Fall reckoning – the opportunities offered by a full bounty

September 4, 2023

It might seem like finding time to take on preserving would be a challenge, but with a bit of practice, it does become easy to slip into a day. In cash-poor times, our ancestors’ wealth was in the garden, and time was made for the cash-in. But, of course, when this work was done in earlier generations, people were looking to store a winter’s worth of vegetables, so it was always a large quantity grown, and a large quantity needing processing. And now, we also have freezers that give more, and quicker storage options.

Zucchinis grow quickly! Pick vegetables as soon as they can be harvested and preserve while still fresh.
Photos: Caroline Cameron

If you have tomatoes piling up, it is so easy to bag them and toss them in the freezer whole. To save freezer space, they can be chopped or pureed, but I often puree and boil them up in batches as they accumulate, then seal them in hot sterile jars for tomato sauce. One can flavour them, but it is said that too much alteration may interfere with the natural acidity that helps them keep. I also make a point of adding my boiling-hot preserves to sterile jars immediately after they have been taken out of their boiling water. If preserved tomato is discoloured or gassy, it is important to take a wide berth.

Herbs are so easy to grow, and are such a pleasure to add to meals, that they are worth the small effort. Thyme, oregano, mint, chives, and sage are all perennial plants that will come back every year. Harvesting before they flower is recommended, and you only need to cut handfuls of the sprigs, hang them to dry for about a week (until dried to the point of crumbling when handled), and store the leaves, or whole sprigs in bags or mason jars. Many gardeners also freeze herbs into ice cube trays, then move to bags for freezer storage.

A traditional summer Acadian practice is to prepare flavoured salt for winter cooking. Chives are chopped and placed in a jar, and covered with a layer of salt, and alternating layers are added through the season, as the chives regrow.

If you haven’t remembered to plant your bean seeds in small batches, you’ll likely get too many at once. It just takes about a half-hour to blanch them and get them into the freezer. Blanching is simply parboiling, and it prevents certain produce from discolouring when frozen, by breaking down enzymes that cause the darkening. To do this, I bring a large pot of water to boil, I ready some cold water chilled with ice, and trim up or cut the string beans. In small batches, I boil the beans for 3 minutes, then scoop out and cool them quickly in the water, drain and freeze. These typically turn out very well.

Zucchinis need no preparation for freezing, other than cutting them into a size useful for what you’ll use them for: cubing for spaghetti sauce, shredding for loaf, slicing for lasagna. I also slice zucchini in disks and dry them, and have experimented with thin slicing and toasting with a bit of oil and salt for snacking chips.

Freezing is convenient, but the possibility of extended power outages makes bottling a great option for care-free storage. Please bear in mind that if produce is thawed, it can still be preserved when power is restored, rather than disposing.

Fruit can be frozen and then made into jellies or jams after the busy season.
Photos: Caroline Cameron

Canning vegetables such as carrots, beans, or of course, pickling beets is a bit more time consuming, but it is so rewarding as the vegetables are enjoyed through the winter. Pickled beets are an old favourite, and making your own dill pickles is a fun and easy project.

I have a great appreciation of sound old practices, so it pleased me to learn that the fermentation that takes place during pickling provides real health benefits to digestion and blood sugar. There are so many traditional recipes to choose from, and the processes are fail-safe. You can find a few friends to make different kinds and split them all up among you.

Few things measure up to homemade jellies and jams. Crab apple jelly is one of my favourite big batch enterprises, since it makes such a perfect little heart-felt gift for any occasion. But the possibilities for jams and jellies are endless.

Too many fruits of any kind can also be canned in a sweet syrup. I often do up some whole crab apples for garnishes, but pears and peaches preserve well in syrup.

One can also make easy and affordable juices by adding berries (blueberries, raspberries, or grapes) up to a quarter of the volume of a hot sterile mason jar, and then filling with a boiling water and sugar syrup, sealing, and setting aside for a few weeks.

There’s lots of information on the internet about food prep, but I tend toward the older recipes and books for more tried-and-true practices. As well, workshops for food processing are becoming more common. I attended such as a workshop on fermentation and making sauerkraut offered in South West Margaree last year, where I came home with a fresh bottle of sauerkraut, and a fresh appreciation of the wonders our gardens and kitchen offer us.

Happy Gardening!

Caroline Cameron lives in Strathlorne, and offers gardening and guiding services around Cape Breton Island. Please submit any gardening tips, questions, and news to strathlorne@gmail.com and visit Facebook at Nature/Nurture Gardening & Hiking.