This harvest needs preserving. The tomatoes and peppers will be frozen to make sauce later. The eggplant will go into a finished dish. The basil will be made into pesto and frozen, and the cucumbers will be fermented to make dill pickles.
Relentless summer (and fall) heat brings abundant garden produce, but it also makes for cranky cooks who find themselves in hot steamy kitchens, preserving that bounty.
The good news is that it is possible to cut the heat in numerous ways. The best way is to put off for tomorrow what you don’t want to do today.
Wash the tomatoes, cut away any bad spots, and freeze in plastic bags to make into sauce some time later. Mix together cherries, paste tomatoes, salad tomatoes, green zebras, whatever variety is clamoring for attention.
1. Freeze Tomatoes in Giant Bags. Wash the tomatoes, bag them in jumbo plastic bags, and freeze them for processing at another time. When the kitchen has cooled off and the swimming hole loses its allure, I throw the tomatoes into a 5-gallon stockpot (in batches, if needed). The tomatoes break down and release their juices as they defrost. Then I run them through a Foley food mill (a Squeezo strainer) also works. Some of the puree is canned, some made into a cooked salsa and canned, and some is made into a seasoned, veggie-rich sauce that I pressure can. But all that hot cooking is done at a later date.
These are tomatoes from last year that I threw into a 5-gallon stock pot while still frozen and slowly cooked down into sauce.
2. Freeze Corn on the Cob in Giant Bags. Do not husk. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze. Transfer frozen corn to giant bags. Defrost, husk and use in cooked dishes within 3 to 4 months. Or cook and freeze again in finished dishes, like tomato-vegetable soup, or chicken pot pie filling.
3. Tray-Freeze Seasoning Veggies. Onions, peppers, and garlic can be run through a food processor, than tray-frozen for use within 3 months—say when you are making your seasoned tomato sauce. Chop the veggies separately, using the pulsing action on your food processor, then spread out on a baking sheets, and freeze. When frozen, transfer to zippered freezer bags.
4. Tray-Freeze Green Beans. This is fast, but not a best-quality practice. The beans will soften and discolor somewhat but are fine to toss into soups, stews, casseroles, and potpies. Trim the green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths, freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet, then bag. Best used within 3 to 4 months.
5. Ferment. Making fresh-pack vinegar pickles includes brining the cukes, then combining with a spiced vinegar brine, then canning. Fermenting involves just brining the vegetables in salt, then packing in jars. Let the veggies ferment, then store in a cool spot.
6. Double Your Dinner and Freeze. If you are going to cook anyway, make twice what you need and freeze the extra dinner for later. Did you know that many vegetables, like peas, green beans, corn, retain their best quality this way?
Use a steam canner instead of a boiling water bath: If you are going to use the boiling water bath anyhow, and you must for fresh-pack pickles, jams, and tomato products, get a steam canner. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, funded by a grant from the USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), have now concluded that steam canners can be as safe and effective as water bath canners when properly used to preserve acidified or naturally acidic foods. See this article for guidelines on using.
A steam canner reduces the time it takes to make a batch of canned tomatoes, pickles, or fruit because you are heating only 2 quarts of water, and not the 5 to 7 quarts in a standard boiling water bath.
I’ve been using a steam canner for years, and it gets me out of the kitchen in far less time because it takes less time to bring 2 quarts of water to a boil than the 5 quarts of water in a boiling water bath. And there is a big added bonus: pickles come out crisper when processed in a steam canner.
A vegetable stew with tomatoes, onions, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, and green beans is dinner tonight (I’ll serve it over polenta) and some night next winter.
I’m keeping up with my harvest—just barely.
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