Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preserving the Early Season Bounty

Home Grown and Delicious
What a time of year this is!  What bounty surrounds us from our farmers, our producers and for many of us I hope, our own gardens!

Have you all worked through the early Spring treats, like Fiddlehead Ferns, Morel Mushrooms, Nettles, and Patience Dock, and are you now wallowing big time in Asparagus, Strawberries, Snap Peas, Lettuces, Arugula, Green Beans, Carrots, Radishes and Greens?  Are you running out of ideas, but do you still find yourself compelled to pick up that beautiful bunch of radishes at the Farmers Market?  Or do you hear yourself say, "just one more pint" of those gorgeous strawberries in their contrasting blue cardboard boxes?  I know the feeling.

Now, it is important to remember that some of the wonderful things we are seeing at the markets or growing ourselves just might be around for awhile - it all depends somewhat on the weather.  But as temperatures rise, we know that some goodies will be gone - at least until the Fall.  So - how do we capture these seasonal wonders in ways that highlight their essence but are maybe a bit different than our traditional uses of them?  Well, we do it by Preserving.  And we are lucky.  Our grandparents didn't have anywhere near the capabilities we have today when it comes to keeping the harvest.

1.  Pickling

       Raw Radishes, Carrots and Turnips are wonderful with just some seasoned sea salt to dip into; and radishes with a good sweet butter and sea salt are an amazing snack.  But did you know that Radishes, Turnips, Green Beans, Carrots and Asparagus are all delicious when pickled?  They all really wake up a cheese board.  And pickled asparagus and carrots are great with sandwiches and pickled asparagus or green beans are wonderful in a Bloody Mary.  Use your favorite simple pickling recipe.  You can then decide to make "refrigerator" pickles, which will last quite awhile in the 'fridge, or "canned" pickles, which will last for a very long time on your larder shelves.  The advantage of the latter method is that, come the holiday season, you will have some lovely gifts for the food lovers in your life.

2.  Jams and Relishes

     Strawberry Jam made with in season, local, recently picked strawberries is just about the best thing going.  And it can be very easy to make!  If you don't want to "put up" jam by canning it, make freezer jam.  Just use a basic jam recipe - usually berries, water, and sugar cooked down to the desired thickness.  Put your jam into small freezer safe containers and you will have the best jam ever all year long.  If you enjoy great relishes, there are many recipes out there using carrots, green beans, asparagus, garlic scapes and lots of other summer goodies that will make wonderful relishes.  These relish mixtures are another great addition to a cheese board or spread on a sandwich.  It is best to can relishes if you are making them in any volume.  Again, not only will you have them for yourself later, but they make great gifts. I make a zucchini relish from Ian Knauer's wonderful cookbook, The Farm, that is a huge hit with everyone.  So when the zucchini starts coming in heavily, guess what I'll be making and canning!

A lot of work but so worth it!

3.  Freezing

     If you have been following this Blog, you know that at this homestead there is a lot of freezing going on during the growing season.  When something we really love is in season locally, we buy it up both to enjoy immediately and to preserve it for the winter months.  The asparagus that we buy this week - as local asparagus is still available - when blanched slightly, vacuum packed and put into our freezer, will taste 100 times better in January than any "5,000" mile sprayed and fooled around with asparagus at a supermarket in January!  If it is something that we are growing, we try to preserve  as much as we are eating - at least that's the working rule!
     Strawberries need only  be hulled - and halved if you prefer - and popped into freezer bags to preserve.  Very "liquid" items like berries do not do well with vacuum packing, so those just get stored by weight and put into freezer bags.
     Hearty Greens - if slightly blanched - freeze very well.  And sweet peas can be trimmed and frozen as is, no need for blanching.  Carrots also freeze very well.  They can also be canned. Actually carrots are very versatile as far as preserving is concerned.  If you do some research you will see that there are lots and lots of methods and recipes for carrots.  If you do pressure canning, think of the wonder of a fresh carrot soup that you pull off of the larder shelf, pour into a sauce pan, heat and finish with a splash of cream!  Imagine a soup made with fresh, in season carrots (maybe your own) and some fresh herbs. On a cold winter's day, that will be a treasure.
     We grow a lot of green beans and the early varieties are starting to come out in full force now.  We treat ourselves to a few meals including those beans picked only minutes before, but we also try to vacuum pack and freeze or pickle a like amount to insure we are holding on to that goodness for the months to come.

4.  Pestos

     Unfortunately, those wonderful lettuces, salad greens and arugula just can't be held on to by the above methods - but, for arugula, Italian parsley, and radish and carrot tops - try making Pesto!  Don't think of pesto as just Basil, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.  Many delicious greens can go into the food processor - or mortar and pestle - and be made into a delicious pesto mix for pasta, to dollop over meats and seafood, in chicken and tuna salads and absolutely over hot potatoes. Try using different types of oils and vinegars and switch the cheese or use no cheese at all.  I think you will be very pleasantly surprised. You can preserve your pesto by just putting it in freezer bags, but an even better method is to measure it into ice cube trays.  When the "cubes" are frozen, empty them into a freezer bag.  That way you will have just enough for your recipe.

This is hardly an extensive presentation at all of the ways that foods can be preserved.  But it is a start to what I hope will become a habit. I hope that I have started you thinking about preserving some of the bounty of the season for yourself.  Yes, you may be able to purchase some of the above foods all year around, but they will not be local, they will be very expensive and they will not taste as good and/or be as good for you.

And, please, share your experiences in preserving! I'd love to hear from you.

Treasure Real Food.