By this time of year, however, most people are sick of zucchini noodles, and the appeal of a nice caprese salad has lost its novelty. So, what do you do with the rest of your summer produce? Before composting it or turning it all back into the soil, consider some preservation methods.
Freezing, pickling, and drying are some of the options that come to mind for me. Freezing can help ensure you’ll have summertime produce long past the end of your summer garden’s demise. Pickling not only preserves foods, but it also adds some variety of flavors and changes up how you enjoy certain veggies. Drying is my top choice for herbs and peppers.
If you want to approach freezing in the most simple way, just make sure you clean and dry your produce and have some sort of freezer safe container to store them in. To make frozen foods easier to handle upon removing them from the freezer, I also recommend slicing before freezing. Frozen stone fruits go great in smoothies, and frozen tomatoes cook down easily as the base for a sauce. In the past, I have also made tomato soup and pesto, and then stored them in the freezer for later use.
Another easy freezing idea I’ll mention was inspired by my grandmother. She called me with a basil question last week, and then we started discussing what she does to store her basil. My grandma harvested some stalks of basil, clipped off some of the basil flowers that had formed on the end of the stalk, and then she washed the basil leaves she planned to preserve. Her technique is simple and genius at the same time. She adds the clean basil leaves to a plastic Ziploc freezer bag and then she submerses the basil leaves in olive oil. She then freezes this bag flat in her freezer and breaks off chunks of olive oil and basil to cook with as needed. A zero waste version of this is to use ice cube molds instead. It doesn’t even have to basil you grow, it could be leftover basil from a bunch you bought from the farmers market or grocery store. Making a sauce or a herb-olive oil ice cube is a nice way to make sure your excess herbs do not go to waste.
Ok, so I am not fermentation expert, so I will not attempt to give you instructions on that. However, I have used quick-pickling methods with some success, and I would like to recommend trying your hand at it! Quick pickles don’t have to be limited to cucumbers although cucumbers do respond exceedingly well to pickling. I have also quick-pickled beets and green beans. The only limits on what veggies you can pickle are really preference and what you have on hand.
Online, I have seen recipes for cold and hot quick pickles. I recommend using the hot method because it seems to infuse a more powerful flavor more quickly than the cold method. This seemed especially apparent when I tried quick-pickling whole green beans by cold and hot methods. The thick skin on the green beans takes on a much stronger flavor when using the hot method. Next time, I will probably cut the green beans into smaller pieces so that they have more surface area exposed to the pickling solution.
Cleaning and slicing your chosen vegetables is the first step of quick pickling. Cucumber spears and slices seem to work equally well. Peeling and thin-slicing into coin shapes is what I recommend for beets and other root vegetables. I usually then place my vegetable slices into clean glass jars with a quarter inch of room for pickling solution at the top.
For the quick-pickling solution, I reference a different recipe each time. Here is one for example: Quick Pickles Recipe by Rachael Ray. Generally, I will adapt a recipe depending on what I have on hand and which flavors I am going for. A cup of vinegar, a cup of water, a tablespoon or two of salt, a teaspoon or two of sugar, and the spices are up to you. For dill pickles, I like to add garlic, coriander, and dill. I have also seen some recipes call for mustard seeds, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, and more. It depends on the flavor profile you are going for. Anyway, heat up all of these ingredients in a saucepan on the stove until it comes to a simmer. After simmering, take off the heat, and pour the hot brine over your vegetable slices making sure they are fully covered with the solution. Let cool, and refrigerate. They should be ready in a couple of hours.
Drying is great for preserving herbs! All I usually do is hang my bunches of herbs upside down in a dry, sunny location in my kitchen until the herbs feel papery and practically crumble at the touch. However, another big one that comes to mind for me are hot peppers. Hot peppers are your cayenne, habañeros, jalapeños, cherry bombs, Fresnos, Thai chilis, and more. Hot peppers can be very prolific plants, and it can sometimes be difficult to use them all up while their fresh.
Drying is a great way to preserve hot peppers! There are a variety of ways it can be done. One method that requires some initial effort but then allows you to basically forget about it is string-drying peppers. You want to have thread or string that can hold-up to the weight of the peppers. Using a needle you can thread the peppers onto the string and hang them up to dry in a sunny window. At this point, you’ll just need to give them some time, and in a few weeks you’ll have dried peppers. Keep in mind that factors like temperature, hours of sunlight and type of pepper will vary the drying times. In the meantime, you have a pretty pepper garland decoration.
Another drying method which I tried recently is oven-drying peppers. I used the oven in lieu of the food dehydrator I don’t have. If you have a food dehydrator, you should probably use that instead! I set my oven to its lowest setting, and I spread whole peppers out on a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. I initially dried them for about 3 hours checking on them every hour or so. At the end of three hours, I took the pan out of the oven to assess the peppers. I could tell the cayennes were well-dried because their skin was hardened, and I could hear the seeds rattling around inside a little bit when I picked them up. The thicker peppers like the cherry bombs and the jalapeños were still a bit squishy to the touch, so I determined that they needed longer. The cherry bombs and jalapeños ended up needing about two more hours in the oven until I felt confident that they were dried.
At the end of about 5 hours of total drying, the peppers were all just about where I wanted them. They are now being stored in a mason jar without the lid in my spice cupboard. The idea is to eventually grind them into some chili flakes or chili powder. They will hopefully keep for several months in this dried condition. As long as their conditions are not too humid, they should be able to avoid molding.
Additional tip: According to Cayenne Diane, in her article on how to dry peppers, I could have reduced the drying time in the oven by cutting some of the thicker, juicier peppers like serranos and cherry bombs in half. Cayenne Diane also has some instructions on how to dry your peppers in a food dehydrator if you have one of those handy, so you might take a look at her site.
Also, if you go to the Davis Farmers Market in the fall and stop by the Good Humus Farm stand, you might see these gorgeous dried pepper wreaths available. Beautiful and edible!
In summary, there are many ways to preserve your summer bounty, so before you throw it out consider freezing, pickling or drying it. It may not all keep in perfect condition, but this is one example of how to minimize food waste from your garden.