Savour summer all year long
It’s easy to eat well during the summer and early autumn months. Even if you’re not growing your own grub, there’s plenty of fresh, local fare to be found at markets and even the grocery stores. It’s better tasting, better for you and often better for your grocery budget too.
Unfortunately, the season comes and goes before we know it — but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make it last! Here are some ideas to enjoy a little summer all year long.
Nothing beats seasonal fruit — and frozen fruit can be pricey at the grocery store. Here’s how to do-it-yourself:
Freeze. Frozen fruit is very versatile — eat it as a cool snack, whip up a smoothie, blend drinks for your next get-together or use it as a topping for ice cream or cereal. The quickest and easiest way to freeze fruit is to use the dry pack method . Simply prepare the fruit (wash and chop) and freeze it in labelled bags or containers.
Alternatively, you can use the tray pack method for individually frozen pieces. Grab a cookie sheet or shallow container and lay the prepared fruit — sliced or whole, depending on the size and your preference — on the tray and freeze for 1 – 2 hours. (No cover is necessary, but don’t leave fruit too long to avoid freezer burn). Once the pieces are frozen, package them in bags or containers with a label and return to the freezer.
Freezing works well for most fruits we grow here in Canada, but depending on what you plan to use the fruit for you might also want to coat the fruit with sugar or ascorbic acid first to preserve the flavour and colour. (To find out how to prepare and freeze various fruits, check out the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s (CPMA) Freezing Fruit and Vegetables.)
Puree. Chop up the fruit, run it through the food processor and pour into containers, bags or ice cube trays. Pureed ice cubes can add a fruity burst to punches, iced teas and lemonades any time of year. Use it thawed to top cakes, pancakes or oatmeal, or make sundaes with your favourite frozen treat.
You can also use puree to make fruit leathers or frozen fruit bars too, but they’ll likely disappear as snacks long before winter sets in.
Freezer jam. If you’re not into home canning, don’t let that deter you from making fruity spreads. The advantage of freezer jam is that you store it in the freezer and thaw it as you need it — no heating or sterilizing required. Look for freezer jam pectin at the grocery store — there are varieties that use less sugar or natural sweeteners like fruit juice — and follow the recipes on the package. The process is fairly simple, involving chopping, stirring and pouring. You’ll need straight sided jars or plastic freezer jars, and each batch will fill four or five 250 ml jars.
Dried. If you love dried fruit (but not the prices) you can make it at home even if you don’t have a food dehydrator. If you live in an area with low humidity you can lay the fruit out on screens in the sun for a few days. Otherwise, the oven is your best option (but you’ll need to plan for twenty hours of time). SeasonalChef.com and PickYourOwn.org have instructions and tips for drying your own fruit.
Butters . As an alternative to apple sauce, make your own apple butter in your slow cooker. Most recipes like About.com’s Slow Cooker Apple Butter involve combining applesauce, cider, honey and spices — and then waiting.
Are there ways to preserve the harvest that don’t involve a lot of canning or pickling? You bet — try one of these simple methods instead:
Blanching and freezing. Unlike fruit, most vegetables can’t go straight into the freezer without a little treatment first. Blanching destroys enzymes that can damage food during storage. The process involves immersing vegetables in boiling water for a specific amount of time, and then immediately plunging them into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. (The CPMA has a chart of blanching, freezing and cooking thawed vegetables in their Freezing Fruit and Vegetables.)
Corn on the cob (frozen off the cob, of course) makes a nice addition to the table at a winter holiday feast.
Sauces . Is your garden bursting with tomatoes? Tomato sauces don’t require canning (a freezer will do) and you can make chunky varieties using other vegetables from your garden as well, like carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, celery, eggplant and peppers. Use them to top pasta and pizza, in a casserole, or bake meats in it too. The best part is you know exactly what goes into your sauce, and you can customize it with herbs and meats to please any crowd.
There are several types of sauces you can make depending on how long you want cook the sauce and what flavours you prefer. Allrecipes.com has a collection of tomato sauce recipes ranging from raw or barely cooked to long-simmered ones.
Oven-dried tomatoes. Tired of paying for expensive dried tomatoes? You can make your own at home. Recipes are designed for a variety of tomatoes (even cherry tomatoes), so match them to whatever is in your garden. Many dried tomatoes can be stores in bags for several months, or for three months in oil in your fridge. Use them to top pizzas, in sauces or in salads.
Are your herbs growing like weeds? Some experts recommend making herb preservation a part of your weekly garden routine. Here are some things you can do with them:
Dry. Dried herbs will keep indefinitely if properly stored, and they work well in recipes, potpourri or homemade herbal teas. You can air-dry them by hanging small bundles to gradually dry out, or use a food dehydrator if you have one. Using the microwave or the oven aren’t the preferred methods for true aficionados, but they can do in a pinch.
Most sources recommended storing the dried leaves whole and them crumbling them as needed. (Try About.com’s drying method here.)
Freeze. Still prefer fresh for your recipes? Try freezing herbs whole using the dry pack or tray pack methods listed above. You can also freeze chopped leaves in ice cube trays by topping them up with water. The ice cubes can then be stored in freezer bags until you’re ready to toss them into a hearty winter stew. (About.com has step-by-step instructions for different freezing methods here.)
Pesto . Herbs, garlic, olive oil, nuts and cheese — what’s not to love about pesto? This sauce has many uses, including whipping up a quick pasta dish or salad. Recipes are easy to find online, and pesto also freezes well for later use.
Pesto isn’t just for basil — there are many recipes out there that use parsley or cilantro as well, depending on your taste. If you’re not a fan of pesto, you can use a similar method to freeze herbs — simply blend the herbs with enough oil to make a paste and then freeze.
Herbal oils and vinegars. Not only are they tasty, they look attractive on a kitchen shelf and they make a great gift. This method works well for herbs like basil, chive, rosemary, tarragon and fennel. You can also add garlic, lemon or savoury seeds. Prep time is minimal, but you should plan on at least two weeks for the herbs to “steep” before using the oils. (See PantryGardenHerbs.com’s Herbal Oils and Herb Vinegars for full instructions).
Preserving summer’s bounty doesn’t have to be complicated, but you’ll need to allow some time to prepare and cook. When the cooler weather sets in, you’ll be glad you did!
How do you savour summer in the winter months? Tell us in the comments .