It is a gorgeous time of year for produce. Markets and stores are starting to (or at least should be starting to) overflow with fresh, local goods.
Cam and I not only have a double share in a local CSA, we also shop our local farmers market and food co-op, which is where we scored the goodies pictured above. We definitely acquire more than two people can reasonably eat for the purpose of saving as much as we can for later in the year. About mid-July is when I start working on some food preservation projects and planning for ways to enjoy the summer’s bounty long after the warmth of the sun fades to gray. There are many ways to preserve food and a number of repositories for information available online and in books. One resource I would strongly recommend is a book called “Recipes from America’s Small Farms.” This volume is wonderful for several reasons, for it not only contains simple recipes for seasonal fruits and vegetables, it was developed in consultation with farmers and CSA communities from across the U.S. and it has historical information, food facts, alternate uses for seasonal vegetables and tips for food preparation and preservation. It’s great.
I digress. I am by no means an expert on food preservation, I just read what I read and do what I do and most of the time it works out alright. I grew up helping my grandmother scald tomatoes for canning, so it’s kind of a part of my identity to do these things. Some of the tricks I learned from her, and others I have picked up along the way. In any case, I am lucky to have a big freezer, a sub-basement crawl-space area to function as a root cellar, and a supportive co-conspirator.
All of this said, I have started working on preserving food for the winter when the growing season is over out here on the prairie. This is mostly a pragmatic choice because we spent a lot of money on fresh produce at the co-op this past winter and I would like to avoid spending $4 for a bag of organic frozen broccoli when I can create that for myself at a fraction of the cost by way of getting extra CSA goodies during peak season.
All that long-term preservation of fresh produce entails is utilizing ways to slow the process of food spoilage. This can be done by reducing bacteria in the environment, cutting back on exposure to oxygen, or both. This can be done through dehydration, freezing or canning and by adding a chemical means of preservation by way of adding things such as salt, sugar or pectin (to name a few) to the food in the preservation process.
I posted recently on fermented cabbage. This past week brought a total of four more cabbage heads into my kitchen from the CSA, so I had another round of fermentation with the two green cabbage. Because the cabbage is essentially pickled in a salty brine, it stays fine if packed into a glass jar and kept in a cool place such as a root cellar.
Last week, I also cut up broccoli from the CSA (6 heads!) that had been thoroughly rinsed and dried into even pieces and just tossed them into freezer bags and into our chest freezer. Normally, one would partially cook veggies before freezing them, but our CSA suggested that the broccoli just go without any partial prep. Alternately, the green beans that came in the CSA got a good blanching and are also stashed in the freezer at present.
I do not have a clear sense of how best to preserve zucchini and summer squash. I have been told that I could shred it and freeze it in bags and it would be ready to go into pureed soups or baking projects when thawed, but I just don’t want to do that. Also, I am not keen to pickle everything I have. So, I went ahead and made a bunch of meals with the zucchini and squash in it and froze those instead. I made three (yes, three!) zucchini lasagnas last week. Baked, cooled and then froze them to be brought out at a later date when I’m traveling on business and Cam has to serve a party of one or during those busy times when my semester spins out of control.
I guess the point of all this is that I’m trying to take advantages of the resources available to me now and attempt to find ways to make my food life easier when the rest of my life gets a bit wacky. It’s a lot easier to make good choices during busy times when the good choices are easy. That lasagna will taste great in late November when I have a bunch of papers to grade!
I will be posting more about my canning and freezing hijinks as the growing season continues on. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy eating fresh sungolds like it’s my job.