Preserving Produce

by Sara Frank

If the summer was kind to us, our backyard gardens have ripe vegetables waiting to be harvested and enjoyed. What happens when the abundance is overwhelming and we can’t enjoy it all? We don’t want to lose our hard work! Here are some handy tips for preserving produce from your garden.

Zucchini is a versatile vegetable: It can be steamed, baked, shredded and used to make delicious dessert bread, fried and even dried. For a tasty snack while you are out enjoying the county, throw your zucchini slices in some olive oil and spices and then dehydrate them at 125 degrees for up to 24 hours. They will last several months in a sealed container. You can also shred zucchini for bread and freeze it for later, or blanche it and freeze for meals. You can also do this with yellow squash and even eggplant.

If you are able to can your produce, homemade salsa and spaghetti sauce are great way to preserve your tomatoes and peppers. Canning can be a lot of hot work so to save on time, I make my spaghetti sauce and then freeze it in meal portions. Freezing the sauce in quart zip close bags makes for easy storage and a fast thaw! Be careful not to overfill your bags or containers to allow for expansion. Making extra portions of lasagna, stew or chili is another great tool. You can pop the extra meals in the freezer for those days when you are out in the field late and need something in a pinch!

If you are like me and you enjoy fresh herbs, drying ones like Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, and Oregano is easy and allows you to cut down on food expenses. Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried. Gently wash your herbs and tie their stems together with string and hang them upside down from any overhang or hook that allows for good air circulation. Keep away from sunlight and check often for signs of mold or mildew. Herbs like Mint, Tarragon or Basil can be dehydrated due to their higher moisture content. Onions also require some extra attention after harvest. Store them in a dark, dry place for  two to three weeks until the necks are completely dry and the outer skin is crisp. Cut the necks within one inch after drying.

Following the path of the onion, sweet potatoes should be laid out to dry for 10 days to two weeks in a warm location with high humidity. To cure indoors, keep them close to the furnace in packed boxes covered in a cloth to increase humidity. Done correctly, they will last all winter!  Make sure you don’t mix up your taters! Regular potatoes should stay in a cool, dry and dark place and do not require the extra time to harden off.

We are blessed to live in this beautiful county that allows such diversity in agriculture – from family farms to backyard gardens. Enjoy what you have been able to grow, or venture to farmer’s markets to get a taste of this delicious county! Ashtabula County is always in season!

Sara currently serves on the Ashtabula Farm Bureau board and helps run Cold Springs Orchards with her family.  This snippet was taken from her article published in the Gazette 8.10.18.