Sometimes simpler really is better. I love to can, but I can’t always find the time or energy to devote to it. The good news is that no one has to turn his or her kitchen into a steaming canning factory to preserve great summer fruits and veggies. Anyone can tackle easy preserving projects like freezing, drying and pickling on a relaxingly small scale.
Capturing the freshness of produce by freezing it is one of the best and easiest preserving techniques. Freezing breaks down the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, so they may be somewhat squishy when thawed, but the flavor will be excellent. Use containers or resealable plastic bags specifically designed for freezing and minimize the amount of air the food is exposed to and your foods should keep well for 6 months.
Small fruits like cherries and berries
Discard any overripe or bruised fruit. Remove stems or pits. Arrange clean, dry fruit in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. As soon as fruit is frozen solid (2 to 8 hours), transfer it to resealable freezer bags; remove as much air as possible from the bags before sealing.
Most veggies will maintain color and texture better if cooked briefly in boiling water first. You’ll want to trim and cut them into bite-size pieces, then drop them in boiling water just until their colors deepen and they start to tenderize, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain immediately and cool in cold water. Drain again and pat dry before freezing as described for small fruits, above.
Large fruits and vegetables like mangoes, butternut squash opens in a new tab and even tomatoes opens in a new tab can be puréed first for easier freezing. Simply trim and peel the fruits and whirl them in a food processor. You can run them through a food mill or sieve to remove fibers and seeds if necessary, then pack the purée in freezer-safe containers or resealable plastic bags.
For produce that must be cooked before puréeing, such as winter squash, first roast and then scoop and store the purée as described above.
Preserving foods by removing moisture is one of the oldest and easiest techniques. And talk about low-tech: Some twine is all you need to tie together a bouquet of woody-stemmed herbs like lavender or sage; hang them upside down in a cool dry place and you’ll be experiencing the joys of air-drying.
And although dehydrating appliances are a good investment for enthusiasts, simple oven-drying works wonderfully. For best results, dry produce on a metal rack set over a sheet pan to maximize air circulation. Trim or peel the food as desired, and remember that thin slices will dry more quickly and evenly. A temperature of 170°F in your oven is low enough to remove moisture and high enough to simultaneously destroy bacteria, but higher temperatures can work as well. Interested? Try these two irresistible recipes: Eggplant “Bacon” opens in a new tab and Dried Fruit Chews opens in a new tab.
Cocktail Cherries opens in a new tabREFRIGERATOR PICKLES
No special equipment required here: Just get some fresh produce, a few glass jars and some simple ingredients together in your fridge and you can preserve a bit of summer for weeks or months. By submerging foods in acid, alcohol or sugar, decomposition is brought to a near standstill. That’s the technique used in these easy recipes for Pickled Cajun Green Beans and Carrots opens in a new tab, Pickled Mango Spears opens in a new tab and boozy Cocktail Cherries opens in a new tab.
I hope you’ll give some of these techniques a try. Remember, summer days may be fleeting, but summer flavors don’t have to be! Share your favorite ways to hold on to summer in the comments section below.