Eat Local Later – Local Beet Guide to Putting it Away Now

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July 20, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Rob Gardner

We’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times; the reasons to eat local do not go away once the markets pack up for the season.  We want you to eat local all the time, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to put away from the summer harvest.  We firmly believe that local produce, put away with care, will have you eating better in the winter than any other produce you can find then–excerpting seasonal winter items like citrus.  In addition, you will likely save money by putting away produce when it is at it’s cheapest.  Finally, we believe in the special pleasure in unleashing some summer glory, a tart cherry jam for instance, in the dead of winter.

We have provided below, best practice guidance for preserving what is in the markets now.  Look forward to additional updates as new items come into season, and also look forward to our magnum opus on the many ways to put away tomatoes coming soon.

We provide below, 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 July

Salad Greens - The season for salad greens is waning as lettuces do not grow well in hot, hot weather.  Get your greens now.

Stock/Soup – There can be a lot of lettuces or similar crops like rocket around this time of year.  You may not get to as many salads as you want.  Can anything be done with those browning leaves?  We believe in making vegetable stock from your odds and ends, and things like lettuces can be just fine as stock builders.  You can also make a nice soup from lettuce.  You’ll make dreck if you freeze lettuce, but you’ll be pleased if you freeze lettuce soup.

Other Greens

Freeze – Since greens like kale, chard, turnip and mustard are rarely eat raw, freezing matters little to their use.  A little blanching and there’s something for time ahead.  Now, spinach you can make a salad, but it freezes well too.

Kohlrabi

Store – The best thing to do with a kohlrabi.  Nothing.  Actually, this bane of CSA subscribers is much tastier than expected, one of the sweetest members of the cabbage family.  We like kohlrabi raw and cooked.  We just do not feel you need to be in a hurry to eat your kohlrabi.  Kohlrabies will store for a very, very long time in your fridge.  If the skins turn a little black, don’t worry because you peel it.  Do not ignore kohlrabi.  Just wait for the right moment.

Beets, carrots, turnips

Eat now – These are all root cellar fodder, but this is not the time of year to put these things down.  It’s hard to find too much of a root cellar now, and the version of these crops out first deserve to be eaten as is.

Cherries

Freeze – Since sour cherries are almost always used cooked, freezing matters little.  The only question, pit now or pit on thaw.

Apricots

Dry, fruit leather – The question really is, can you ever have enough apricots to put away.  Our local crop is never huge because it’s a fragile endeavor for farmers.  They’d rather put the land to use for peaches.  Then, when those few apricots show up, they’re so delicious, who wants to forsake eating them.  Apricots can be preserved many ways including jamming and the other ways peaches are preserved, but we all know that drying takes full advantage of apricot’s intense flavor.  Unless you use sulfates, your home dried apricots will turn dark.  So.

Onions

Eat Now – More and more onions are coming into the markets, but summer onions are eat now onions.  In fact, you should keep your summer onions in the fridge.

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.

String Beans

Freeze, prepare, pickle – We think there are many good ways to put away string beans, and we think there is one bad way, canned (without pickling).  Consider making a Greek or Middle Eastern style stew for a delicious meal many months from now.

Apples

Sauce/eat now -  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.

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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2 Comments

  1. Brian Bender says:

    We’ve had success freezing herbs like parsley and cilantro. Just shred them in the food processor, and then freeze them in bags. Then you can pull out small bits of “fresh” herbs later.

  2. Ava says:

    I have a bit of a break because I’m at a conference, but before I left there was a cherrython of canning, elderflower foraging and putting up as cordial, plus two, yep, two flats of fraises de bois. Apricots are already ordered for my return and yes I’ve got a recipe to pickle peaches in a few weeks as well.

    Now trying to decide whether to go with a second refrigerator or stand alone freezer for the overflow. Oh yeah, we also have a food dehydrator.

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