We recently posted on the heartache of watching your garden freeze over as winter approaches. Many of us have now eaten the last of our homegrown tomatoes and herbs; farmers’ markets are petering out and CSA deliveries are winding down. Unless you live in Cali or Florida, chances are good that for the next five to six months, most of the fresh produce you eat will be out-of-season and grown in greenhouses or trucked halfway across the country.
Yep, there’s a pennywise and flava-added alternative to the tasteless grocery-store produce we resort to in winter months. You could, instead, reach into your own freezer or cupboard and pull out a jar or bag of homegrown or local fruits and veggies that are still loaded with summery flavor. With the exception of tender greens (ie. lettuces), almost any fruit or vegetable can be preserved beyond growing and harvest seasons — just the way people used to do it in the Little-House-on-the-Prairie days, before long-distance trucking and shipping was ever an option.
We interviewed master farmer and fermenter David Kingenberger, who founded The Brinery in Ann Arbor Michigan, to give you a crash course on six great methods you can use to preserve fresh fruits and veggies as winter sets in: Canning, freezing, pickling, fermenting, drying, and cold storage.
So load up on produce from your farmers’ markets or harvest the last of your backyard bounty, and try it yourself:
Canning 1 of 6
Canning is a process that uses heat and pressure to preserve fruits and veggies, usually suspended in some kind of syrup (a mixture of water or juice and sugar) or brine (a mixture of water and salt). The food requires zero refrigeration, so if your electricity goes out, it's still safe. Plus there's no expiration date once the glass jars have been sealed. Incredible, right?
Canning does require equipment you can use boiling-water canners and pressure canners and calls for the most exact science of all the preservation methods (if you're sloppy, you could get some bad bacteria in your jars, and nobody wants that). Don't let that stop you, there are plenty of great step-by-step tutorials online that will steer you clear of any problems. We like this simple one from Wikihow. And the National Center For Home Food Preservation has loads of good information on canning methods and equipment.
Freezing 2 of 6
Freezing fruits and veggies is quick and easy; the only real challenge is that it gobbles limited freezer space, so you may want to invest in a second freezer. Most veggies should be blanched before they're frozen, which means scalding them quickly in boiling water or steam (this stops enzyme activity that can erode flavor, color, texture, and nutrient levels). This master list gives you deets on how to prep and freeze 70 different types of fruits and veggies, from apples and avocados to rutabagas, zucchini (and, in case you have a taste for them, loquats). Detailed blanching instructions can be found here.
Fermenting 3 of 6
There's been lots of buzz lately about the transformative power of natural probiotics in fermented foods. There's no heat or pressure applied in this method: fermenting creates an acidic environment to inhibit bad bacteria, but also allows for good probiotic bacteria that gets wiped out by the heating process in canning.
Common fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, miso, cheese, beer, wine, apple cider and bread. Veggies can be fermented into delicacies like pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi. A world of fermenting wisdom can be found in Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, and on his website wildfermentation.com.
Pickling 4 of 6
You can pickle fruits and veggies without fermenting them, using fresh-pack and quick-pickling techniques. This typically involves brining the veggies, and then draining and covering them with vinegar and seasonings. Beyond cucumbers, you can also pickle eggs, beets, lemons, cauliflower, carrots, cantaloupe and pears, among much else. Pickling recipes include relishes and chutneys, watermelon rind pickles, and spiced apple rings. Learn all things pickling here.
Drying 5 of 6
Drying or dehydrating is the most ancient form of food preservation. For thousands of years, people have sun-dried everything from tomatoes and apricots to beef, pork and venison. Now you can buy electrical food dehydrators to do the work for you indoors. This method is free from concerns about bacteria or freezer space; dried foods also require less storage space than canned goods. Find a trove of information about dehydrating and drying fruits and veggies at Pickyourown.org.
Cold Storage 6 of 6
If you have a cool cellar, you can store root vegetables — beets, potatoes, turnips, and the like — for up to eight months with little decay. Onions, garlic, squash, pumpkins, and green tomatoes can also last in cool spaces for a good long while, and things like celery, leeks, brussels sprouts, and citrus fruits can be preserved there for two to eight weeks. Here's a great Mother Earth News tutorial on cold storage.