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10 Ways to Preserve Fall Produce

That little edge between summer and fall – when the ocean is warm, the crowds disperse, and the garden is overflowing with stuff in all colors and sizes – that little slice of heaven is too short. It’s a fact. Every year the sudden onset of cool air surprises me and starts chipping away at my beloved “season” between seasons. But the good news is we can preserve it and revisit the garden, in-season produce, and its undeniably fresh flavors. The best way to keep the glory of early fall around is to preserve the harvest to enjoy all throughout the year.

Preserving in-season produce sounds intimidating, but if you start with small projects and focus on things you like to make (maybe working your way up to things you are afraid to attempt but always wanted to try), a few weekend kitchen projects can supply you with a serious stock of jams, pestos, pickles, salsas, and frozen fruits and vegetables. My advice is to grab a friend, turn on your favorite music, and get in the kitchen together.

This list of ten ways to preserve in-season produce is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure game. Give it a read, see what appeals to you, and make an effort to start somewhere.

1. Jams & Jellies

This is the most obvious way to use up a bumper crop of fruit. If you are new to jam and jelly making, I can assure you it’s easier than you think (see Concord Grape Jam recipe to the right). Ask a veteran maker to show you the ropes or try a recipe from a classic source like The New York Times. Vibrant jams and jellies also make the best holiday gifts.

2. Pestos

You can make pesto out of almost anything – arugula, spinach, basil, parsley, cilantro, chard, kale, carrot tops, garlic scapes, watercress, sorrel, mint, chives...the list goes on. Just whizz it up with some garlic, olive oil, salt, and nuts or seeds. Pesto can be stored in jars in the fridge or frozen in containers or in ice cube trays. To prevent your pesto from “rusting” or oxidizing from high iron content, top your pesto with a layer of oil. Pesto can be used with pasta, pizza, as a dip, dolloped on soup, as a marinade for vegetables, in burgers, on bread, mixed in with butter, on baked potatoes, with hard boiled eggs, tossed with grains, drizzled over tomatoes, or mixed into hummus.

3. Pickles

Pickling is not just for cucumbers anymore – radishes, carrots, and green beans all make delicious pickles. Saveur and Good Housekeeping both have great pickling 101 guides to learn from if you’re a newbie. Almost any savory dish, from rice to grilled meats and thick sandwiches, can benefit from a pickle. They are also a great lunchbox treat for kids and adults alike.

4. Frozen Food Packs

Almost all produce items (besides those that are too delicate or watery, such as cucumbers, melon, and baby greens) can be frozen for future use. Start by thinking how you’ll use the produce from the freezer (grated, cubed, minced, and so on), then wash, trim, peel, seed, and chop accordingly. For example, if you like to use grated potatoes for hash browns, grate the potatoes before freezing. I like to blanch most veggies but keep fragile things like berries intact. Blanching destroys enzymes that decompose and discolor foods. It also locks in the color, texture, and nutritional value. Immediately after blanching, shock the produce in ice water to prevent overcooking, then dry the items and freeze them on a rimmed baking sheet for twenty-four hours. Afterward, transfer the produce to freezer bags. By freezing them on a baking sheet first you ensure that the frozen fruits and vegetables won’t clump together into one big ice ball. I encourage you to get creative with your frozen produce – maybe freeze a root vegetable soup mix together, all the veggies for chili, or your favorite stir-fry combination. When you reach into the freezer and grab a prepped bag of in-season veggies ready to cook, you will thank yourself. 

5. Pie Fillings

Yes, you can can a favorite pie filling, be it stewed apples, cinnamon, and sugar; a veggie pot pie mixture; or a chili to pour into a cornbread casserole bake. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has tips and recipes on how to can apple, cherry, blueberry, mincemeat, green tomato, and peach pie fillings for future use.

6. Salsas

Whether you like chunky fresh salsas or thin spicy ones, both are perfect candidates to preserve a load of fresh veggies. Using a food processor or blender to do the chopping saves a lot of time. Choose a salsa project if you have a load of tomatoes, peppers, onions, or cilantro on your hands. Chunky fresh salsas are best preserved by canning, while thin salsas can be successfully frozen and thawed.

7. Vinegars

Infusing vinegars with herbs and spices is a simple project that yields special results. Infused vinegars are extremely easy to make and can be used for cooking, cleaning, and gift giving. Almost anything from fresh herbs, chili peppers, citrus rinds, garlic, and fennel adds flavor. The vinegar’s acidity breaks down the flavor component and extracts the taste and smell into the vinegar. To get started, prep and clean your bottles, then warm the vinegar on the stove and pour it into bottles until almost filled to the rim. Close the bottles and let them sit on the counter for two weeks. Strain and remove the flavor contents if you like, or keep them in the bottle for visual appeal.

8. Soups

Whenever I have a heap of mixed veggies to cook, I make soup. Happily, you can make soup out of almost anything and freeze it for quick lunches and dinners all year long. I like to make a couple of puréed soups and a few chunky ones so we have variety. If a soup calls for small pasta, noodles, or rice, I leave those things out and cook them fresh to stir in at serving time. I find they absorb too much liquid and get mushy if frozen.

9. Tomato Sauces

Canning both whole or crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce is a perfect way to use up your bumper crop and provide you with fresh early fall tomatoes all year. If you cook mostly with whole tomatoes, start there. But if you often use crushed tomatoes in your cooking, it makes sense to crush them before canning. A quick homemade tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes, salt, herbs, and olive oil allows you to grab a jar anytime you make pasta, pizza, or lasagna. If you are new to canning tomatoes, make sure to read up on the safety precautions to prevent botulism.

10. Kimchis & Sauerkrauts

Fermented vegetables begin with lacto-fermentation, a method of food preservation that also enhances the nutrient content of the food. The bacteria produces vitamins and enzymes that are beneficial for digestion. Almost any vegetable can be fermented, and fermenting locally grown produce is a fantastic way to provide good nutrition year-round. You can ferment one vegetable alone or create a mix of many different kinds, along with herbs and spices. Kimchi and fermented sauerkraut are the two most common fermented vegetable dishes. Head to the library and grab a few books on the topic. The process is fascinating but does require some starter knowledge.

The following recipe was originally published along with this article:

Concord Grape Jam