Produce Preservation Tips

How to preserve produce | KaleAndAle.comYou have a lot of produce one way or another. It could be that all the tomatoes in your garden got ripe at once, corn was a crazy good deal and at its peak at the farmer’s market, or zucchini was in season this week in your CSA. No matter the reason, you just can’t eat it all and want to preserve it.

No matter how many times a coworker brings in food from a home garden or tree, or whatever is the “it” food of the week at the CSA, I pride myself on not being wasteful, and extending the produce of the season into the off season.

I know others have these same issues, and I’ve been so crazy busy the past week preserving food and know I will be as we sprint toward the first frost here in the Twin Cities, that I wanted to share my tips with you, and I want to hear your tips on how to preserve food.

My favorite ways to preserve food include:

Canning

I tried this for the first time last week. Not going to lie, it was a lot of work but the early tastes are delicious and it was fun to make and see the science of it. I got a lot of tips and recipes from the Ball jar website.

I will have salsa for a very long time to come. Someone who cans suggested tomato sauce and I love that idea because I will know what’s going in it and it can be canned in one- or two-meal can sizes, as I just don’t go through a jar from the store quickly.

Canning salsa | KaleAndAle.com

Canning salsa verde

Freezing

This has long been my go-to method. Freezing is easy and quick, and you have food stocked in your fridge for the off-season. It’s important to note that food that has been frozen won’t have the same texture or consistency once it’s defrosted, but what you freeze will be great in smoothies, soups, casseroles, things of that nature. And think come a cold winter day how great it will be to have food in your freezer you don’t need to buy that is home-grown!

In the photo below I have a vegan squash soup that I froze because it made a lot. If you aren’t sure how something already made will work in the freezer and through being defrosted, put one serving in the freezer and try it out to know for next time. Also, when freezing some foods need to be blanched, and use the right items to freeze it (freezer bags, tin foil to prevent frostbite, etc.). I like to label and date things so I quickly know what it is and how long it’s been in there.

Read more on the USDA freezing and food safety website.

Freeze produce | KaleAndAle.com

Freezing broth, veggies and soup

Quick pickle

Simply put, prepare what you want to pickle, put it in an airtight jar, and put vinegar and flavors over it. It’s a great way to add flavor and preserve something you can’t eat quick enough but want to enjoy. I especially like to quick pickle cucumbers, green beans and beets. I eat them straight, and on salads and sandwiches. I’ve made this flavorful beet recipe a few times. See the Serious Eats guide to quick pickling to get started.

Dehydrate

A dehydrator is large and can be a big initial investment, but if you have a lot of food to preserve or like the taste of dehydrated foods, it’s worth it. Dehydrated foods have so many uses, from fruit as quick, sweet snacks to raw crackers and granola to veggies so they don’t take up as much space or spoil before they are added to soups later. Read my post here about what I bought when I got a dehydrator.

Make broth

As noted on the left in the freezer picture is cubes of broth. Homemade broth is great because you know what’s (not) in it and you can use all the scraps from carrots, onions, potatoes and other veggies (and meat if you eat it) for the broth. So to me that’s win-win! And I love putting it in ice cube trays because I know how much broth they hold, so when a recipes calls for a certain amount I grab the right number of cubes. Read how I make my own broth here.

Give away

Gain favor of family, friends and coworkers in the easiest way: Give them extras of food you already have! This is a tried and true method, and at my last job it was very common and the best way to make new best friends.

What is your solution when you have too much produce?

Friday links

In my kitchen, I’m all about prepping food to make it easier to use quickly. When I get a big box of food from my CSA, I wash and prep it right away. That way it is ready to use and gets used before going bad.

So when I find links that address food prep, I’m loving them. I’ve seen a few this week I want to pass along.

Five useful skills to learn, which lists the skill and how to apply it.

20 tips and techniques for fruit and vegetable prep.

One of my favorites, how to dry fruits and vegetables. I love dried produce so much that I have a food dehydrator, but it can be done in the oven. Drying food gives it a more concentrated flavor. Foods can be snacked on dehydrated, preserved if you have too much, used in soups, salads, sandwiches or whatever else you come up with.

And if you still have leftover food you want to save before it goes bad, find out what food is freezable. I will often make extra of something to freeze and use later. Homemade, already prepared and no work. (Though I tend to stay away from freezing dairy, and sometimes freezing things changes the taste, texture or appearance.)

A nice list of what produce to keep in the fridge vs. on  the counter. (I was storing some of these in the wrong place!)

And if I have any food left that is starting to go bad, I have a few tricks on how to use it all before it’s too late!

Eggplant bacon

I’ve had a lot of bacon incidents recently. A coworker asked what I thought about bacon (nothing) and if I miss it (I don’t). I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with, but there is no denying it is very popular in everything right now and is a comfort food for many. I even have a vegetarian friend who is a big fan of bacon flavoring (most bacon flavoring is mostly soy). I think what I like most about it, if anything, is the saltiness. So when I saw the recipe to make fake bacon out of marinated eggplant, I was intrigued and gave it a shot.

This recipe is raw, vegan and gluten-free, super easy, has the umami flavor I crave and makes a ton of bacon (but it won’t last long!).

All it takes is slicing the eggplant, marinating it and dehydrating (or baking it in the oven, though it wouldn’t be raw). It couldn’t be simpler or tastier. Even if you aren’t vegetarian, it’s a way to add depth of flavor and veggies to a sandwich, salad or whatever.

And here are a few more tricks to add bacon’s smoky flavor to vegan, vegetarian and kosher dishes.

Eggplant bacon

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into thin (1/4 inch thick or less) slices
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3-5 drops liquid smoke
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika (or 1 tsp regular)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Optional add-ins: garlic, tomato sauce, cumin, cayenne pepper, mesquite powder

Directions

Go to The Full Helping for the recipe.

Dehydrating (everything in sight)

After much deliberation and lusting, I finally got a dehydrator!

I knew I would get use out of it from extra CSA food, if nothing else. And I have often dreamed of other great foods slow-cooked and dried at a low temperature. Every time I got to a raw or vegan restaurant and have raw crackers or bread, I vow to replicate the recipe and get the same great results at home. (Still looking forward to that; if anyone has tips, tricks or recipes I would love to hear them!)

So I got a Nesco; not too big, not too small. I read the book that came with the appliance (cause I’m a nerd like that) and got chopping and soaking foods. Right away I dried what seemed like a million apples. And it was awesome. I quickly dried more apples, and added strawberries and peaches to the drying process.

The natural sweetness of the fruit was intensified when the water was taken out. They were the perfect snacks to curb a sweet craving. Better than any dried fruit I’ve bought at a store. And the book says to experiment with flavorings and toppings before dehydrating. I can especially see this with spices and flavors on vegetables before dehydrating. My mind is swirling full of ideas and I want to dehydrate everything in my refrigerator.

All cut and ready to dry.

Dry, but smaller.

The only downside (and I must admit my mom warned me about this) was that the fruit shrunk so much! I put fruit in every little area of the trays and they shrink to less than half the size. I see why the company suggests adding trays (something I may do). However, this wouldn’t turn me away from dehydrating.

Also, food needs to be cut evenly to ensure even drying. And without a mandoline, that makes it difficult. But I hope to get one for my birthday (hint, hint) or will buy one, making the process quicker and easier.

Once I had dried apples, I went to the next level and made granola in the dehydrator. This made my house smell like sugar and fruits and nuts. It was awesome granola, with the scent being a huge bonus. Warm and finished, Bill and I had some and it was a clear winner that will be repeated — probably sooner than later! This seems like the type of recipe where any dried fruits and nuts on hand can be used.

Granola didn't last long

Harvest Granola

Ingredients

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup pecans or almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup dried apple, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried dates, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine al ingredients, mixing well.
  2. Spread onto solid dehydrator sheets and dry at 145° for 3 to 5 hours or until crunchy. (Can be done in an oven if you don’t have a dehydrator.)
  3. Store in an air-tight container.

What is your favorite food to dehydrate?