It’s mid-July and the garden at the Williams Street Farmhouse is overflowing with vegetables and berries. Although it feels like summer has just begun, this is the time we normally start putting things away for the winter. Over the years, we have experimented with various ways to preserve our garden bounty, and have found there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What we use over the winter depends very much on how we cook, which is constantly changing. One year we use up every last parsnip, and have shredded frozen zucchini left over and the next year it is opposite. Every year we try something new and keep finding amazing products like Matt’s fermented tomatillo salsa.
No matter which method you choose, start with best quality produce for the tastiest and most nutritious results. Vegetables that are overly mature do not store well. Also, process vegetables as soon as possible after you harvest them. Produce continues to respire after harvest and enzymes begin breaking it down, affecting flavor and nutrition.
- Canning: Canned produce is convenient because it is shelf stable and will last for years. It requires no thawing or cleaning or rehydrating. Unfortunately, it is laborious, destroys up to 65% or the original nutrition value, and can be dangerous if not done properly. We can tomatoes, jam, applesauce, and bone broth.
- Cold Storage: Easy when you have a good spot to do it, as the veggies require minimal preparation. Temperature needs to stay 35-40º and humidity around 90-95% for optimum storage for most vegetables. We insulated a small room in our unheated garage and put in a heater on a thermostat. You can also adapt a crawl space or minimally heated garage.
- Drying: A simple and ancient method of preserving food, dried foods are easily stored. The nutritional content is similar to frozen foods, and the flavor is better than canned. Many herbs lend themselves well for drying, although you can dry many fruits and vegetables as well. Most vegetables need to be blanched before drying.
- Freezing: Freezing is an easy way to store food that preserves many nutrients. Generally vegetables that are eaten cooked as well as already cooked foods freeze well. The downside is that you can quickly run out of freezer space and freezers are expensive to buy and run. It also takes a little planning to take what you need out of the freezer ahead of time so it can defrost slowly.
- Fermentation: The only method of food preservation that actually increases the nutritional content of the food! Fermented food is extremely good for you, and can actually heal many gut problems. Many people are familiar with sauerkraut, but you can ferment almost anything. Fermented food must be stored in a refrigerator or cold storage to slow fermentation.
One of the most difficult aspects of leaving this fall is not having our normal food stores. I can’t quite imagine what we are going to cook! I am so used to having our garden food available in some form or another year-round. Matt and I cleaned out our cold storage yesterday and found a treasure trove of garden products. Perfect produce preserved in various mediums ready whenever we want… chutney, relish, jam, wine, and the best surprise… our very own raw apple cider vinegar.
Since we can’t take all our garden produce and preserves with us on our trip, we are selling what we can at our new self-serve farm stand in our garage. I stock it up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays when we are around, but you can stop by anytime and see what we have! Leave your money in the jar and if you don’t see something you want, don’t hesitate to ask. It has been a lot of fun sharing our garden bounty!