Eat Local Later – End of Season Preservation Guide

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October 4, 2011 at 6:55 am

Sadly, farmer’s markets are starting to wind down, and some markets have already closed.  It’s time to make your final moves to preserve the harvest to ensure year round local eating.  As we note below, much of the best ways to keep food is simply to keep it stored away in your root cellar, in whatever form that cellar may be.  The Local Family uses its attic. David Hammond re-purposed a darkroom.  We’ve provided you guidance on making your own root cellar here.  For additional background on all the methods to make the harvest last, see our acclaimed Making the Most of the Seasonal Bounty.

As in our previous guides, 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?  Because of the changing in texture, we believe for certain items, green beans, eggplants, you are better off cooking the product first before freezing.  Use the following considerations when picking your preservation method:

Cold Storage/Root Cellaring

  • So much of the produce in the markets in the fall can be cold stored if you can keep the food cold and moist (except for onions and squash, which need to be kept dry)
  • Besides the usual suspects, potatoes, onions, you can cold store cabbage and related vegetables, grapes, pears even tomatoes.  Just make sure you have the right types of produce for keeping.  For pears, make sure you are storing pears that are not fully ripe.
  • Your refrigerator makes an excellent root cellar in many instances

Freezing

  • Requires freezer capacity
  • Easy
  • Can accommodate  many but not all recipes for jams, pickles, relishes, etc.
  • Certain items do not freeze well, freezing changes the texture of all items
  • 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
  • Change in texture, canned foods are usually very soft
  • 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

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

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.  ”Pickle” size cucumbers can usually be found in markets after “slicing” cucumber season has ended.

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

Pack in oil – We previously advised you to freeze extra sweet peppers.  Hopefully, you have set some peppers aside as frozen sweet peppers have many good uses–make this (using canned tomatoes too!).   At this time of year however, we like to pack off our remaining roasted peppers in oil.  As such, they will last a good while in the fridge, allowing the flavors of summer to linger.

Hot Peppers

Dry/pickle/pack in oil/freeze/cold store – Man, there is no wrong way to deal with peppers, and we like to use all our preservation tools to have hot peppers available to us all year.  Not the least, fleshy peppers like jalepenos will last well into November (and beyond) in good cold storage.  It hardly takes more than leaving them around for peppers to dry properly.  We especially like to dry cayenne style peppers.

Cabbages, including kohlrabi and brussel sprouts

Cold store/ferment – We love sauerkraut, and we know it is a great way to make your cabbage last, but we also know few of us will want to make their own.  Just let all your cabbages sit around.  Red, white, savoy, tiny brussel sprouts, they will last a good time in cold storage/root cellaring.  Note, we think of turnips as a root vegetable, see below, even though it is a cabbage; yet we place kohlrabi up here because it is not a root.  Rather when we eat kohlrabi, we eat their bulbous stems.

Grapes

Freeze/cold store – We like to freeze local grapes.  It’s like instant sorbet.  We also know that grapes store for a good time.  Stock up.

Cauliflower/Broccoli

Cold store – These related plants (also of the cabbage family), store well.

Shelling beans

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

Apples

Cold store – You may ask yourself why store your own apples as local apples can be found nearly year round at various markets and stores.  We store our own apples to take advantage of seasonal good deals and to ensure a supply of interesting and special purpose apples.  In other words, you may find a local apple, but will it be a Northern Spy bought on sale?  In general, we favor storing “cooking” apples as they are the ones harder to find as the year progresses.  You will have the apples you want, when you want them if you store your own.

Apples are easy to cold store, and if you have spare fridge space, it can be done there.  Pay attention to two simple items for successful apple storage.  First, choose apples meant for keeping.  The best way to ensure this is to ask your farmer.  In general, apples at the market in the fall also make good keeper apples.  Some of our favorite keeper apples include the aforementioned Northern Spy, as well as Courtlands, Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Mutsu.  Second, keep an eye on your apples.  It IS true that one bad apple spoils the bunch.  Segregate (eat) any rotting apples, so your other apples remain fine.

Potatoes

Cold store – Store your own potatoes for the same reason you store your own apples.  You can find them cheap now, and you can find varieties you may not find later.  Also, like apples, potatoes are easy to store.  Besides cold and moisture, also make sure you keep your potatoes “dark”, for instance by putting a blanket over your potato bin.

Sweet Potatoes

Cold store – Since it is harder to find local sweet potatoes than other local potatoes, it makes even more sense to store your own sweet potatoes.  Just remember that sweet potatoes do not last as long in storage as other potatoes.

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.

Beets, carrots, turnips, and other root vegetables

Cold store – All root vegetables can be cold stored for several months if kept cold and moist.  Remember that moisture though.  If you attempt to store root vegetables in a refrigerator, you may not get enough moisture to keep the items succulent.  Make the necessary adjustments like packing the items in sand.

Winter or Hard Squash

Store/Use as decor – You pretty much 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.

Greens such as chard, mustard, collards, kales

Freeze – Blanch, squeeze out excess water.

Green beans

Eat now/prepare and freeze – Green beans are one of the most common vegetable to can, but who really adores the flavor of canned green beans.  Frozen green beans do not come out great either.  We believe the one great way to preserve our green beans is to cook them first and then freeze.  We are partial to Greek/Middle Eastern style braises for our freezers.  You will notice little loss of quality when re-heated.

Pears

Cold store/pickle – Asian style pears cold store very well.  Other style pears cold store, but for not nearly as long.  More importantly, pears for cold storage need to be barely ripe.  Store your hard pears, and then let them fully ripen at room temperatures as needed.  We love pickled pears and pear chutneys.

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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