Dick Chase of Newburyport’s Arrowhead Family Farm suggests trying some old-time preservation methods, saying, “Go for it! Enjoy doing it; enjoy eating it.”
If you are new to food preservation, Francey Slater, founding co-director of Lowell’s Mill City Grows, recommends starting with herbs. “Fresh herbs are always abundant during the growing season, and add so much flavor to food. Simply chop herbs, put in ice cube tray cells, and cover with olive oil. Vary the amount you put in each cell based on how much you would normally use in a recipe. These cubes are great to use in soup, stews, casseroles, even breads [allow to thaw first],” Slater says.
Robert Perocchi from Farmer Dave’s in Dracut suggests simply throwing whole berries into a pot with sugar (1/2 cup per cup of fruit), heating till bubbling, and then adding a cornstarch slurry to thicken. Once the jam cools, fill jars and pop them in the fridge or freezer.
If you’ve got a countertop covered in tomatoes, Slater describes an unfussy tomato sauce made in a slow-cooker: “You can blanch tomatoes and remove skins and seeds, but personally I use the whole tomatoes. Start by rough chopping and cooking them down in a big pot. Once they have broken down, transfer to the [slow-cooker] and cook overnight, or longer. Add onions, garlic, herbs and whatever else you like to put in your sauce, and cook until the flavor and consistency is good. Use an immersion blender to puree. Then freeze the sauce in Ziploc freezer bags. Quick, easy, delicious and versatile.”
The idea of canning can be intimidating, but Chase offers practical wisdom. “For heaven’s sake, stop worrying about it,” he says. “You can make things a hell of a lot safer than ‘big ag’ does it. It’s time-tested. Just follow the recipe.”
Slater suggests that novice canners start with pickles. “I love dilly beans [pickled green beans with dill, garlic and hot pepper],” she says. “Not a lot of chopping because you use the whole green bean.”
And what about all that zucchini? Slater says, “Dried zucchini is actually delicious and a great addition to soups, pasta, pizza. I like to dehydrate and then store in olive oil, like sun-dried tomatoes.”
What about that fair-haired vegetable child: kale? Rose Dobosz, a Community Supported Agriculture member at Arrowhead Family Farm, says she takes all sorts of greens home and immediately washes and cuts them up, spins them dry, and then throws them into bags for the freezer. She ends up with a supply that lasts through the winter to add to soups and stir-fries.
Once the pumpkins and hard squashes arrive, Chase suggests storing them about 6 inches apart under your bed. He says the location offers perfect light and temperature conditions. (Plus they give the cat something to thunk around.)
Which preservation method should You choose?
Freezing produce is easy, and food textures are well preserved. While some items freeze better after being blanched, many foods only need to be washed and trimmed before being chucked into labeled freezer containers. The downside is that you have to pay for the electricity to keep your bounty frozen.
Good foods for freezing include: hardy greens (kale, beet, chard), corn, broccoli, green beans, tree fruits and melons (other than watermelon).
Drying preserves nutrients and fiber better than methods involving extreme heat, and flavors are intensified as moisture is removed. Another advantage is saving space. Twenty pounds of tomatoes results in 11 quarts when canned, but drying the same amount results in a single pound of fruit. The downside to drying is that produce must be reconstituted for use in cooking.
Good foods for drying include: almost anything! Some items need to be spritzed with lemon juice to retain color (apples, pears) or deliver better results when pre-steamed (broccoli, potatoes, beets).
Canning results in ready-to-use products. Everything from jams to salsas to pickles may be canned. Downsides include hot, steamy kitchens and the need for ample pantry space. On the other hand, you get to admire the gleaming jewel-toned jars as they disappear in a countdown to spring.
Good foods for canning neophytes include: acidic foods such as fruits, tomatoes and pickles.
Worried about trying to preserve your own food? With this simple recipe you’ll be able to enjoy summer’s harvest long into the fall and winter.
MILL CITY GROWS KALE PESTO
2 tablespoons salt (for cooking water)
1 pound kale (or any hardy leafy green) coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring large pot with 1 gallon of water and salt to a boil. Add kale. Cook kale until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Toast the chopped nuts in a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat, stirring constantly, until they start to brown in spots and become fragrant. (Be careful not to over-toast them, as they will burn very quickly once they are toasted.) Immediately transfer nuts to a dish to cool for a few minutes. Put garlic, walnuts and kale into a food processor; pulse until well combined. With the food processor running, slowly pour in olive oil in a steady, smooth stream. When ingredients are thoroughly combined, transfer to a bowl. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. To freeze, package 1/2- or 1/4-cup portions in freezer bags or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Label packages with date and contents. Makes 2 cups.
Mill City Grows
Food styling by Chef Sam Putnam
Shot on location at Café UTEC Lowell, Mass.