Garden Blog

Using the Preserved Harvest

There’s a bug in my beans.  This happens sometimes and I don’t mind for the most part; I like to think I usually find most of them.  Green beans are the kids’ favorite vegetable.  My son eats his weight of them in summer when the harvest comes in and then I blanch them before freezing to get that crisp fresh green bean taste.  If they are cooked southern style (add hours of heat and pork) he won’t touch them.

We are a Kentucky Wonder pole bean family for the most part.   They are just so darn reliable and such good producers.  Plus, they freeze like a dream.  In recent years, I’ve frozen more food than I have canned because my kids are young.  A big vat of boiling water with kids running around like maniacs just makes me cringe.  At some point we will be more diverse in our methods and move toward more canning again.

We try to store as much as we are able each year.  We store root vegetables, freeze, pickle, can, dehydrate, and ferment.  Whew!  It’s a busy time and if you are remembering all your own hard work last season you won’t want it to go to waste.  If you’ve never preserved before there are some wonderful books that can help a beginner choose what foods and how – so that you can relish the fruits of your garden throughout the year.   Really, there is nothing that is quite so fulfilling as eating from your garden year round.

With simple step-by-step instructions and 175 delicious recipes, the book Put ‘em Up will have even the most timid beginners filling their pantries and freezers in no time! You’ll find complete how-to information for every kind of preserving: refrigerating, freezing, air- and oven-drying, cold- and hot-pack canning, and pickling. Recipes range from the contemporary and daring — Wasabi Beans, Cherry and Black Pepper Preserves, Pickled Fennel, Figs in Honey Syrup, Sweet Pepper Marmalade, Berry Bourbon, Salsa Verde — to the very best versions of tried-and-true favorites, including applesauce and apple butter, dried tomatoes, marinara sauce, bread and butter pickles, classic strawberry jam, and much, much more.

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz is the newest “cookbook” for fermented foods by the author of Wild Fermentation. The health benefits of these foods are remarkable.  In addition, they provide bucketfuls of taste. Kimchi is instant flavor and zest on beans and rice or tossed into a stir-fry.  Sauerkraut is a favorite in our family on sandwiches.

As for using the foods that you put away — remembering they are there is as important as anything!  Our chest freezer is in the basement and we refill our kitchen freezer weekly with items that we need to eat.  It is easy to forget what exactly is hiding on that top shelf, “I think it’s pepper jelly…but it could be strawberry!”  Keeping track of what is there and planning weekly meals accordingly is essential to using the harvest over the winter.  I find we eat our favorite things quickly and often we are left with a ton of summer squash at the end of the winter.  As the years have gone by we have recipes we repeat regularly.  My veggie burgers now feature that summer squash and we eat it throughout the winter, not just in April when we are trying to empty the freezer for the season ahead.

Occasionally I get overzealous about a food or technique.  This year, I have more cucumber pickles than a family could eat in two years.  But still, they can be sliced and put on grilled cheese, chopped into relish (since the relish went quickly this year) or put into potato salad.  Now, I have to find a way to eat them thereby broadening our food experience this winter.  Creativity flourishes in this space between the larder and the kitchen if you commit to using the food you have stored.

Preserved food from your own garden is a luxury you have worked to enjoy, showing it off on charcuterie plates and platters when guests come over is a pleasure — do it!  Simple ways of using the foods you store or preserve is likely going to be the best way of enjoying the harvest, but also the best way to build a lifestyle that incorporates this kind of eating.  Adding canned or frozen corn to cornbread, greens to eggs, greens to cornbread, squash into veggie burgers or meatballs, sweet potato into muffins are easy ways to use your preserved food.

If you are beginning a food storage endeavor or are seeking specialty varieties that lend themselves to particular storage techniques, seek no further.   For root cellar storage vegetables like potatoes, Yukon Gold has worked well for us as well as Red Core Chantennay carrots. The sweet potato Porto Rico is renowned for its storage life, although sweet potatoes must be well-handled before long term storage.  Butternut squash varieties, we have Waltham and Tahitian, are wonderful garden staples for winter eating.  In addition, Hubbards are great for storage; we have Blue and Improved True Green.

For vegetables that lend themselves to canning, pickling or freezing look to the tomatoes Amish Paste and Opalka for great sauce tomatoes.  We plant sauce tomatoes heavily and just a few slicers or cherries to get us through the summer for fresh eating. Principe Borghese is a wonderful drying tomato.  Pickling cucumbers must be harvested while firm and small (about 4-5”); Boston will yield well if kept picked and Bush Pickle is perfect for urban gardeners for whom space is limited.  Green beans pickle well and can also be fermented. We’ve had wonderful success with Kentucky Wonder for freezing.   We love Royal Burgundy bush bean for fresh eating and summer salads.  The purple color is a favorite for the kids to find and pick fresh.  Provider bush bean also has been a reliable producer with good disease resistance and better for canning than freezing.

For the sustainable subsistence diet, protein from the garden is an important element.  For those of you with ample space October Beans are prolific and make great dry beans.  Other drying beans of note are Tiger Eye that makes for good fresh eating or drying as well as the Ark of Taste variety Arikara Yellow.

My mouth is watering as I linger over the seed catalog and think of the food year we have ahead.  I must admit the simplest preparation of any of these foods is often my favorite: fresh from the garden or simply presented on my plate.  There is nothing as beautiful to the eye or to the palate as a plate of greens, roasted root vegetables and corn all from our own garden.

Post by Sow True Seed Blogger Megan Schneider