Preserving the tastes of summer

It is that wonderful time of year when all of the hard work on your garden throughout the year really pays off.  It is also the time when everything becomes ripe all at once, resulting in more produce than you can physically eat before it starts to go bad.

While this may seem a bit frustrating after you have waited all summer for the delicious freshness of a tomato from the vine, the beauty of this inundation is that you have the opportunity to preserve these tastes of summer to savor on a cold winter’s day.

There are certain things that I prefer to preserve over others.  For example, pickled zucchini or summer squash is not something I prefer; however, there are many kinds of pickles that I love.  I also adore dilly beans, canned raw tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato puree, peaches in light sugar, peach relish, salsa, pepper jelly, pesto, corn and of course jam.

There are three methods of preserving that I utilize: freezing, drying and canning.  I think certain items do better with certain methods of preserving.  Freezing is of course the simplest, but once you get the hang of canning it is really quite easy.

Corn is something that I much prefer frozen rather than canned.  While nothing beats fresh corn on the cob in August, in mid February, frozen corn cut off the cob is an amazing reminder that summer is not so far away.  During corn season, I always buy a dozen, even if it is just the two of us for dinner.  I will husk and cook the whole dozen and then preserve the remaining corn cobs.  I take the remaining corn cobs and cut off the corn.  Freezing it in quart bags, with three or four ears per bag, depending on their size.  This amount tends to mean that there is about two to two and a half cups of corn per bag and this is about the amount that Nate and I will eat in one meal.  In addition, this also tends to be the perfect amount of corn for use in a variety of recipes that I enjoy and hope to share with you in the months to come.

Pesto is another thing that I think does best when frozen.  My favorite is a traditional basil pesto (recipe to follow), which I usually make several recipes of each summer and then freeze in ice cube trays.  Once the pesto ice cubes have frozen through, I break them out of the trays and place all the cubes in a single freezer bag.  This way, I save freezer bags and can thaw a small amount of pesto for use on a pizza, or a larger amount to serve over fresh pasta.

Classic Basil Pesto

Adapted from Pestos!: Cooking with Herb Pastes by Dorothy Rankin
 
2 Cups fresh basil leaves
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 Cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tablespoons fresh Romano cheese, grated
1/4 Cup pine nuts
1/3 to 1/2 Cup olive oil
salt and peper to taste
 
  1. Combine the first five ingredients in a food processor or blender.
  2. Pulse several times to mix, then, with the machine running on a low speed, slowly pour in olive oil and process until you achieve the desired oiliness and a smooth consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and pulse a few more times to integrate.
  4. Let sit for about 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld before serving.
* If you plan to freeze, scrape the pesto into ice cube trays and cover each cube with a thin layer of olive oil before freezing.  
 

Makes about 1 Cup.

Drying is a simple process, with I use most often to preserve hot peppers from the garden.  These really do seem to come all at once, and despite my love of spicy food, I never seem to be able to use them as quickly as they become ripe, so I use my drier to preserve their bite for the rest of the year.  I simply slice the peppers in rounds down the length of the pepper disregarding the seeds, and place them in the drier for 12 hours at medium temperature (Check your manufacture’s directions).  For the most part the seeds fall out of the peppers during the drying process.  Once they are dry just place the pepper slices in an airtight container and use crumbled in soups, beans or anything else in which you enjoy a little spice.

Jelly, jam and anything pickled is best canned.  While small batches of each of these can be made to refrigerate for a month or two, and jam can be made for the purposes of freezing, the best long term results are reached through canning.  There are two types of canning, water bath and pressure canning.  Jams, jellies and pickles, are all easily processed in a water bath.  Hot pepper jelly has to be my favorite.  It makes a great appetizer served with a bit of cream cheese on a cracker, I like Carr’s Table Water Crackers the best for this.

Hot Pepper Jelly

Adapted from Ball Natural Gel Original Fruit Pectin Recipes 
 
4 cups peppers, chopped 
2 medium green bell peppers
2 meduim red bell peppers
8 to 10 jalapeño peppers
1 cup cider vinegar
1 package fruit pectin
5 cups sugar
 
  1. Combine the chopped peppers, vinegar and pectin in a large sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Add in sugar a cup at a time, stirring to dissolve between each addition.
  3. Return to a boil and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Using a canning funnel, ladle the mixture into sterile mason jars (I like to use the 4 oz. [1/4 pint] jelly jars because I think it is the perfect serving size), until it reaches about a half inch from the top of the jar, wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth, place on a sterile lid and hand tighten.
  5. Process in a water bath for ten minutes.

Makes 12 1/4 pints.

Tomatoes can also be done in a water bath with a little added acidity from a touch of lemon juice; however, since purchasing a pressure canner, I tend to process my raw tomatoes, tomato puree and tomato sauce under pressure, because it tends to take less time.  For all such tomato incarnations, I simply place the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for a second or two, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bath of cold water.  Let cool for a few seconds and then, using a paring knife, the tomatoes are very easy to peel and core.

  • For raw tomatoes, simply slice the tomatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size, and transfer them to a sterile canning jar with a dash of ascorbic acid.  After each tomato is added to the jar, use a small rubber spatula to press down on the tomatoes, compacting them, creating juice and removing the air.  Once the compacted tomatoes reach within half an inch of the top of the jar, wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth, place on a sterile lid and hand tighten.  Process under 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes.
  • For tomato puree, it is best to use paste tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes are peeled and cored, place them in a food processor and process until smooth, then scrape the tomato puree into a stockpot and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half or until the puree thickens and reduces by about a third.  Using a canning funnel, ladle the puree into sterile mason jars with a squirt of bottled lemon juice, until it reaches about a half inch from the top of the jar.  Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth, place on a sterile lid and hand tighten.  Process under 11 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.
  • For tomato sauce, dice onions and bell peppers in a food processor and simmer in a large stockpot.  Once the tomatoes are peeled and cored, cut them into half-inch chunks and add them to the pot.  Simmer the mixture for an hour to an hour and a half or until the tomato chunks loose their shape and the sauce becomes unified.  Using a canning funnel, ladle the puree into sterile mason jars with a squirt of bottled lemon juice, until the sauce reaches about a half inch from the top of the jar, wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth, place on a sterile lid and hand tighten.  Process under 11 pounds of pressure for 15 minutes.

This year, between my mother and I, we canned about two bushels of tomatoes, out of which we made salsa, as well as all of the above.  Since our gardens do not yield as many tomatoes as we wanted, we bought additional tomatoes in bulk from a local farm stand, so that we can enjoy them all winter over pasta, in soups and many other creations.

The other sweet summer treat that we buy in bulk at a local farm stand, are peaches.  This year, we canned a bushel of peaches in the form of peach relish, as well as whole peaches in a very light syrup.

  • To can peaches in light syrup, peel them the same way as the tomatoes, simply place them in a pot of boiling water for a second or two, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bath of cold water.  Let cool for a few seconds, then using a paring knife, the skin should peel off easily.  Next, slice the peaches in half, remove the pit and place them in a bowl of ascorbic acid solution (one teaspoon to one gallon of water) so that the liquid covers them, this prevents the peaches from turning brown.  Once all the peaches are prepared, drain well, and transfer the peach halves to a stock pot containing a very light sugar solution (1 cup sugar to 1 quart water, yields 4 1/2 cups syrup).  Be sure that there is enough of the sugar solution to cover the peaches, then simmer until the peaches are heated through.  Using a slotted spoon transfer the peaches to sterile wide mouth mason jars, cut side down, placing one half on top of another.  Next, using a canning funnel, ladle syrup into the jar so that it fills the air pockets, until the syrup reaches about an inch of the top of the jar.  Once full, run a small spatula around the peaches and between the inside of the jar to remove any excess air.  Then, wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth, place on a sterile lid and hand tighten.  Process under 6 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes.

Canning is time consuming no matter how you do it, so the best advice I can give is to recruit someone to join you in the process.  It goes much faster with two sets of hands, and is much more enjoyable with company.

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