Whether you’re having a hard time resisting the beautiful produce at your local farmer’s market or having a bountiful year in your own garden, preserving vegetables in a number of different ways makes it easier to eat seasonally, sustainably and locally all year!
The key to eating in season is preparation during the months when there is an abundant harvest to supplement what you can get locally almost all year. Preserving a ton of different vegetables in a number of different ways makes meals easier on days you don’t feel like cooking. You can simply pull a bag of frozen beans and carrots from the freezer and pop them in a stir-fry, or open up a jar of tomato sauce and preserved eggplant and whip up some pasta, just as you would with something store bought but instead local and delicious. Talk about convenience you can feel good about!
Blanching and Freezing:
Freezing is the most obvious technique many people use to hold on to the harvests of summers past, like berries and stone fruit, but many forget you can do this with vegetables as well. Unlike fruit however, vegetables need to be blanched. Blanching means to give veggies a quick dip in a hot water bath, then a short soak in ice water to preserve the color, flavor and texture of vegetables you’re going to freeze for later use. Whatever you’re freezing–be it cauliflower, broccoli or a carrot and bean mix–be sure to lay it out on a flat sheet to freeze in individual pieces first and then bag it up afterwards.
While pantries seem far and few between these days, those trying to live a more self-sufficient life rooted in supporting their local economy are canning a lot more of what they would usually buy at the store. Canning at first always feels like a daunting production but the key is having the right tools and a few delicious go-to recipes. You can buy canning jars with air tight seals at many large hardware stores. While you can easily improvise the tools you need, Ball (in the US) and Bernardin. (in Canada) have awesome starter kits that have everything you need to get started.
First and foremost, safety! Sterilize any jars, lids and seals you’re going to be using by boiling them in hot water for 20 minute. For preserving and pickling, pH and water content need to be specific so no foodborne bacteria develop. Remember to follow recipes exactly to be sure everything is in perfect balance. National Center for Home Food Preservation is an indispensable resource to refer to before you start canning and pickling.
Basic Canning Recipe:
Tomatoes are probably the most usual suspect found in a pantry jar – you can slow cook them into a pasta sauce, roast and smash them into a salsa or blanch and can them in halves for adding to dishes later in the year.
I’ve always had a hard time making tomato sauce because of how much time it takes, but someone dear to me taught me the most delicious and easy recipe this summer and because of it I’ve spent many early mornings reading my book and keeping a close eye on pots upon pots of this super simple sauce so that I can eat it all winter.
Classic Pomodoro Canned Tomato Sauce:
Yields approximately 2 liters
- 10 pounds tomatoes*
- 1 medium-large bulb of garlic
- 3 medium sized sweet onions
- 1-2 cups organic olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of dried chilies
- 1-2 eggplants, oven roasted
*Roma is best for canning purposes but anything you find grown locally will do. I use heirlooms, but they’re super juicy and take more time to cook down and yield less in the end. The flavor is beautiful though!
- Smash your garlic into little bits and toss in a large sauce pan over medium heat with a half cup of olive oil.
- Dice up your onion into small pieces and toss it in with the garlic and oil – simmer till the onion becomes clear, constantly stirring to prevent burning. Lower heat if needed.
- Chop your tomatoes into small chunks and once your onion is clear, toss them in with another half cup of oil and mix everything together.
- Stir in your chilies, add some salt if you’d like, leave uncovered and now WAIT.
- Sauce takes time, so grab a book, sit down in your kitchen within eye shot of your stove top, add more olive oil if it seems too dry and stir every few minutes. Eventually it will reach a consistency you’re happy with! This is a real long game process, so don’t start making sauce with plans to go somewhere soon after.
- If you want to add eggplant – chop it up into medium sized slices and mix with olive oil and chilies in a bowl. Spread over a baking sheet and pop in the oven till soft and roasted. Remove and let cook once ready. Add when you think sauce is almost at a perfect consistency as it will soak up any remaining liquid and leave you with a thicker outcome.
- Portion out to sterilized jars and seal in a hot water bath.
If you’re dreaming of shelves stocked with summer fruit and jams for baguettes and cheese over the winter – canning is also the way to go in this case. Jam, like sauce, just takes a bit of time but the result is such a delicious treat to have during the colder months. There was a time when we foraged for seasonal berries or stone fruit (climbing your neighbor’s plum tree or squeezing for the softest apricots at the market will do!) and whipped up jams free of colors and artificial flavoring. You can still do this by tossing your fruit into a pot with some sugar, boil everything real (reeeal…..patience is key) slow until it falls apart, put it through a food mill and voila – jam! You can speed up the jam thickening and forming process by using pectin, a natural product derived from apples and citrus. While apples, peaches, plums, oranges and quinces already possess a lot of pectin naturally and may not need as much if making jam with these, other fruits and some berries can use the help and get you out of the hot kitchen faster. Want to jazz things up? Try adding peppers (hello, jalapeno apricot!) for a little bit of heat or cinnamon or nutmeg for a little more character. Scoop that into a hot sterilized jar and seal in a hot water bath for a taste of summer on toast in December.
Although many folks aren’t making their own tomato sauces or jams anymore, every family seems to have a recipe that’s been passed down for decades. Call up grandma or grandpa for a chat and see what wisdom they have to bestow!
Pickling and Fermenting:
Pickling and fermenting just about anything has made a huge come back in the past few years. Fermented foods are high in probiotics and help restore good bacteria in your digestive system. While you’re not going to find pickling cukes this time of year – there’s a ton of other veggies that can be pickled and stored away for later like cauliflower, cabbage, beans, peppers, onions, kohlrabi, turnips, carrots and beets! You can quick pickle your veggies with a vinegar brine or ferment them with salt, your favorite mixture of flavors, and time.
Sauerkraut is probably the easiest fermented food to make. Grate or chop up a few heads of green cabbage and kneed in a big bowl with a few spoonfuls of salt for about ten minutes. About two tablespoons of salt for every 2.5 pounds of cabbage is an equation that’s worked for me but once you make a few batches, you’ll see what works best for you. The salt draws out the water from the cabbage and creates a juice for it to ferment in. Depending on how much kraut you have, leave it in the bowl or transfer it to a clean bucket and weigh down with an upside down dinner plate. Protect your fermenting cabbage by covering the top with a tea towel secured with an elastic band. Place in cool spot where it won’t be disturbed and wait for 24 hours to make sure enough brine builds up to submerge all the cabbage. Once you know you have enough, check in every few days on the progress. In 4-6 weeks you’ll have delicious kraut.
If you’re a fan of the easy quick pickle, hot water vinegar pickling is your best bet. Keep in mind that when canning fall favorites like beets, beans or the last of your pepper harvest, low acid foods need to be pickled with vinegar first and can then be canned in a hot water bath. If you don’t want to pickle in vinegar, you’ll need a pressure canner to reach temperatures high enough to make sure it’s safe to eat (an awesome investment if you’re really looking to build up your pantry!).
My easy go-to brine to pickle four pounds of just about anything:
- 2 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 1/4 cup kosher or sea salt
- Combine these three ingredients and bring them to a slow boil allowing the salt to dissolve.
- Fill the bottoms of your sterilized jars with your flavors of choice. The list of what you can add to your picking vessels is endless – dill fronds or seed, crushed garlic cloves, spicy peppers cut lengthwise with the seeds left in, coriander or celery seeds, fennel, pepper corn, cumin, chillies…you name it, just leave out the powdered spices to avoid clouding your brine.
- Pack the veggies into your jars making sure there is an inch of space on top for brine and the jar to seal with ease.
- Pour the hot brine over top of your veggies and sprinkle in a few more spices while leaving half an inch of space at the top.
- Clean off the rim, seal with the lids and place into a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
- Pull safely, place on a clean towel to cool and listen for that “POP!” sound that lets you know they’ve sealed properly!
Preserving vegetables in oil:
Last but not least – antipasto style veggies, the traditional Italian way of preserving artichokes, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and of course, eggplant. This is another super easy process that just takes a bit of time and lets you avoid having to actually seal your jars with a pressure canner or hot water bath. Like the idea of a fridge or freezer full of rich, oily peppers and aubergines to place on paninis or pizza for the months to come? Take a peek in your favorite Italian cook book for an easy go to recipe and jar up your favorites!
Before you head into the kitchen:
For more information about preserving your harvest, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There you’ll find the ratios of sugar, salt and vinegar needed to safely preserve different fruits and vegetables, as well as the heats and times required to processed canned goods. Curious about what types of jars to use, or if the food is safe after canning? They can help with those questions and more! Canada’s Food Guide also offers quick tips and guidance.
Elly Rakhmetouline is Russian born and West Coast-raised. She’s extremely passionate about urban farming, the importance of eating in season and knowing where your food comes from. If vegetables, flowers and ceramics are your thing, you can follow along to her quiet little life @somebodylikessomething.