So summer is here and living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high… but what about when summer ends? I hate to say it… but winter is coming. And with it comes the cold air, dry skin, and frozen or imported produce. I’m never comfortable with imported, organic produce. I don’t know where it’s coming from, is the organic produce near a non-organic field when it’s grown?
So, when the farmer’s markets roll around and the organic farms throw open their doors, I always bulk buy as much produce as I can reasonably fit in my freezer (or my chest freezer, which is the best purchase I’ve ever made). But there are a lot of other things that you can store, and it doesn’t always have to be frozen. That’s what this article is about. Do you want to freeze, or dry, or can (fruits or veggies), or pickle your organic produce so you have it through the winter? If so, I have your tips, and more importantly, how to do it healthily.
I’m going to talk about certain fruits and veggies, but you certainly can do this with all fruits and veggies. But I thought that I’d demonstrate with our top five favorite garden-fresh super foods. Blueberries, kale, broccoli, peppers, and green beans.
Drying foods preserves all of their nutrients, fiber, and minerals. It stores easily and when stored in an airtight bag and nothing but extreme humidity is going to ruin the food, making it virtually spoil-free. They also have a long, long shelf-life. Plus, dried foods take up infinitely less space than the other storage methods on this list. I like to dry herbs and leafy ingredients, but fruit chips are great and who doesn’t like sun dried tomatoes? Today though, I’m going to talk about drying kale.
Kale is a superfood. It’s high in protein, potassium, calcium and B-6. It’s has double your daily vitamin A and vitamin C needs per 100 grams. So it’s one of those things to keep around the house. Kale is also one of those foods that I dislike eating raw, but I love in a dry form (mmm… kale chips).
Kale is best after a frost, the sugars seem to deepen and the kale becomes “sweeter”. Garden kale should be picked after a week of frosts or shortly after the first frost to get these benefits.
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- Olive Oil (optional)
- Salt (optional)
- Stem your kale, remove the long stem from the middle (save the stems in a baggie for smoothies) and
- rip the leaves into large pieces.
- Wash your kale and pat it dry with paper towel, or a regular clean towel, or spin it (if you have a salad spinner) until it’s dry(ish).
- Put your ripped kale on trays in individual layers and stick it in your oven overnight with the light on. Or, you can invest in a dehydrator (a great idea if you plant on doing this large scale and wish to reduce your time).
To make kale chips, follow steps one to three, but add a fourth step where you toss the kale in just enough olive oil to cover the leaves and then sprinkle them with sea salt of Himalayan salt.
A lot of things can be frozen, but I like to freeze hard berries for smoothies or pancakes. I like to freeze hard (not root) veggies. When I say hard veggies I mean veggies that can handle freezing; cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus and the like. Vegetables that can handle being thawed without turning into a slimy, slobbery, floppy mess. Freezing also preserves a lot of nutritional value of the vegetable you chose. To freeze a vegetable, choose young, firm veggies before they’re slightly more mature and ripe brethren – they thaw nicer. The trouble with freezing is that it takes up more space, so chose your veggies wisely. Frozen veggies last 8-12 months
For this example I’m using broccoli. A cup of broccoli has more than your daily vitamin C and K requirements and loads of folate, fiber, and chromium. It’s also good for vitamin B6 and E.
- Cut the florets into desired size.
- Wash and sort by size (if necessary – I like big broccoli florets for soups, but little ones for eating).
- If these are from your garden, leave them in the sink with some salt water. Any bugs or caterpillars will curl up and detach themselves from your broccoli.
- Bring a pot to a roiling boil and place florets into wire sieve or blanching dish.
- Lower the florets into the water and boil for three minutes. Remove IMMEDIATELY.
- Blanching stops the enzymes that would help the veggie continue to ripen, and also kills bacteria.
- Blanching times are different for some veggies, so do a quick check.
- Pat dry with paper towel
- Store in plastic bag or freezer safe container for later.
So canning for me has two different meanings and therefore two different methods. Fruit preserves tend to be sweet. Veggie preserves are often pickled. Both have negative side effects. Fruit preserves utilize too much sugar, pickling can require huge amounts of salt. But there are much healthier ways to preserve, and this is how. These methods can be used for any fruit or veggie you imagine so long as the item in question is cut into relatively similar size (you want them sort of small so you can pack as many in as possible… Except for beans, which can be stored at similar length, vertically in a jar)
The marked advantage of canning is that canning can last for years (if done correctly, though the quality does decline a bit after the first year), and it doesn’t matter if the power goes out, or humidity comes for them. Canned foods are indestructible (you know, minus shattering the jar)
- For fruit, I’m going to use blueberries. Blueberries are those crazy little fruits that have hogged the antioxidant arena for years (seriously, I’m starting to think that “Eye of the Tiger” is the theme song for these little guys).
- Remove all stems and leaves and shrivelled or mouldy fruits. You don’t want them in your jar.
- Wash them in a colander, then set them aside and wait for them to dry (Or do a little patting magic with a paper towel)
- Now we blanch them. Wrap them up in a cheesecloth (tie a knot to bind them up), or is your blanch tray or your sieve. Lower them into roiling boil water for no more than thirty seconds.
- If you’re using a cheesecloth, give them a swish while they’re in the water
- The water is going to turn blue/purple. Don’t panic. This is normal.
- Hold the knot of the cheese cloth with tongs or support the cheese cloth with a slated (metal) spoon.
- Pat your freshly blanched blueberries dry
- Toss them into your mason jars and seal them (make sure you’re using canning lids)
- You don’t need to sterilize the jars in this method, though you’re welcome too
- You want to pack the jars fully, but not squish the fruit
- Process your jars. If you’re using pint-sized jars, boil them for 15 minutes. If you’re using quart sized jars, boil them for 20. You’re going to get a little bit of juice leakage and fruit shrinking inside the jar, but that just happens.
You can use the methods above the can pretty much anything, but I also wanted to do a different kind of canning, because I like my veggies suspended in something. For this method I’m using the extra virgin olive oil method and red peppers.
Red peppers. Yowza! Vitamin C. Plus B6, Vitamin A and folate.
- Wash and oil your peppers.
- Oiling your peppers is essentially rubbing olive oil on your hands and coating each pepper so they’re a little shinier.
- Blacken your peppers. Over a grill or on broil in your oven. Turn them so each side blackens.
- Put them in a PAPER bag and roll the top down, sealing in the heat and moisture, leave them for 30-45 minutes.
- Do not use plastic bags. Just don’t. No arguments or “Oh, wells”. Just. Don’t.
- Remove your peppers once you can handle them barehanded from the bag. Pull the skin off them (it should be easy), grab the top of the stem and pull it out, scrap out any remaining seeds. Cut them into strips. Do this with each pepper and try to do it quickly.
- Don’t you dare wash those peppers. If they’re too hot, leave them in the bag. I repeat, DO NOT WASH THE PEPPERS.
- Take your (UNWASHED) strips of roasted pepper and dip them into a bowl of vinegar (up to you, but I like apple cider vinegar). Do this so they’re thoroughly coated everywhere and then put them in a different bowl.
- I would only do two or three strips at a time, it’s slower, but more effective.
- Don’t throw out this vinegar. We’re going to use it. Throw a bit of salt into the vinegar+juice in this “original” bowl
- Sprinkle the peppers with kosher or finely ground sea salt (mortar and pestle or food processor). Run your hands through the peppers so they all get a bit of salt.
- Take your mason jars and pour some of the vinegar+juice into the bottom of each mason jar. Enough to cover the bottom of each jar.
- Pack the peppers to within 2 (1 1/2) inches of the top of the jar. Run a butter knife around the packed peppers to push all of the excess air out. Pour some more of that vinegar+juice into the jar. Leave some space (1/2 inch) at the top.
- Fill to within 1/4 of the top with extra virgin olive oil.
- Process your jars for 15-20 minutes.
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