Eat Local Later, Now – Mid-Season Preservation Guide – Updated

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August 9, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Update: If you wonder why we exclude tomatoes and summer squash below, see here.

At the start of the summer, we gave you a guide with best practices for preserving or setting aside the fruits and vegetables you found then, so you could eat local later.  We continue our series with this Mid-Season update.  Look for later guidance as the harvest continues. 

We provide our favorite or preferred way to set aside various types of produce.  We note, however, that your ability to take advantage of different preservation techniques requires different skills, infrastructure, and time commitments.  Also, all preservation techniques (besides root cellaring) alter the texture of the food.  But does a pickle taste less good than a cucumber?  Use the following considerations when picking your preservation method:

Freezing

  • Requires freezer capacity
  • Easy
  • Can accommodate  many but not all recipes for jams, pickles, relishes, etc.
  • Certain items do not freeze well
  • Generally preferred taste for vegetables

Canning

  • Good for people without freezer space, e.g., apartment dwellers
  • Takes time and the ability to follow directions
  • Investment in canning supplies
  • Multitude of tastes and flavors in jams, relishes, pickles, etc.
  • Generally preferred taste for tomatoes

Drying

  • Takes up little room
  • Intense flavors, can be re-hydrated for certain culinary use
  • May require special equipment
  • May take a long time
  • Much dried food should be further preserved such as by freezing

Fermentation

  • Taste preference and health benefits
  • Little work after the initial preparation e.g., shredding cabbage for sauerkraut
  • May produce strong odors
  • Much fermented foods should be further preserved such as by canning

Use  our previously published Making the Most of the Seasonal Bounty  for detailed information on the food preservation techniques discussed.

The following items are commonly found in Chicago area markets and gardens in August:

Herbs

Dry* – Dried herbs may seem like something from a generation ago, but as Greeks know, everything tastes better with a heavy does of dried oregano.  It is not quite clear, though if the flavor of Greece is best achieved with local oregano or local marjoram.  We are are in the process of drying both.  Check with us in a few months to see which we like better.  Mint and thyme also work well dried.  Dried sage and dried rosemary are used much, but we are less keen on those flavors.  We do not like dried parsley at all.  *Do not dry basil.  Instead make pesto and freeze.  Now, many people think you should leave the cheese out of your pesto before freezing.  See what works.

Cucumbers

Ferment – The best cucumber pickles use nothing more than salt and flavorings like dill and garlic.  No vinegar.

Eggplants

Prepare – To make your eggplant last, make some classic summer dishes like caponata or eggplant caviar.  These can last for a good period in your refrigerator or you can freeze them for extended storage.

Sweet Peppers

Freeze – Since fruits freeze well, and peppers are fruits, peppers freeze just fine.  Just slice and you are on your way.  The question, to roast before freezing.  You can easily get by without roasting the peppers first, but on the other hand, you have a harder time roast the peppers after you have frozen them.

Corn

Freeze – Corn turns to starch as soon as it is picked, so if you cannot eat it within a few days of picking, you should be freezing your corn.  Vegetables need to be blanched, put in boiling water for a short period and then put in cold (ice) water to stop the cooking.  Blanching stops enzyme actions that would other wise ruin vegetables even when frozen.  Let your blanched vegetables completely cool down before freezing.

Shelling beans

Freeze – Frozen shelled beans do not need to be soaked.  Blanch before freezing.

Apples

Sauce/eat nowDo not wait until the fall to start eating apples.  Get the unique taste of summer apples.  Summer apples are often thought of as sauce apples.  It may be that people think of saucing summer apples because they go soft so quick.  We’d like to think it is because the sweet-tart taste of summer apples makes for good sauce.  Apple sauce can be as easily frozen as canned.

Berries

Freeze – Frozen berries do just as well in cooking applications as fresh, so all your frozen fruit can go towards winter muffins, cakes and pies.  You can also make jam from previous frozen berries.  Of course, nothing says healthy like a winter smoothie.  To preserve as much berry integrity as possible do a few things.  First, make sure your berries are as dry as possible before sticking in the freezer.  Second, if you can, lay them out on a tray and freeze them that way; then, after they are frozen, package them. 

Peaches

Can – Not too long ago, your fanciest French restaurant used canned peaches for such typical fare as peche melba.  They did it because peaches take well to canning.  Sure, they get that gel-ish texture, but they maintain all their peak summer flavor.  More so,, that peak summer flavor can be enhanced with a bit of spices.  Can some pickled peaches now, they will go perfectly with your Thanksgiving meals.

Beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions

Eat now – We continue to believe that the root vegetables found now are best for eating not storing.  Summer onions, those with thin, pliable skins, and true new potatoes–you can recognize new potatoes by their skin because when new potatoes are washed, bits of the skin will come away, giving a pockmarked appearance–should be refrigerated.

New!Winter or Hard Squash

Store/Use as decor - Yes, we will have days still over 90 in 2010, but we already have winter squash showing up in our markets.  You may also see them showing up in your CSA.  Don’t feel rushed.  You pretty do not have to do anything with hard squash.  They last a long, long time, and they do not need much in the way of root cellaring.  Most of your hard squash will stay just fine in your dining room or seasonal tableau.

Please share with us your efforts to eat local later.  Also, if you have a question for an item not listed, let us know.

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