It has been a long, hot, summer with record high temps and, in some areas, record rainfall amounts. Even though the calendar insists that fall is right around the corner, the heat lingers on, and vegetable gardens continue to serve up a flavorful harvest. Before we say a final adieu to the season, here are five ways to enjoy a late summer yield.
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve excess summer produce. Remove any stems and wash under cold water. Peel if necessary, and cut to desired size. The next step is to blanch, briefly plunging the vegetable into boiling water to help get rid of dirt and bacteria, brighten the color, and slow vitamin and mineral loss. After boiling for 1 to 2 minutes, quickly plunge the vegetables in ice water until they are completely chilled. Drain well and pack in freezer containers. Click here for an in-depth guide on blanching.
People choose to pickle and preserve for different reasons. Some like the ability to control the ingredients that go into a food item, and others enjoy using produce from their own gardens or local markets. Be sure you have the proper equipment: water-bath canner with a round rack that fits inside, canning funnel, jar-lifter, narrow, non-metal spatula, and a kitchen timer. Use standard canning jars, metal bands and new lids – do not reuse old lids, as the seals may be damaged. Follow this simple recipe for Pickled Okra using the traditional water-bath method, or try this small-batch recipe for refrigerator cucumber pickles.
Do a little work now to make your meal prep in the wintertime a little easier. Pull out the slow cooker this weekend, make a batch of Slow-Cooker Tomato Sauce, and freeze it. Perfect for pizzas or pastas, a homemade tomato sauce beats jarred any day. Prolific herbs can also be whipped up into tasty pestos, delicious drizzled across sizzling steaks or spread over crusty crostini. Pesto also freezes well: freeze in ice cube trays, and then store frozen pesto cubes in plastic freezer bags in freezer for up to 6 months. Pesto may also be frozen in small plastic containers for up to 9-12 months.
Treat your co-workers to a basket of fresh vegetables at the coffee pot, or take some sweet peaches to your neighbor. She may pay you back with a jar of homemade preserves! And if everyone you know has had their fill of summer vegetables, find a food pantry or soup kitchen in the area that accepts perishable items.
Give out your tomatoes, squash, and okra to friends, then invite them back for a potluck supper, assigning everyone a different part of the meal. Set some outdoor tables with your best dishes and heirloom tablecloths, light some late-evening candles, and relax, savoring a good meal with friends. All your hard work in the garden this summer has paid off. And as you help yourself to another slice of Tomato Pie, you make a mental note that next year, you want an even bigger garden!