7 Easy Ways to Preserve Your Early Harvest

By Laurel Randolph on 13 August 2015 0 comments

The weather is warm, the days are long, and fresh veggies and fruits abound. Summertime is still in full swing and can feel blissfully endless. Unfortunately, cold weather will return before you know it, leaving you longing for these summer days. One way to prolong the season is to preserve its vibrant produce while at its peak. If you're not into canning — it can be involved and requires some special equipment — there are a surprising number of easy alternatives. Read on for seven methods for storing up tomatoes, berries, stone fruit, cucumbers, and the rest of summer's bounty.

1. Freezing

There's a good reason why freezing fresh foods is the tried and true method for preserving (beyond canning). When done right, you can really seal in the freshness, and have a taste of summer months after pool-worthy weather is gone. But in order to achieve ultimate flavor and texture, you need to follow a few freezing rules.

Smaller veggies like corn and peas can be frozen whole, while bigger items should be chopped up into smaller pieces. Quick blanch them first, ending with an ice bath, and then freeze them. For mushy veggies like tomatoes, cook them first — a marinara sauce will do nicely — and then freeze. Fruits like berries don't need to be blanched, and can be frozen right away. No matter what you decide to preserve, be sure to freeze at the peak of freshness for the best results.

Frozen fruits and veggies will last eight to 12 months in a 0℉ freezer.

2. Quick Pickles

You don't have to be a canning whiz or own a bunch of equipment to enjoy flavorful, homemade pickles. The quick pickling method is as simple as combining spices and aromatics in a jar, shoving in some summer-fresh cucumbers, boiling a water and vinegar mixture, and pouring it on top. After the pickles come to room temperature, they are stashed in the fridge and ready to eat in 48 hours. They'll last for two months in there — if you don't eat them long before then. You can use a variation of this technique for a number of pickled treats, like jalapeños and red onions.

3. Drying

Did you know that you can make delicious, high quality dried fruit without a bulky dehydrator? Small fruits like cranberries, cherries, blueberries, and more can be dehydrated with your oven and no special equipment. In a few hours and no hard work, you'll have a tray full of chewy and flavorful dried fruit. With a longer drying time and a few more steps, you can dry just about anything, from peaches to strawberries. It's a great way to enjoy the flavors of summer fruit for months after they're in season, and it makes a really tasty snack.

4. Fruit Shrubs

Shrubs — not the leafy green variety, but the vinegar and fruit variety — are making a real comeback. They've been used throughout history as a way of preserving fruit. Now they're back in fashion as a refreshing addition to a drink or cocktail. The fruit mingles with sugar to make a sweet and flavorful syrup, and vinegar is added to preserve as well as give a tangy kick. Shrub syrup will keep in the fridge for some time, and is great mixed with tonic, seltzer, or used as a cocktail mixer. Use different fruits to make different flavors, and line your refrigerator shelves with jars of colorful liquids for a taste of summer fruit in the dead of winter.

5. Flavored Oils

Summertime not only brings a bounty of fruit and veggies, it's also the season for vibrant fresh herbs like basil. Delicate greens like cilantro, basil, and parsley can be hard to preserve without losing their color and flavor. One way to successfully capture their fresh flavor is to infuse olive oil. Not only is it easy and will add tasty, herby notes to your oil, it will last for months, and you can mix and match flavors to your heart's content. Imagine drizzling green basil oil over crostini or pasta in the middle of January. You'll be transported to a warm summer day in a snap.

6. Compound Butters

Another totally delicious way to preserve bountiful summer herbs is by making compound butter. It's as simple as chopping clean, fresh herbs, mixing them into softened butter, shaping the mixture into a log, and chilling. It's simply delicious on bread, melted over steak, or cooked with a vegetable saute. You can use whatever herbs you like, and add in other spices or flavorings. Best of all, the whole wrapped log can be dropped into a freezer bag and frozen for several months.

7. Sauces

We hinted at this in the freezing section, but a great way to preserve some summer produce is by cooking it first and then freezing or jarring it. Tomatoes are an excellent example. Cook up a big batch of your favorite marinara sauce and freeze it in freezer bag servings. When you're ready to make pasta, just defrost a bag and heat through.

If you've got more tomatoes than you know what to do with, cook them down into flavor-packed tomato paste and freeze in small servings to flavor soups, sauces, and more. You can even slow-roast slices of tomato and pack them in olive oil to store in the fridge for a month or so. The sweet roasted tomatoes make a great pizza topping or appetizer.

How do you preserve your garden's production without canning?

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