With autumn just around the corner, now is the time begin planning how to preserve any excess produce you might’ve harvested over the summer months
There are few things more disheartening than wasting food, not least when it’s fruit and veg you’ve worked hard to grow yourself…
So, instead of binning your glut of freshly grown summer greens, why not try preserving them this year to be enjoyed all year round? Whether it's by freezing, salting, pickling or preserving, there are many ways to stretch out your summer bounty to its fullest potential; read on for our suggestions on how to make this year’s crop last as long as possible…
Keep it simple with freezing
Perhaps the simplest and most obvious method for saving your seasonal produce, freezing is a great way to enhance your harvest. While the majority of fruits and vegetables can be frozen as soon as they’re harvested, some, like green beans, must first be blanched in a pan. Similarly the freezing and thawing processes can harm some softer fruits like strawberries, altering their texture entirely (worth bearing in mind if you’re weighing up different options for how to save certain foods). It's also important to note that freezing doesn't destroy all bacteria; many will remain dormant until they're defrosted, so if you’re going to freeze your fruit and veg, do so as quickly as possible after they’ve been gathered from the garden. When freezing fruits and vegetables, first spread them out on a metal tray (if you have the space) to avoid clumping, then, once totally firm, put them in a sterile, sealed freezer bag. You’ll then be able to enjoy your crop for an additional eight to 10 months.
Have a go at pickling
Pickling is one of the simplest and safest methods of preserving food, but at the cost of significantly altering the flavour of most fruits and vegetables; proceed at your own peril! Bacteria find it very difficult to thrive in pickled fruits and vegetables because of the natural acidity of vinegar, therefore these preserves can be kept safe and edible for years at a time. To pickle your produce, first create a pickling solution of white vinegar, salt, and sugar, before bringing to a boil in a pan. The fruits or vegetables should then be placed into an airtight container with the solution poured over the top until the food is completely submerged. The jar is then sealed and kept for as long as you’d like, once reopened however it should be consumed within a week or two at most.
Make a tried and tested preserve
Making jams and other preserves is one of the oldest and most popular ways to store fruits beyond their normal shelf life. It’s also a fantastic way to make use of blemished or damaged produce that might otherwise be wasted. Jams are created using the whole fruit, including the pulp which is boiled with sugar to create an acidic gel-like substance that will keep for a very long time. You’ll need specific recipes for the jam you’re making, depending on the kind of fruit you’re preserving (as each has a different pH balance). You might also want to consider making a jelly, which is strained to remove any chunks, or a marmalade, which is made from citrus fruits and includes their sliced peel.
For a festive treat make brandied fruit
Another method for extending your harvest is to preserve fruits in alcohol. In fact, for many years plums, peaches, cherries, apricots, and citrus fruits were often referred to as brandy fruits since it was the most common method of preserving them. Making brandied fruit is fairly simple, and you get two lots of goodies out of it to enjoy; the fruit can be spooned over puddings and cakes, while the alcohol absorbs the flavour of the fruit and can be enjoyed on its own as a festive tipple. Simply add fresh, washed fruit to a jar, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar before covering with your choice of alcohol; vodka, rum, brandy, or any other spirit that contains at least 40% alcohol. Finally place your jar in a dark place and shake every couple of days. The sugar and alcohol both work as preservatives while also enhancing the flavour of the fruit. This preserve will last several months and is the perfect accompaniment to a festive meal once winter eventually rolls around.
For a different flavour, salt your veg
Salting (or dehydrating) your vegetables will kill all dangerous bacteria, allowing food to be preserved at room temperature for extended periods of time. Like pickling however, it’s worth noting that salting your produce will massively alter its flavour. The process is straightforward: simply place your veggies in a large baking pan and cover with water. Then, keep adding salt to the pan until you can see granules beginning to settle on your vegetables, this indicates that the saturation point has been reached. You should then refrigerate the veg in the water for a week, before finishing off the process by draining the brine and coating them with additional salt. Finally store the veg in a cool, dry location until fully dried and ready to use as a unique cooking ingredient.
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