Harvest time is, arguably, the best part of growing your own fruits and vegetables. You’ve used compost to enrich the soil; kept weeds down by mulching, and used your rain barrels to irrigate the plants. Now it’s time reap what you’ve sown. But when everything starts turning ripe around the same time, a trip to the garden could seem like a scene from ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.’
Have no fear. Taming that plethora of produce isn’t as tough as it looks.
For years, canning has been the go-to solution for home gardeners. Your mother probably did it, and your grandmother, and her grandmother, too. The upside of canning is that it provides a reliable, long-term solution to the problem of preserving your harvest. The downside is … well, there are several downsides, actually. It’s messy, it’s time consuming, and the process compounds the dog days of summer by adding a lot of heat and humidity to your kitchen.
That’s not to say canning should be taken off the table. It’s a tried-and-true method of storing food, and although it’s labor-intensive, the payoffs are well worth the time. If you want to learn more, the USDA has collected some great information here. But if time’s of the essence, keep your cool by freezing instead.
Freezing is one of the simplest ways to store food. Preparation is quick and easy, and there’s no need for specialized equipment. Pick up some freezer bags, sugar, salt and, if you’re concerned about fruit discoloration, ascorbic acid, and you’re ready to go. Most fruits and vegetables can be frozen in just a few minutes’ time. And when it’s the middle of winter and you want some of those peppers that tasted so good this summer, you need go no further than your freezer.
Here are some quick recipes from the Penn State Cooperative Extension to get started (note that their site suggests never freezing more than 2 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer capacity per day):
Select firm, ripe tomatoes with deep-red color. Wash and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to remove skins. Core and peel. Freeze whole or in pieces. Pack into containers, leaving 1-inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Use only for cooking or seasoning since tomatoes will not be solid when thawed. Note: Cooking or stewing tomatoes provides better texture and flavor.
Homegrown varieties are best for making jams and freezing
• To make a syrup pack: Dissolve 3 cups of sugar in 4 cups of water. Add 1 cup of this syrup per quart of prepared fruit.
• To make a dry sugar pack: Mix 2?3 cup of dry sugar per quart of prepared fruit.
• To make a dry pack: Omit sugar.
To package: Fill pint- or quart-size freezer bags to 3–4 inches from top, squeeze out air, seal, label, and freeze. Before freezing, bags may be inserted into reusable, rigid freezer containers for added protection against punctures and leakage. If using rigid containers, allow 1?2-inch headspace for dry pack and 1-inch headspace for syrup pack berries in quarts.
Prepared berries can also be individually quick frozen (IQF) first on a tray and then packed into containers as soon as they are frozen. IQF berries may be used partially thawed as a snack.
Bell or Sweet Peppers preparation: Select crisp, tender, green or bright-red pods. Wash, cut out stems, cut in half, and remove seeds. If desired, cut into 1?2-inch strips or rings.
For longest shelf-life, water-blanch halves for 3 minutes and strips or rings for 2 minutes. Cool promptly, drain and package, leaving 1?2-inch headspace. Seal and freeze. For crisper texture, package raw, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze.
Hot Peppers preparation: Wash and stem peppers. Package leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze.
Do you have a favorite way to preserve food? We’d love to see your recipes. Please share them in the comments section below, and we’ll post them for our readers!