Week 18: October 4th
What’s in your Share This Week?
Sugar Buns Corn
We are fully aware of the fact that you all are receiving a hefty pile of food this week - about 15 pounds of it, to be exact. We weigh your totes each week and they tend to average 10-12 pounds apiece. This week is scale-breaker. As I explained last week, sassy old Mother Nature has decided to bring it on all at once, with our summer crops (like corn, cherry tomatoes and peppers) arriving later than usual and our fall crops coming early. Rather than let the Napa cabbage and broccoli rot in the fields, we’re sending it to you anyway, even if it is 2-3 weeks sooner than anticipated.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could control when every crop was ready and deliver the perfect amount of food all 26 weeks of the season? Alas, living in the Northern hemisphere dictates that September and October are our aptly named “harvest” months. Add some unpredictable weather to the mix and you quickly learn that this is the time to pull the Ball Blue Book off the shelf, buy some mason jars, be grateful for the fresh cornucopia while it lasts, and put some away for wintertime when it’s just good old kale, winter squash and cabbage out there!
That being so, some of you might be feeling overwhelmed by the bounty (welcome to the reality of eating seasonally! We are like manic squirrels at this time of year – canning, drying and freezing up a storm!). The good news is that many of the things in your Harvest Basket can be put up for later – either canned, frozen, or dried. I’m dedicating this newsletter to food preservation tips, in order to help you enjoy the produce crescendo, as opposed to resenting it and feeling guilty about wasted food! Also remember that many of the foods in your tote – like tomatoes – will cook down into a less daunting heap. Sauté up your leeks and peppers, add your tomatoes, and voila! You have a killer fresh pasta sauce and all your veggies have magically disappeared!
So here you go – Food Preservation 101 for this week’s share.
First, a couple of resource & tool recommendations in case you want to delve into the world of food preservation in a more serious way:
The Ball Blue Book – the “bible” for putting food by. Has recipes, instructions, safety info, and more for canning, freezing, dehydrating, etc. Available online or at just about any bookstore, kitchen store or thrift store.
A food dehydrator. We use a 9-shelf, electric Excalibur. It will do large quantities, is quiet, and has a temperature control (also available with a timer, and it comes with a dehydration book called “Preserve it Naturally”). Note: if you have a gas stove, you can also dry foods in the oven on pilot. Food dehydrators are available online, through catalogues like Cabela’s and Lehman’s, at hardware stores, or if you’re lucky at a thrift store. We use it for cherry tomatoes, berries, and fruit. Also good for rising bread, making yogurt, and more.
A canning kit. Usually includes a big enameled pot for your hot water bath, a canning rack that fits inside the pot to hold your mason jars, a special funnel for filling jars cleanly, a magnetic lid lifter to pull your canning lids out of hot water, and a special grip to pull your jars out of the hot water bath. Available at hardware stores, Bi-Mart, thrift stores, etc.
Glass canning jars & metal lids & rings. All sizes and shapes: wide and narrow-mouthed half pints, pints, quarts, and half gallons, with lids and rings to match. Available at grocery stores, Bi-Mart, at garage sales, etc. If buying used, be sure that the rim of the glass jars is not chipped (it’ll prevent the lids from sealing), and most people do not recommend re-using the metal canning lids.
Freezer Bags. Use heavy duty plastic Ziplocs - or any brand- available just about anywhere, and cheap. We re-use ours for at least few years until they pop holes.
Pressure Canner: In case you want to can veggies (or meats/seafood such as albacore tuna) without brining them (as in pickling), you’ll need a pressure canner. They usually cost around a $100 new and are available at hardware stores and online.
Vacuum Sealer: You can get away with just using freezer bags, but vacuum sealers can be handy as well. Available at Bi-Mart, hardware stores, or online. Usually cost $50-$100 new, depending on the brand. Keep in mind that the special plastic bags you have to use are pricey, but you can re-use them to save some $.
- It’s always a good idea to label and date the food you put by. It helps you keep track of how old things in your pantry or freezer are so you can prioritize when to eat them. A permanent pen like a Sharpie comes in handy!
- For dehydrated foods, we still keep them in our chest freezer once they’re dried. Our climate is so damp, things can re-hydrate themselves and then mold in the winter.
- When canning, be sure to follow all recommended guidelines for recipes and hot water bath times. Nobody likes botulism!
- When using freezer bags, it’s always a good idea to try to suck all the air out of the bag when you seal in order to get a vaccum-seal-like effect. It will keep the contents fresher and less prone to freezer burn.
- A word about blanching: not all veggies need to be blanched before they are frozen (for instance, peppers), but most do. Blanching is the simple process of cooking a vegetable very quickly in boiling water, removing it, and dunking it in cold water to stop the cooking process. Doing so prevents deterioration from enzyme activity and will keep your veggies from turning to mush when they thaw out. Different veggies have different suggested blanching times, so check a resource like the Ball Blue Book to dial it in.
Sweet Peppers are easy to preserve and are a wonderful, colorful addition to wintertime meals.
- Freeze: Wash, stem and removed seeds. Freeze whole, as halves, strips or diced. Do not blanch. Pack peppers into bags or jars. Seal, label & freeze.
- Dry: Wash, remove stems and seeds. Dice. Dry at 125 degrees until leathery.
Tomatoes are a staple in our pantry, stewed, sauced, salsa-ed and canned whole.
- Whole tomatoes: blanch the whole fruit (dunk into boiling water for 1 minute, then dip into cold ice water), peel the skins, core, and put them whole into freezer bags.
- Stewed tomatoes or sauce: cook down your tomatoes on the stove and put into freezer containers/jars.
- Roast & freeze: this is an great way to put tomatoes up. Wash them, core them and put them shoulder to shoulder in a roasting pan. Add any spices, olive oil, etc. that you like. With the oven at 400 degrees, roast them until they are mushy and carmelized. You can then spoon them into muffin tins or ice cube trays to freeze individual servings, or put into freezer containers.
- Dry: Best to use Roma type tomatoes for this, as they have less water content. Blanch, remove skins, core and cut into 1/4” slices. Dry at 145 degrees until crisp. Great in soups, sauces, or ground into powder.
- Can: Follow a recipe for canning tomatoes – to make sauce, salsa, ketchup, relish or anything else. You’ll be happy you did come January!
- Dry: Wash, cut in half, and arrange on a food dehydrater tray (or cookie sheet if you’re doing it in the oven). Note: if you are putting the tomatoes onto a metal surface, I suggest putting them cut-side facing up, as the metal can react with the acid of the tomato and give them an off-taste. Dry at 135 degrees until leathery. Pack into freezer bags and freeze. Usually takes 24 hours to dry.
- Dry: You can dry broccoli florets as you would anything. Wash, cut into small florets, and dry at 125 degrees until crispy.
- Freeze: Wash and removed leaves and woody portions. Cut into convenient size pieces and immerse in brine (1 cup salt to 1 gallon water) for 30 minutes to remove insects. Rinse and drain. Blanch medium size piece 3 minutes and large pieces for 4 minutes. Dunk into ice water. Drain. Pack into freezer bags, seal, label and freeze.
Napa (or any kind of) Cabbage
- Kraut & Kimchi! Find a recipe for sauerkraut, or refer back to the kimchi recipe we provided earlier this season. Nothing beats the flavor and health benefits of homemade, raw kraut! Live long and prosper!
- Shuck your corn & wash.
- Bring 6-8 quarts of water to a boil.
- Submerge several ears into the boiling water to blanch, 5 minutes from the time you put the ears into the pot.
- Remove corn from the pot and submerge in cold water, at least 5 minutes.
- Drain & dry the corn.
- At this point you can either freeze the whole ear intact (which uses a lot of freezer space), or cut the kernels from the cob. To cut kernels off the cob, hold the ear upright, resting one end on a cutting board. Cut kernels from the cob with a sharp knife from top to bottom.
- Pack the kernels into freezer bags or jars. For whole ears, wrap in freezer wrap and pack into freezer bags. Seal, label and date.
- Strawberries: Cut tops off. If you are going to wash your berries, we suggest freezing them on a cookie sheet individually and then putting them in freezer bags.
- Raspberries: Dump them straight into a freezer bag, seal, label and date.
- You can also make freezer jam. Follow a recipe.
- Dry: Cut strawberries into halves. Arrange on a drying tray and dry at 135 degrees until leathery. You can dry raspberries whole.
- Can: Follow a recipe for jam or preserves, or you could make syrup or juice!