Many gardeners start to feel overwhelmed this time of year, as what they are harvesting seems to want to take over their kitchens. There are a number of easy ways to deal with this wonderful problem and get control back:
For basil and many other herbs, simply cut, rinse off, pat dry, remove the leaves from the stems, and place in a freezer bag. Once frozen just crush up whatever you need in your recipes. Chives can be cut, rolled lengthwise in plastic wrap and frozen. Just slice off what you need later.
Tomatoes can just be tossed into the freezer, either whole or cut up. What’s wonderful is that when they thaw, the skins slip right off. We freeze a lot for soup in the winter, and for chili. The cherry types work especially well in casseroles. If you plan to can, freezing allows you to not heat up the kitchen in the summer months, but gives you the freedom to wait until after the frost and put up your jars on cooler days.
Likewise hot and sweet peppers can just be stemmed and tossed into the freezer. The sweets will get sweeter and the hots—whoa, Nellie! You can also chop them prior to freezing, which will save you time later. We make a hot sauce with a lot of our cayenne, tabasco, and Jamaican hot peppers. As they are harvested they are tossed into a jar of vinegar that’s kept in the refrigerator. When we have enough, the sauce making begins.
Hot peppers can also be stored Ristra style, by simply using a needle and thread through their stems to attach them together as they are harvested. Hang them up and they’ll be happy to dry for you. Chop them in a blender or food processor and you have Crushed Red Peppers.
You can also store any veggies you intend to pickle in vinegar. Not enough cucumbers yet, but too many to eat? Simply prep them and place them into a jar of vinegar and refrigerate until you have enough. Since vinegar is a natural food preservative, you can do this with whatever you intend to process this way. Zucchini pickles, Dilly Beans, and so forth can just be held in vinegar until you’re ready. Be sure to use fresh vinegar to process them though, as the water they emit will have reduced the acidity level needed for canning. For refrigerator pickles, make the brine and just add the cucumbers or other veggies as they come. You’re done!
Onions, garlic and potatoes are usually harvested about this time of year. They are amongst the easiest as all they need is a few days to cure and they are good to go. Simply store them in a cool, dry spot.
Berries can just be sorted and tossed into the freezer to hold. They and a lot of tree fruits are also good to store using another natural preservative, alcohol. Whether it’s a simple infusion or a ‘bounce’ using alcohol and a little sugar, it’s a divine way to hold them until you have more time. Since they also make wonderful gifts, you’ll be saving more time and reducing your stress as the holidays approach.
Gardening Jones is a master gardener in Pennsylvania. Learn more at gardeningjones.com/blog.
Learn how to can your harvest—and much more—in the book Homesteading.
Find delicious ways to use your homegrown vegetables in Recipes from a Kitchen Garden.
Make your harvest last longer with the advice in The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar: The Ultimate Guide to Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking and Cellaring the Harvest.