Whether it’s coming from your own garden or the organic farms we’re so lucky to represent in our aisles, this is peak BC produce season. It’s so wonderful to enjoy all this fresh local flavour—it’s pretty hard to beat a tomato ripened in the warm BC sun! But the very definition of fresh and seasonal means that this local harvesting moment can’t last for ever, so we’ve gathered some great tips on how you can preserve your piles of cukes and pears so you can enjoy them throughout the year!
Using tomatoes at their peak seasonal ripeness can lead to some phenomenal pasta and pizza sauces! With fresh tomatoes it will take some time to simmer and reduce a good sauce, but the flavour is well worth the wait, and once you’ve preserved your creation you’ve set yourself up for a bunch of quick and easy dinners throughout the year so it all balances out! Your options for preserving pasta sauce are either freezing it, or canning it. Your decision here might depend on a few things, perhaps most importantly freezer space vs. cupboard space. But the other thing you’ll want to weigh out is: frozen tomato sauce can suffer a little with the consistency, while canned tomato sauce will hold a freshly cooked consistency better, but it needs to be made a bit more acidic with the addition of lemon juice or vinegar in order to be safely canned. While it’s a very simple process, if you go with the canning option it is important to use a tested recipe/process to ensure the preservation happens as intended!
Pickles and Preserves
Whether it’s garlic-y dill pickles or cinnamon-y pears the upshot is, you can slice up your favourite fruit or vegetable, put it in jars, add some delicious spices, and enjoy them at your leisure. But here are a few quick notes on pickling vs. water bath/pressure canning: Pickling relies on anaerobic fermentation instigated by salt or vinegar, which results in the lovely probiotics that are so justifiably beloved these days; canning is the process of sterilizing food with heat, and sealing it in sterilized jars. For both, it is important to follow tested recipes, and to be aware that each recipe and process will have its own shelf-life. ‘Refrigerator pickles’ may only last an extra week or two, while kimchi and sauerkraut can carrying on happily fermenting at room temperature for months, and some canning processes can last years!
Jams / Jellies / Marmalades / Chutneys
What’s the difference, anyway?? Well, jellies are essentially strained jams. Marmalades are made with citrus fruits, and include their rinds. Chutneys use vegetables as well as fruits and a whole lot of spices! When making any of the above, sugar acts as a preservative and works with the canning process to increase shelf life. They can be a lot of fun to make because you can be so creative with them, mixing up all kinds of fruits and berries, and adding whatever herbs and spices strike your fancy. A generous smear of strawberry basil or rosemary apricot jam can be just the thing to warm your spirits with summery memories on a rainy Monday morning in January.
Dried Fruit and Vegetable
This is just a reminder that you don't need a purpose built dehydrator to dry fruits and vegetables. Your oven will do, and there are tons of guides online! The important thing is to store dehydrated foods in airtight containers until you're ready to use them. Depending on how much they've been dried, they can easily last a few months but as with everything don't forget to employ common sense and if you're unsure about the length of time, just check for any signs of mold. These are fantastic snacks for all ages, and it's very comforting knowing that no extra sugars or chemical preservatives have been added!
Storing Root Crops
Sometimes all that's required for a long shelf life is prepping the right shelf. When it comes to root crops—potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, etc.—the key issues are temperature and humidity, which means somewhere not too cold (or they'll freeze), not too warm (or they'll sprout and rot), and not too dry (or they'll shrivel up). The ideal technical numbers for this are roughly between 0 and 5 degrees celsius, and 95% relative humidity, and depending on where you live, this can mean very different things in terms of storage. Maybe a container on a balcony would work, or maybe an insulated cupboard in a basement or garage. Either way, here are some pre-storage tips that will help you extend edibility a little even if you can't secure ideal, multi-month root cellar conditions.
- Harvest in the morning after a few days of dry weather and allow them to dry off outside for a day.
- Cut the leaves and stalks from the tops of the vegetables at just above the root crown. There is no need to wash or clean the roots, and it's actually better to handle them as little as possible to prevent bruising and nicking.
- Remove any vegetables that are damaged, diseased or broken from your to-be-stored pile—these can be set aside for immediate use (just cut out any damage and enjoy!). Blemish-free roots will last the longest in storage.