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What To Do With Summer's Produce Surplus

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?