Sunday, September 22, 2013

What to Can? What to Freeze? What to Store? What to Grow? What to Dry?

In the late summer many of my friends make jam and pickles to can and keep for the winter. While these are yummy and pretty to look at in the cupboard, is this really what you eat over the winter? Probably not.

To effectively "put up" food for the winter you need to focus on what you eat. What you really eat and will cook. This means exploring ways to have salad greens over the winter. It means greens, beets, potatoes, squash, corn, onions, garlic, sauces, grains and fruit. Make a list of the foods you most commonly use through the winter. Then next step is figuring out what method to use to store for each type of food.

Next week I will talk about buying non-local food direct from farmers and start explaining the basics of canning foods. Meanwhile though, let's look at what preserving methods are best for particular types of foods.

The best way to have healthy yummy greens all winter is to grow them indoors. This means thinking beyond lettuce. Baby spinach, arugula, radish greens and beet tops all grow well indoors in pots or window boxes. Growing micro-greens such as broccoli sprouts, kale sprouts, arugula is quick and easy too. All of these make a yummy salad base. Sprouts such as clover, alfalfa, and mung beans also make a healthy easy to grow addition to your winter dinner plate. If you do grow lettuce indoors (which you certainly can) pick small varieties such as buttercrunch of small romaine. Often the seed packet will say "little" or "baby" lettuce variety.

Plant a late fall crop of Kale and Collards right in your outside garden. These plants are VERY cold tolerant. If you put some hay or mulch around the plants in late fall they will keep growing and stay alive even under the snow. All last winter I was able to go out and uncover my kale plants from the snow with a small shovel and have kale for dinner.

The Freezer
I prefer freezer jam over canning. Freezer jam requires no cooking, is super quick and easy. I can make small batches quickly with the fruit I harvest from my own garden, get at the farmers market or my CSA share. It doesn't require doing large batches all at once. I have the freezer space so for me it simplifies my jam making process. Whether you freeze or can jam, it is a great way to preserve summer berries and fruits for later.

I recommend freezing berries. Again it allows me to put up small batches all summer one jar or bag at a time. Then I have them all winter for smoothies, breads and deserts. For most recipes they can be used frozen right from the freezer.

Other things to freeze are chard, asparagus, shredded cabbage, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, summer squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet and yummy peppers, hot peppers. It is also good to freeze corn on the cob. To do this you need to shuck the corn, blanch it for 3 minutes and then freeze in a freezer safe jar or bag. You can also freeze whole grains for storage.

At 0 degrees F fruits can store for 12 months. The storage time doubles if you vacuum seal them and then freeze.

For peaches, plums and pears, can them in light sugar syrup. These make a super yummy mid-winter treat. This works great for mangoes too. Yes, I know mangoes don't grow in New England. My next post will talk more about non-local foods.

Beets, pole beans, carrots, applesauce, corn (whole kernel),, snow peas, soups and sauces are all good choices for foods to can. Whether you should pressure can or water bath can a particular food has to do with the acid level of that item. (I'll talk about that more next week in my Canning 101 post.)

Root Cellar/Basement
If you pick the right type of apples, they store great in the root cellar or cool basement. Wrap all the apples in newspaper (or paper from you recycling bin) and put them in a cardboard box with some air flow. You can also pack them in straw. Ideal storage temperature for apples is 32 degrees F with a medium level of humidity. In these conditions they last 4-6 months. Fuji, pink lady, goldrush, Virginia beauty and honey crisp apples all store well. I generally store 2 bushels of Fuji and HoneyCrisp from Cold Springs Orchard in Belchertown.

DO NOT store apples near other foods in the root cellar especially potatoes. I put my apples in the entry way between the root cellar and the basement. Apples give off gas that can cause potatoes to start sprouting.

Other foods that work well stored in a moist root cellar are beets, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and kohlrabi. You can store these in a drier root cellar if you package them in a way that retains moisture. In a dry root cellar or basement onions, winter squash and pumpkins store well. In a few weeks I'll write a post about how to best prepare all these items for storage.

Whole grains, rice and oats can be stored in a DRY root cellar or even just your pantry. Un-milled grains should be stored in a cool, dry place to avoid spoilage.  I recommend glass jars with loose lids to allow air in. I keep mine in 2 gallon glass jars with screw top lids in the coldest part of my kitchen.

Some vegetables and fruits preserve well dehydrated. This process makes them easy to store, eat and use. You can dehydrate tomatoes, peppers, apples, bananas, berries, peaches, plums, and beans. Tomatoes and peppers can just be cut small and dried in a dehydrator as is. Peas and beans should be steam blanched for 3 minutes and then dried. Fruits can be dried as is and then tossed in a bowl with some citric acid or Fruit Fresh and packaged away. I like to vacuum pack dehydrated foods in canning jars. This way they last for a very
long time. If you dehydrate tomatoes, let them continue drying in a paper bag for 2 weeks before packing them away.

Dehydrating is also useful for making fruit leathers, drying herbs and flowers.

Next week: Non-local foods, Canning 101