Friday, September 28, 2012

Preserving Garden Bounty for Easy Winter Pleasures

As the evenings get longer and cooler, I turn from weeding and watering to putting up my Garden.  In other words, I’m canning, pickling, cooking and freezing until all hours of the night most evenings to keep up with the harvest.   The drought and fire hoses were tough on my beans this year and the bugs got most of our squash, but we’ve had a respectable amount of tomatoes and an abundance of peppers, eggplants and cucumbers.  I’ve also made lots of non-traditional jams and jellies (i.e., no berries).   

Some of my friends have asked where I get these recipes and instructions.  My first cookbook for this adventure, is Ball’s Blue Book of Preserving, which has hundreds of ideas and instructions for canning, freezing and drying garden produce.  It costs less than $7 and can be found online, at Lowe’s and at Wal-Mart.   Then, there is National Center for Home Food Preservation website at the University of Georgia.   This also has hundreds of recipes and tips.   They sell the 350-recipe cookbook for $15.00, but virtually all of the recipes are available for free online if you’re willing to take the time to search and print.   In addition, there is the ever-reliable Martha Stewart website because Ms. Martha also cans, pickles and jellies.   For the rest, I turn to my ridiculous collection of cookbooks for recipes, which I then can or freeze (based on instructions from Ball’s and UGA).

Tomatoes. I can most of them to use in recipes (like chili, bolognase, black bean and tomato soup, stews, jambalaya, casseroles and sauces) over the winter.  I’ve vowed to never buy another can of tomatoes for the rest of my able-bodied life.  I don’t put salt in my tomatoes and so they are necessarily healthier than what you can buy.  I don’t like to freeze them because I’m too impatient to wait for them to thaw when I’ve decided to cook.   Then, like most people, I also make and can salsa.  I also make a variety of sauces, such as Raphael (with artichoke hearts) and Puttanesca (from the Silver Palette), Arrabiata, creole sauce (for shrimp creole) and roasted tomato.   There’s nothing easier in the winter than opening a jar of a spicy sauce and throwing it over pasta when you don’t feel like cooking.

Cucumbers.  Like many people, I make kosher dill pickles.  However, there are only so many a girl can eat in a year, so I decided to experiment this year with bread and butter pickles.  I like Martha’s recipe the best. (Her secret:  Toss them with salt and ice cubes and leave them in a collander in the refrigerator for 3 hours before rinsing them well to ensure the chips and slices remain crispy).   I doubt they last until Thanksgiving, because they are an easy low-calorie snack food. 
Peppers.  In my humble opinion, the UGA website has the best collection of recipes.  I’ve marinated and canned my Greek peppers. I freeze or pickle jalapenos.  I roast and freeze pablanos and red bell peppers.  I’ve smoked and dried Pablano/Ancho, red and green chiles and red jalapeno/chipotle peppers.  I freeze green bell peppers for winter recipes or put them in creole sauce (above).  I’ve made three different sauces from my Coyote Café cookbook (i.e., hot red pepper sauce, smoked tomato and jalapeno sauce (for fish and eggs) and rancheros sauce to put on eggs in the morning).  Two weeks ago at the suggestion of my high school buddy, Michelle, I made a pepper jelly, which was freakishly easy and quite tasty.  This weekend, I’m going to make and can taco/burrito sauce.  My cousins make their own ketchup, but I already have an abundance of Heinz in my pantry.  I’ve considered making my own adobo sauce to preserve some chipotle peppers, but I think I’ll just keep them in airtight jars.

(To smoke peppers without buying all of the proper equipment or moving to New Mexico, I start early in the morning and put soaked wood chips in my metal smoker box or in an old disposable aluminum pie pan. Add a fire starter, a hot charcoal brickette or get them smoking with my gas grill.   Turn off the heat and leave the peppers in there for 8-16 hours after plugging the big holes.  Finish drying them in the oven or toaster oven overnight at 170 degrees.  There are lots of websites to help you with this project if you are interested).

Eggplant.  Eggplant is tricky.  You have to cook it in a recipe first.  I make stuffed eggplant from The Moosewood Cookbook and freeze it.  I also make eggplant scallopini sauce (heavy on the marsala and tomatoes) from the Moosewood Cookbook and can it.  This weekend, I’m going to make and freeze a tomato smothered eggplant sauce from Lidia’s website.  In the past, I’ve also frozen slices of roasted marinated eggplant as well.   Then, there’s always baba ghanoush, which rarely lasts more than two days in my refrigerator.
Greens.  Greens can also be cooked and frozen or canned, but I haven’t made that leap yet.  Kale and chard handle mild winters so well (especially in a cold frame or low tunnel), that I keep growing my plants as long as possible and just cook it fresh out of the Garden.

Herbs.  I've already blogged about preserving herbs.  I generally freeze my basil, parsley and cilantro.  I also dry basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel and dill.  Two weeks ago, I made and froze an ice-cube tray of traditional basil pesto (with pine nuts).  The last few years, I've substituted walnuts for pine nuts in my pesto.  This weekend, I'm going to try a new recipe for basil-pistacchio pesto.    I've also trimmed some basil branches, put them in water until they spouted roots and planted them in pots to keep in windows and below grow lights.  However, I will admit to keeping a rather chilly house in the winter and the plants never seem to thrive in low light and 57 degree nights. 

Fruit.  You already know that I freeze berries, can peaches and make jam.  Last year, I made and canned apple sauce, too.  This year, I expanded to canning apples so that I could make an apple pie and cranberry-apple crisp with a snap of the fingers without having to spend hours peeling fruit. 
Stocks.  The best time to make chicken, turkey and beef stock is after the nights turn reliably cold (i.e., below 40 degrees).  That is because you have the bones stewing on the stove all day.  Then, because it's not safe to put a large and hot stew pot in your refrigerator (because it will raise the temperature), you put it outside in the cold night air.  This will chill the stock and cause the fat to rise to the top.  Then, the next morning, you skim the fat off, bring it back to a boil and can it (if you still have enough empty mason jars leftover after canning your garden produce.  If not, you can freeze the stock to throw into slow cooker recipes).   Why would you do this?  Again, to avoid putting salt in your stock, to imagine life as a pioneer and to save yourself a small fortune. 

Canning is easier than it sounds and there are only four major downsides to canning your own food.  First, canning is time consuming, particularly, if like me, you can your food in small batches as you harvest it.  It goes much faster if you simply buy your produce in bulk at a farmer's market or at Lynd's and then can a product en masse for one day.    Second, it really heats up your kitchen, which is very uncomfortable in July and August.  Third, you'll need to devote a lot of hefty shelf space in your basement pantry to storing your canned good and to storing empty jars.  Fourth, it can be very dangerous if you get sloppy.  You have to be careful not to open a pressure cooker before the pressure recedes or to operate it at all if it is dry.  You also need to be sure that the jar seals work properly and that you cook the food properly to avoid food poisoning.  (My aunt assures me that botulism is a very unpleasant way to die).
Cooking aside, the SACG is still open and growing.  Our second-season crops seem to be coming in nicely and we hope to have quite the Thanksgiving harvest when we finally close for the season on November 10.  Everyone is invited to come help us clean up the Garden for the winter, harvest our Fall produce (to deliver to Faith Mission or LSS) and to partake of our hearty  refreshments.   If you cannot wait until November 10, you can come tomorrow and help us stain our grandma raised beds (to protect them from the weather) and to weed and harvest for the LSS food pantry.

Well.  Enough typing.  Back to the kitchen.

No comments:

Post a Comment