How you can enjoy the tastes of the harvest for as long as you like.Casting a farewell wave to the coveted summer months is not an easy gesture for many Canadians to make. But packing up the barbecue and putting away the picnic blanket is a lot easier when you look forward to the activities, traditions and celebrations that can make autumn such a special time. Fall is also the best time of year to gather as much local and seasonal food that the late-summer harvests have to offer, whether it’s from your own garden, local farmer’s market or grocery store. So why not prepare to set some of the bounty aside, using your method of choice, to enjoy throughout the coming months?
Before you decide how you’re going to save some of your favorite foods, be sure to take stock of the amount of space you can devote to storing them. If the most room you have is in your freezer, it’s probably best to stick with that. But if you have access to a cellar, pantry or larger cool, dark space, then maybe canning or pickling would be a good choice for you. And don’t overlook dehydrating as a viable alternative. Done properly, it doesn’t take much space to store lots of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, all within arm’s reach. Regardless of minor space limitations, using any tried and true method to preserve the harvest will be worth it as the days get shorter and time around the table more satisfying as the colder months approach.
What will you preserve?
Deciding which foods you will go to the effort of preserving is as simple as knowing what you like to eat. But that could still leave a lot up for debate. Whichever you end up choosing, it’s always best to plan ahead with two main factors in mind; availability and freshness.
Let’s say it’s a big year for corn. It’s locally abundant and affordable. Think of the possibilities. Preserving corn in a spicy relish or to throw into a fresh salsa or chowder can bring those summer taste buds back to life in an instant. Whatever you desire at this time of year, here’s some ways that you can preserve the harvest.
Perhaps the most convenient process to preserve summer-fresh food is to freeze it. Freezing takes little effort in exchange for a big payoff. For example, ripe summer berries are a perfect freezer companion. Just wash thoroughly and lay them out on a baking sheet in the freezer and then pop them into sealable bags for easy storage. Imagine using them as a colourful topping for that delectable cheesecake or tossing them into a nutrient-rich smoothie to put a spring in your step before you head outside to rake some leaves.
Before freezing, vegetables need to be peeled, cut and blanched (gently boiled and then plunged into ice water) to prevent the flavour and texture from changing when you cook them weeks or months later. The internet is chock full of great ideas and step-by-step guides on how to perfectly freeze vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood and desserts, like this one from the food network.
This is another relatively easy method to capture your harvest favourites with the option to add a different flavour profile (if you wish). Immersing vegetables and fruit in a brine consisting of sugar, vinegar, herbs, spices, seeds and salt can capture the essence of the season. Any sealable vessel, from glass jars to plastic containers, will do the trick if you plan to eat the contents within a couple of weeks. Just make sure to refrigerate them. Pickling to store food for longer periods of time might call for slightly different preparation, including canning and fermenting. Various techniques and helpful instructions can easily be found on websites such as almanac.com or eatingwell.com, among many others.
After you’ve gathered the essential ingredients for pickling, all you need to do is choose which food will go along with them. How about pickling and canning some green or garden-red tomatoes? Your stews, soups and sauces will thank you. If you’re feeling inspired, why not make your own ketchup for a change? Sun-drying (or dehydrating) sliced tomatoes for salads, pizza and panini sandwiches is a popular crowd-pleaser. A dressed-up jar of your homemade tomato pasta can even make a wholesome, attractive seasonal gift.
Food that’s been dehydrated is a space-conscious preservation method that retains the nutritional benefits and flavour in a condensed and versatile form. When stored properly, dehydrated food can last for a very long time. Think of raisins, dates or banana chips. Pulling them out of the cupboard every so often can add some extra character to a meal or be enjoyed plainly as a snack.
The process of dehydrating food requires three key ingredients: fresh food, a dehydration appliance (from typical ovens to convenient specialty dehydrators) and patience. It takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days to eliminate the moisture depending on what foods you want to dehydrate, as well as the process you follow. Regardless, the outcome should be the same; delicious, nutritious and convenient food.
A variety of dehydrator appliances, from basic to advanced, have become popular household items and are easy to find. Do some research and read the reviews of the type of machine you think will give you the best results.
They’re all good
If you’re still having trouble deciding which food preservation method to use, why not try them all? As different as they can be, they have one thing in common: enabling you to enjoy the harvest for as long as you like.
A final tip: think beyond preserving only common foods like peas, beans, onions or parsley – take advantage of the vast variety of foods that can easily be preserved for any occasion and keep those taste buds guessing as to what will come next.
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