As we move into August, vegetable gardeners begin to ask themselves a simple question: What was I thinking? The harvests are piling up and, as delicious as it would be, you can’t eat it all fresh. Instead of piling buckets of berries, squash, green beans and tomatoes on your kitchen counter, consider two options for preserving the harvest: freezing and drying. (We’ll have more on other options later this month!)
Freezing is the easiest way to save some of your garden produce for winter eating. Some foods, such as raspberries, can simply be frozen whole. Wash them lightly, let them drain on paper towels, and put the berries on a cookie sheet in the freezer. In a couple of hours, they’ll be frozen and you can pack them in plastic bags, removing just what you need for baking or fruit smoothies.
Other foods such as green beans and zucchini need a quick blanching before freezing. Clean the food and cut to the size you like (for zucchini a one-half inch slice works well), then drop the vegetables in water and boil for three minutes. After cooking, place the vegetables in ice water to cool them immediately. Drain well and pack in freezer bags. You can freeze tomatoes as well for use in stews and soups. Wash the tomatoes and dip them in boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds to loosen the skins. Then, remove the skins, core the tomatoes, and pack them in containers for freezing.
For a food that really tastes of summer, consider freezing pesto. When basil is abundant, make pesto using nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and basil. There is some debate among pesto freezers about whether to add parmesan cheese at this point or wait until you serve it; either approach seems to work fine. Once your pesto is made, spoon it into zip lock bags and lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet. Freeze them. You’ll have narrow little packets of pesto, which make for a quick and soul-restoring pasta dinner in mid-winter, and take up almost no room in your freezer.
Drying is another option for preserving food. Drying removes the water from foods making them less likely to spoil. Dehydrators are available in a wide range of prices from under $50 to almost $200. Dehydrating can be tricky and you might want to read up on it before trying it. Minnesotan Mary T. Bell of Lanesboro has several books (Food Drying with an Attitude is her latest) and offers drying supplies at www.drystore.com. You can also dry tomatoes in the oven by cutting them in half, salting lightly, if you’d like, and cooking them at about 200 F. for five to seven hours. Oven-dried tomatoes have an intense flavor and are delicious on pizzas or in pasta sauce. Oven-dried tomatoes need to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent spoilage.
For more on food preservation including canning, go to the University of Minnesota Extension Service website and search for food preservation. Or sign up for the class we are cosponsoring with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. This two-session classs (Aug. 21 and 28) will cover the basics of storing, freezing and drying foods.