes good use of the season’s best fresh produce: tomatoes, eggplant, and summer squash along with onions, garlic, bell peppers and herbs. It can be served hot or cold, as a side dish or as a complete meal when accompanied by fresh bread and cheese. It has even been used as a filling for omelets and crepes. Add broth and pasta or rice to leftover ratatouille to make it into a soup.
For ease of preparation, cut up all the ingredients ahead of time.
2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
4 onions (about 2 cups, diced)
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine or broth (or more, as needed)
3 cloves garlic
2 medium zucchini (one yellow and one green for a nice color combination)
2 to 3 large tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon fennel
Cut eggplants into cubes. Toss with a tablespoon of salt and place in a colander over the sink.
Heat oil in skillet. Peel and dice the onion, and add. Sprinkle with salt Cook 5 minutes, covered, over low heat. Rinse the eggplant and add. Cook on low about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little red wine or broth if it begins to stick.
Mince the garlic and add. Chop the zucchini and tomatoes, and add. Add herbs. Cook 15 minutes longer, until vegetables are soft.
Pack into plastic containers and freeze, or put in jars and can.
Serve as a side with meat.
For a vegetarian main course, stir in 1 1/2 cups cooked beans (garbanzo or navy beans both go well) and 1 cup grated cheese, and serve over pasta.
Serves 4 – 6.
Option: adjust vegetables to what you have available. Add colorful bell peppers; even hot peppers, if you wish. Add mushrooms, green beans, carrots, celery. Some people like to omit the eggplant.
This dish is very variable. Make it sweet with sweet potatoes and apples, hot with hot peppers or sour with tomatoes or a little balsamic or cider vinegar. For a basic dish, braise with just oil, broth, onions and garlic, freeze, and add other things when ready to serve. Or cook up a couple different versions and freeze for the winter.
3 pounds greens like kale, collards, chard, or beet greens
2 or 3 onions
Several cloves garlic
Optional ingredients: bell peppers, mushrooms, breakfast or Italian sausage, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, apples
If using kale or collards, strip the leaves from the tough stems; discard stems. Wash leaves and set aside. (Chard and beets do not need to be removed from stems).
Coat a large pot with lid lightly with oil. Add the sausage (if using) and cook on low. Add diced sweet potatoes and peeled, cored chopped apples at this point, if using. Peel and dice the onion, add, and sprinkle with salt. Peel and mince the garlic, and stir in. Cook until the sausage is brown, potatoes and apples are soft, and onions are translucent. (you can also add bell peppers or mushrooms here).
Chop the greens coarsely. Add to the skillet along with 1/3 cup wine and 1/3 cup broth or water. Cover, and cook over medium heat, until tender about 5 – 10 minutes. Chard and beets cook faster than kale or collards. Add tomatoes at the end, if using, and cook just until they fall apart.
Put into plastic containers or jars; freeze (make sure to leave space for the product to expand) or can.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: writing and cooking. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite @yvonawrites.