How to Preserve Summer Produce
In Ontario, the produce growing season is short…but mighty. For a few fleeting months, our pantries are overflowing with candy-sweet tomatoes, jewel-like berries, fresh corn, and all the other goodies our local farms have to offer. But try to eat local in January, and you might get tired of beets and turnips pretty fast. So, want to preserve the taste of summer year-round? Here are just a few of the ways you can do your future self a favour.
Whether you go in for berries, peaches or plums, there’s no denying that local summer fruit is as good as it gets. And having some on hand is an amazing way to add a little sunshine to the winter months. The good news? There are some really easy ways to preserve summer fruit at its peak!
If you’ve never flash-frozen fruit before, you’ll be surprised at just how easy it is. To get started, all you need are a baking sheet, some parchment paper, zip-top freezer bags…and some extra space in your freezer! Line your baking sheet with parchment paper, and evenly space your lovely summer fruit over the surface. Then, just pop it in the freezer until frozen, transfer to a zip-top bag…and repeat as necessary. Voila, peak-season fruit that’ll last for months on end. We love using frozen fruit in smoothies, but it’s also great stewed into sauces for yogurt, granola or oatmeal – or baked into pies, crisps, muffins and more.
- Blueberries – just pop into the freezer as is…you don’t even need to rinse them!
- Strawberries – hull the berries and cut them in half.
- Stone fruit (ex. Peaches) – pit, peel and slice, then optionally toss with a little sugar and lemon juice before freezing.
Dry and Dry Again
No food dehydrator? No problem. Try using a low-temperature oven to slowly dry out blueberries, currants, or summer stone fruits like cherries, plums and apricots. This cooking method extends their shelf life and concentrates their flavour. Homemade dried fruit makes an amazing fibre-rich snack, or a tasty add-in for granola, trail mix, grain bowls and salads.
And one of our favourite ways to keep summer fruit in our cupboards year-round? Jams and preserves. Since berries naturally contain pectin, they’re an easy place to start. Just simmer them on the stovetop with a little sugar and lemon juice, then add to sterilized jars. Here’s one easy guide to get you started.
Intimidated by canning? You’ve still got options. Try making a freezer jam instead. In this method, you boil together fresh fruit, sugar and pectin, transfer to freezer-safe containers and thaw as needed. Can you think of a better way to boost your breakfast than a jam you made yourself? Whether it’s swirled into oatmeal, spread over toast or spooned into your morning smoothie, it’s a great way to add a burst of fruit to your morning.
From zucchini to green beans to corn to tomatoes (okay, we know they’re technically a fruit), summer brings some of our very favourite veggies. But with a little bit of planning, you can be enjoying all of these ingredients at their peak, even when it’s snowed over outside.
From carrots to cauliflower, there are a million and one delicious pickle options beyond the classic cuke. Pickled veggies will add a delicious tangy crunch to salads, sandwiches, grain bowls…you name it! And if you’ve never pickled before, you’ll be shocked at just how simple it can be. Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Prepare your veggies
While almost all vegetables would be tasty pickled, pick something crisp and firm so your end product will have a nice crunch. Feel free to explore and get creative! You can try pickling corn off the cob, watermelon rinds, green beans and even sliced peaches or pitted cherries.
Be sure to trim off the stems and ends of your veggies before you get started. And remember: the smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll pickle! Consider chopping larger veggies like carrots into pieces so they’ll be ready to eat sooner. Once everything is ready to go, nestle them into glass jars along with any aromatic add-ins like jalapeno and garlic.
Step 2: Make your brine
If your brine isn’t tasty, your pickles won’t be either. So make sure your brine has the right balance of salt, sugar and vinegar. A good rule of thumb is to bring 2 cups water, 1 cup distilled white vinegar, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar and up to 2 tablespoons of spices and add-ins to a boil. Then, pour it over the veggies waiting in their glass jars. Your add-in spices are up to your own personal taste, but peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander seeds are can’t-go-wrong classics.
To preserve your pickles at room temperature for months on end, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and properly seal your cans. And once you get the hang of canning, you can also use that method to preserve relishes, sauces or even blanched peak summer tomatoes.
But if that all sounds a bit daunting, try making fridge pickles first. Just put the lids onto your jars and store them in the fridge. They should stay nice and crunchy for 3-4 months, but will start to lose crispness after that.
Fire Up the Freezer
Just like with fruits, summer vegetables can be easily flash frozen and saved for months. The only difference? Most veggies need to be blanched first, which helps keep them from spoiling. To blanch your fresh produce, barely cook it in boiling water, then plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Then, as with your fruits, spread it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, put it in the freezer until frozen, and transfer to a zip-top bag. This method works great with corn off the cob, sliced zucchini, baby carrots, green beans, chili peppers and more!
Last but not least, we can’t forget about glorious fresh herbs. Local, garden-grown summer herbs are so much more aromatic and flavourful than the plastic clamshell stuff we get in the winter, so why not try to preserve some of that magic?
Thanks a Bundle
While it’s not quite the same as fresh, most herbs can dry up beautifully. And the method couldn’t be simpler. Just gather your bunch of herbs into a bundle, and tie the stems together firmly (but without squishing them!) Then, hang your herb bundles upside down in a sunny window. After around 7 days, make sure they’ve dried completely, then jar them up and save for later. Finally, take a step back and marvel at your planning and practicality.
We hope you have lots of room in your freezer, because this is an amazing way to store herbs, too! But to store these aromatic greens, you won’t be spreading them on a baking sheet. Instead, chop them up and add them to an ice cube tray, then pour olive oil over top. Come winter, whenever you need a fragrant, herby boost for your pasta, stir-fries or soups, just pop out an herb cube and toss it into your pot. It doesn’t get easier than that!
So, if you’re nervous about a long winter with no juicy strawberries, crisp corn or fragrant basil, now you know there are a few easy ways to eat like it’s summertime all year long. And whatever your level of expertise, there’s an option that’ll work for you, from canning to freezing. Bon appetit!