For those of you who grow your own, you know very well what time of year it is. Your trees are heavy with fruit, your tomatoes are bringing so much color to your beautiful garden, and there are not enough recipes or neighbors to make much of a difference in your zucchini harvest!
My grandparents were farmers in the south and always seemed to have an abundance of food from the garden, regardless of the time of year. Their pantry was full of dried fruit for pies; dried beans; mason jars of vegetables, fruits, jellies, jams and tomatoes; as well as crocks of sauerkraut and pickles. The deep freeze was stuffed with squash, green beans and greens. My favorites were the mouth-watering sliced strawberries that would appear for dessert on holidays, long after the plants had stopped producing.
A well-stocked pantry and freezer were required of my grandparents’ generation for survival. Preserving a bountiful harvest meant months of quality, nutritious foods for our family until the harvest resumed next year. Food was not wasted, and families and communities were somewhat self-sufficient. They took the time, made the plans and developed the know-how to safely preserve what they grew. Some of my favorite ways to preserve include:
- Canning: Preserve with water baths or pressure canning depending on acidity.
- Freezing: Blanching requirements and length of storage varies depending on the item.
- Dehydrating: Fruits, vegetables and legumes can be dried for easy storage.
- Making Oils and Vinegars: Herbs, fruits and vegetables make flavorful gifts.
- Juicing: A family-friendly way to preserve those grapes!
The possibilities are endless for what you can put away for a rainy day. Even if you do not have a garden, you can get fresh foods locally from farmers markets or gleaning from your friends and the community for a well-stocked pantry. Find a friend who will teach or learn food preserving with you, and then follow up with planning a healthy garden for next year.
As you begin the process of putting up your harvest, you will learn what to do next year to simplify preserving. Many foods are easy to store while others require some preparation and processing to ensure quality and safety. Preserving many foods may not require special equipment and is not as hard as one might think. A few things to consider are:
- Timing: Know when to harvest. If you are not sure, ask a Master Gardener.
- Methods: Determine the best method of preserving each item for food safety and quality. Then, use your favorite recipes or get creative! Remember to save your heirloom seeds (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/Garden/07602.html).
- Resources: Try the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html). The Washoe County Cooperative Extension Office offers copies of the USDA guide ($15), and can perform pressure canner yearly maintenance (inspection of gauge and seals- $5).
Remember to share the wealth and have fun. Here is to creating a beautiful garden with enough bounty to eat fresh in the summer, put up for the winter and share with those in need and those you love year round!
Pamela Van Hoozer is a Certified Master Gardener Volunteer with University of Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening and landscaping in Nevada, contact a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-336-0265, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.