Each spring we hope for all the right conditions for growing an abundant garden: The right amount of sunshine, the right amount of rain, not too much wind, not too hot, not too cold. Just right!
Then our problem is the abundance of produce ready to be harvested all at once. What to do with the extras? How do we save or preserve our garden bounty?
You may blanch and freeze. Blanching is as easy as boiling water! It is the method of scalding vegetables and fruit in boiling water for a short time. Blanching is a must for freezing. It stops the enzyme actions which cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
You may can. Canning is just one step beyond boiling water. It is a method which applies heat to food in a closed glass canning jar to stop the natural spoilage that would otherwise occur, and removes air from the jar to create a seal. There are two home canning methods, water bath canning and pressure canning.
You may dry, by hanging to dry naturally as herbs and flowers, by sun drying, oven drying or using a dehydrator, or using microwave drying, especially for herbs.
Your family, your friends, neighbors and co-workers will all enjoy the garden abundance you share with them.
The type of garden produce, whether vegetable, fruit or herbs, the end product desired, the amount of time, energy and space you have will all contribute to the best preservation method for your garden abundance.
Plan for preservation as you plant your garden.
Blanching is a necessary step in preparing vegetables for the freezer. It slows or stops enzyme action which causes loss of color, texture and flavor.
Sort, wash and drain vegetables. Trim and cut to desired size. Use 1 gallon of water per 1 pound of vegetables.
Bring water to a full boil. Place vegetables into a wire basket, mesh bag, or perforated metal strainer. Lower into the boiling water. Cover. Start counting time when water returns to a boil. Keep the heat high for the entire time needed to properly blanch.
Remove from pot and immediately place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Stir several times to help the cooling process. Drain vegetables completely.
Pack the vegetables by either dry pack or tray pack.
Dry Pack: Place prepared items in freezer bag; press to remove all the air. Freeze. Tray Pack: Place prepared items on a sheet pan and place in freezer to freeze. When frozen, place in freezer bag; press out air and freeze.
If stored at 0 degrees or lower, items will retain freshness and be of high quality for 8 months to 1 year.
Canning Garden Fruits & Vegetables
Humans have been preserving foods since our earliest days. Early techniques included drying and smoking, fermentation, or packing in fat (confit). Later came brine preserved pickles, jams and jellies with the increased use of sugar, often sealed with wax, and foods suspended in an alcohol-based liquid.
All of these methods worked, some much better than others, but they were not foolproof, and there was often spoilage or illness from the early methods. A French pastry chef, Nicolas Appert, is known as the “Father of Canning.” He experimented with fruits, meats and vegetables and devised a process of preservation basically still used today. Appert placed his food items in glass jars, sealed them with cork and wax and placed in boiling water. Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking a better method of food preservation for his armies, offered a large cash prize for anyone who developed a better method. Nicolas Appert entered the contest, did not win, but later was awarded the same cash prize upon the publication of his method. This is the basic packing, heating and sealing method we use today.
Home canning became very popular in the United States in the mid-1800s with the development of the Mason jar, the first reusable jar with a screw-on lid. U.S. canning methods continued to improve and in 1915 the two-part canning lid with ring was developed.
Canning is fairly simple. You fill a clean jar with the prepared vegetables or fruit, place the flat seal lid on top of the jar, screw on the ring and submerge the filled jar in boiling water for the time as per your recipe. The times will vary widely with the food item to be canned. The glass jar is then removed from the boiling water; the heat begins to escape, taking with it any air left in the jar. The escaping air pulls the lid down, creating the seal.
There are excellent canning instructions, videos and canning timetables for many vegetables and fruits on the internet.
Many universities have an agricultural extension service and websites for home canning.
Pressure canning is something I have never done, and instructions for pressure canning vary with the type and brand of pressure cooker. Check and follow the brand instructions.
Drying Fruits & Vegetables
Sun drying: As the name implies, this is drying fruits and vegetables in the warm sunshine. It is suitable for our sunny, dry climate. There are excellent instructions online for constructing an outdoor drying rack and using it successfully.
Oven drying is not as successful as using the microwave, as there is no air movement to assist in the drying process. It could take several days to dry many food items in the oven, which would be expensive. And you would have a very warm house and you couldn’t bake a cake! A food dehydrator is a much better, faster and easier option. In my opinion, at home the best choice for drying foods.
Microwave drying: It is easy to dry herbs in your microwave. You will need 1100 watts; see your manual for wattage.
Have the herbs clean and completely dry. Work with one herb variety at a time, as different herbs dry for different amounts of time. Cut parchment paper to fit neatly in your microwave. Lay out herbs on the cut parchment paper in a single layer. If you are able, remove the leaves from the stems, and sort for size.
Microwave on full power. If the herbs feel crisp and dry, they are ready. If the herbs still feel soft or damp, microwave them for a few additional seconds. If they are overcooked, they will turn brown and burn. Remove and allow to cool completely. When cooled, crush and place in baggies or small jars. Label with name and date. Store in a cool, dark place and use within 6 months.
Basil, 40 to 50 seconds; Cilantro, 30 seconds; Dill, 45 seconds; Marjoram, 60 seconds; Oregano, 60 seconds; Rosemary, 60 seconds; Sage, 75 seconds; Tarragon, 60 to 70 seconds; Thyme, 45 seconds. All herbs will need varying amounts of time depending on the ripeness and freshness of the herb. Try a few leaves first to determine a perfect drying time. Basil will be the most difficult as the leaves are of various sizes and thicknesses.
A Few Sharing Ideas
Making flavored oils and vinegars: Take a few fancy bottles, a few garden herbs, and a nice vinegar or olive oil and you have a very nice gift.
Gifting your abundance of zucchini or other garden surplus in a nice basket or colorful paper bag. Attach a recipe featuring the garden item, like a great zucchini bread recipe, to your basket or colorful bag.
Have a Pick Your Own Day party and have friends and family come to help you harvest and claim part of the bounty.
Have a picnic or party and feature menu items from your garden.
Have a canning or blanching party and get help with production in exchange for a share of the bounty.
Ask at your church if there is a family (or families) who would enjoy receiving a garden basket.