It may be the end of summer and 90 degrees as I write this, but winter seems to be on many people's minds lately.
Thinking of winter is enough to make me want to start stockpiling sweaters, warm blankets and whisky, but what I should be stockpiling are summer's fruits and vegetables.
There are several ways you can preserve summer's goodness to enjoy throughout the winter. When you pull out cubes of frozen herbs to throw in a stew in January or a jar of peach preserves in February, you'll be glad you took the time to preserve them.
I'm starting with what may seem like the most daunting method, and I completely understand that. I was so concerned about doing it right that it took me years to finally can a small batch of jam. In the end, I discovered it was an easy process, and the sense of accomplishment I felt when it was done made it more than worth it. The enjoyment I got throughout the winter from my homemade jams made the two hours or so I spent on each batch time well spent.
Here are some tips and recipes to start you on your way to canning if you're new to boiling jars in a hot water bath to seal in all the goodness.
- Start really small. I suggest trying a recipe from Marisa McClellan's "Preserving by the Pint" that's written specifically for creating small batches in small spaces. Or, head over to her Food in Jars blog to find a small batch canning recipe there.
- Watch videos. YouTube and other video channels have made doing-it-yourself so much easier. Try this video that shows how to can tomatoes, tomato sauce and salsa so none of the sun-kissed beauties go to waste.
- Small batch Gingery Pickled Blueberries recipe
- Small batch Pickled Okra recipe
- Can, but don't hot water bath. Many things you put in jars will last for a few weeks in the refrigerator, so if you have produce that needs to get used or you'll lose it and you don't want to preserve it long term, you can make foods like fig jam, salted lemons or bourbon soaked cherries that don't need the hot water bath.
Pickling is another way to preserve fresh produce that's less time-intensive than canning and uses fewer kitchen gadgets, too. Try these tips and recipes.
- Turn your abundance of cucumber into Bread and Butter Pickles.
- Turn end-of-season green grape and cherry tomatoes into Green Tomato Olives.
- You may not think of carrots, green beans and asparagus as pickling vegetables, but they are.
You can freeze as much of summer's bounty as your freezer has room for. Fresh vegetables can be quickly blanched and then stored in freezer-safe containers. Ball makes plastic freezer jars in various sizes that are great for things like jams, soups and more. Here are some other ideas for freezing produce.
- Make tomato paste with your tomatoes and then freeze the paste in tablespoon amounts so you can pull just a small amount out of the freezer as you need it.
- Roast and freeze red peppers. At the end of summer, red peppers are plentiful and inexpensive. I buy a bunch and roast and freeze in hummus-ready batches to use in Roasted Red Pepper Hummus all winter long.
- Freeze fresh herbs in ice cube trays so you don't have to pay $1.99 a bunch every time you want parsley, basil or chives in the winter.
Making it boozy
The easiest way to preserve fresh produce is to get it drunk. I mentioned making bourbon-soaked cherries above. They can last for 30 days in the refrigerator (if you and your friends don't eat them all in one sitting). Try these other ways to marry booze and fruit.
- Infuse vodka. Vodka's neutral flavor makes it perfect for infusing with produce like jalapeño (for Bloody Marys), blood oranges, kiwis, pineapple, berries and more.
- Make cello. Limoncello is the most common of the fruit-infused vodka and sugar drinks, but strawberries, rhubarb, cherries and other fruits can also be used in cello. (I now have a desperate desire to make a strawberry-rhubarbcello).
- Shrubs are another way to preserve fruits, and although there is no booze in a shrub, the syrups are great additions to cocktails like my cocktail that uses strawberry shrub and limoncello.
Hopefully you've found some inspiration and at least one preservation method that you're comfortable with so you can be enjoying summer's bounty even in the predicted frigid weather.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in August 2015.