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What To Do With Summer's Produce Surplus

By Amber Pollei, August 17, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Amber Pollei

When life hands you lemons — you know what to do. But what about when the summer garden hands you a surplus of zucchini, tomatoes, basil, figs and more? Summer gardens can be wonderfully prolific. Before my organic backyard garden was attacked by my biggest garden foe (the squash vine borer), I jumped with joy at my zucchini harvest. Until it got out of hand.

At one point, I stood in the front yard and beckoned to neighbors, “Come see the garden!” Then I made sure they left with a zucchini and a few pattypan squash. I regularly picked baseball-bat size zukes from the vine — the largest weighed in at two pounds, eight ounces, and was made into four batches of zucchini bread. There were days when I ate zucchini at every meal.

Later in the season, there was a day that I used more tomatoes at one time than ever before in my life. Another day, I put away a gallon of pickled peppers from a single morning’s harvest. Keeping up with the summer garden is chore enough, and dealing with a surplus can be vexing — and inspiring. Here’s what to do with too much of a good thing.

Get Creative

Try new recipes and off-the-beaten-path substitutions. This can lead to phenomenal kitchen success. Forcing yourself to eat everything you pick is a wonderful way to introduce variety (out of necessity!). The zucchini plants really made me creative. The short story goes like this: zucchini quesadillas, enchiladas, salsa, fritters, fries, tacos, chilaquiles, roll-ups, bread, cookies, pancakes, margaritas and (my favorite) brownies. Step outside of your comfort zone and turn to the Internet for limitless ideas. Then share those random concoctions with co-workers. (Fun fact: Colleagues love zucchini brownies and muffins!)

Give, Give, Give

Friends, neighbors, co-workers, and passersby will become blissfully aware of your garden surplus. Share with many, so that no one person is now left to deal with twelve pounds of peaches. (Unless, of course, they’re ready to make jam!) And if everyone you know has had it up to their ears with just-picked cherry tomatoes, do a little research to find a food pantry in the area that accepts perishable items. Soup kitchens and other charitable outlets may have a need for fresh vegetables.

Have a Potluck

A twist on the giving: Dole out your garden produce to friends — and then invite them to bring it over in a new shape. Assign everyone a different part of the meal, but give them the same vegetable or fruit to cook, and see what they come up with! As the host, be sure to have wines that pair well with tomatoes, or whatever it is your garden is bursting with.

Can, Preserve, Freeze and Pickle

Try your hand at preserving the bounty. Freezing is one of the simplest and works for many summer veggies and fruits (peaches, corn, okra and green beans come to mind first). Dehydrating is another great way to save the summer crop of tomatoes and figs. Quick pickles make short work of an otherwise arduous task, whether for cucumbers or peppers, and if you’re up for the challenge, small batches of preserves are a lot of fun.

Making sauces, pesto, salsas in bulk and freezing the harvest for future use are other great ways to get more mileage out of your crop. I like to make a large batch of basil pesto, pour it into an ice cube tray, freeze it and store in a container. Convenient little pesto pops!

I’d love to know how you keep up with a bountiful garden?

Category: Gardening




iGOZEN says ...
Often times with home gardens when they get moving they can really produce more than one family can consume. It is important to find great ways to spread the veggie wealth.
08/17/2012 11:17:53 AM CDT
Ruth Holewinski says ...
I'm about ready to make a mega batch of my famous pesto. The basil is wonderful this year! Usually, I freeze small containers and lucky is the person who gets Ruth's pesto. But in six months, that container of pesto is so precious! And it's usually more than someone else would use at one time. I love your ice cube sized pesto idea! I can give from a few to many away depending on the person.... pesto lover with a larger family or a single friend. Excellent! Thank you!
08/17/2012 2:29:20 PM CDT
Virginia says ...
How about some recipes?
08/17/2012 3:07:46 PM CDT
Mary Murphy says ...
My husband and I have an organic garden and this year has been great, I have put up frozen zucchini, yellow squash, corn, green beans, Butter beans and butter peas, old fashion yard peas, okra, hot peppers and canned quarts of Roma Tomatoes for spaghetti and big tomatoes for Veggie soup. The Lord has blessed this garden for us 2 seniors and we thank Him. We love to come to whole foods also. Thanks and God Bless, Mary
08/17/2012 3:20:00 PM CDT
Betty Bujas says ...
I have frozen my excess green beans for later when I wil be pining for them. I also freeze plum and cherry tomatoes to make paste in the winter. I am thinking of making popsicles (with my pop maker) out of tomatoes. They are so sweet that I think they might be good as a pop. The Japanese egplant and zucchini have been marinated and grilled. I prefer to eat the zuchini raw because they are so good so I do not let them grow large . There will be none to freeze! I am anxiously awaiting the heads of Romanesco cauliflower. It is a challenge this year with the heat. I dry most of the herbs or make pesto and freeze that. The herbs are made into wreaths and dried to give as gifts to my friends.
08/17/2012 3:36:58 PM CDT
AnnMarie says ...
Try dehydrating thinly slice zucchini for a wonderful veggie chip or to rehydrate and use over the winter months. My family loves them and they have no preservatives
08/17/2012 3:38:16 PM CDT
eileen says ...
Car as a dehydrator - I put an expandable screen up on a couple blocks of wood over some plastic in the back of my hatchback. I halve figs and cherry tomatos, or slice larger fruits such as peaches. If it's really sunny and dry they take only a day, otherwise up to 2. I bring them in over night...just in case.
08/17/2012 3:40:32 PM CDT
Connie says ...
You could also list your excess produce online at CropSwap. This Northwest start-up enables gardeners to list items and search for items in their region by zip code, which means you could turn those zucchinis into...plums! All it takes is one user to sign up in a region, share on Facebook or Twitter, and your region can start swapping. The Seattle-Tacoma region already has a huge selection of crops and swappers! Check it out at .... http://www.cropswap.me.
08/17/2012 3:41:44 PM CDT
Emily says ...
I totally giggled at your list of things you make with zucchini - I can relate - we have enough of those "baseball bats" to keep a little league squad in arms! Zucchini is not such a problem for me since you can freeze it pureed or grated for cakes and breads. The summer squash has proven a challenge. I know from bad experience, it will NOT freeze as a side dish unless you like it mushy and tasteless. In a pinch for a quick pasta sauce, I recently put a batch of cooked leftover squash side-dish in my Vitamix whirred it to lumpy consistency and added some leftover tomato paste I had - came out awesome! So now I'm making huge batches of side dish each time then freezing it in the lumpy state. When our tomatoes come in, I make sauce. I can thaw and combine a container of each whenever I need pasta sauce. Squash used, problem solved.
08/17/2012 3:42:09 PM CDT
betty ballard says ...
The Food Bank and the Union Mission will always welcome fresh produce. They may send out some one to pick it up; just have to call them to give address.
08/17/2012 4:01:31 PM CDT
nikki.newman says ...
@VIRGNIA - You came to the right place for recipe ideas! Here are some of my top faves: Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2314), Sauteed Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1635), Chocolate-Dipped Figs with Almonds (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2841), and Squash and Tomato Basil Salsa (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/163). My mouth is watering, how about yours?!
08/17/2012 4:30:00 PM CDT
silvia fregoso says ...
I like to fill my freezer with fresh tomatoes year throuth year and I use them all year long. I make Tomatote soup, Mexican salsas and basically anything with tomatoes. Taste never change!
08/17/2012 4:33:05 PM CDT
Tina says ...
well, i just put up 8 pints of mustard pickle and am about to do some homemade salsa tomorrow :) It's going to be a rainy day, so perfect timing ! YUM
08/17/2012 5:12:57 PM CDT
mars says ...
donate to local food pantry!
08/17/2012 6:08:51 PM CDT
Jana Pendragon Bowdish says ...
More often than not everyone has lots of zucchini and can't give it away fast enough. One idea for the excess it to shred this green wonder into ribbons and treat it like pasta. Par boil quickly, just enough to heat through, and then serve with your best sauce and a salad...healthy, filling and fun!
08/17/2012 6:31:09 PM CDT
Dianne says ...
I wish you lived near me. I would take all of them plus all of the tomatoes you could give me. I love neighbors that have too many home grown veggies! Thanks for all the suggestions!
08/17/2012 7:37:49 PM CDT
Gigi says ...
I eat it all! I live in the city and feel absolutely blessed to have a small little plot of land to a few veggies and herbs. Luckily, I love tomatoes and can eat them dressed with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and kosher salt three times a day (and many times do). I've become very creative with zucchini - zucchini and basil scrambled eggs, zucchini fritters, roasted zucchini and sauteed zucchini with pasta. I've even made bloody mary popsicles with my heirloom tomatoes. Enjoy all of it because it will be cabbage, cabbage, cabbage in the March.
08/17/2012 7:58:08 PM CDT
Beth says ...
When I have friends giving me zucchini, I throw it in my food processor and freeze it. then defrost it come October/November and turn it into my zucchini bread. Works like a charm!
08/18/2012 5:31:26 AM CDT
Helga GEnannt Matzko says ...
Love your suggestions. Unfortunately, we live in the woods and our wonderful "wild" animals enjoy everything we planted. I don't have the heart to stop them. Dear reward us with their presence, even woodchucks, less friendly, but nevertheless very real. I know what starving is like from my childhood experiences, I wouldn't want animals to starve if I can help it. Then, of course, there are the private organization which I am always supporting. Keep up the good work. Helga
08/18/2012 7:26:23 AM CDT
Ann Gengel says ...
Thanks for suggesting donating to Food Pantries. There is such a huge need and fresh produce is expensive, but delicious.
08/18/2012 9:28:11 AM CDT
J. Everett says ...
Hi, Here is a link for Philabunance which will accept your garden surplus at various locations throughout the Delaware Valley. http://www.philabundance.org/2012/07/31/share-your-harvest/
08/18/2012 3:16:10 PM CDT
Victoria says ...
I cut up my zucchini, onions, eggplant and any other squash put them in tin foil with olive oil some garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. They then go on the grill while it's warming up and when the meat is done my veggies are done. Usually there is more that enough for one meal so I take the leftovers, put them in a freezer bag and freeze. In the winter I make a soup base with some chicken "Better than bullion" and add the frozen veggies and chicken/ rice and I have a wonderful soup. It's quick and easy and oh so good!
08/19/2012 11:07:28 AM CDT
Audrey says ...
Tomatos freeze! I froze gallon bags of peeled tomatos last fall and they came of the freezer just beautiful. They will look a little a little watery when they come out, but that may be OK if you need them for a soup or chile that needs a little water anyway. I drained the frozen tomatos for a salsa and had the most beautiful, deep red tomatos you would ever want to put in your salsa.
08/20/2012 2:09:47 PM CDT
Johanna Grau says ...
My apple tree is loaded, not quite ripe yet. Cannot eat apples, where do I go with a tree so full????
08/21/2012 1:17:38 PM CDT
nikki.newman says ...
@JOHANNA - I would suggest reaching out to a local food bank in your area to see if they would come and pick them for you! They might also have other suggestions of youth organizations or non-profits that would be interested. Good luck!
08/21/2012 2:44:06 PM CDT