Your garden is a labor of love. You work all spring and summer planting, weeding and battling pests, all for the big payoff: fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables that are a world above anything the grocery store has to offer.
The big drawback is that you usually end up harvesting tomatoes and zucchini faster than your family can eat them, causing some of your precious harvest to go to waste. And once harvest season is over, you’re stuck with the produce department.
Don’t let your hard work go to waste! Read on for tips on preserving tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, and peaches, and enjoy their flavors all year ’round, including some methods you’ve never thought of.
Tomatoes are the number-one garden crop in the U.S., and it’s easy to see why. These sweet, versatile fruits bring everything from salads to hamburgers to life.
And who doesn’t love a BLT made with fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes? But this garden crop is also notoriously hard to keep up with once harvest time rolls around.
Here are some options for preserving this wonderful summer fruit:
1. Freezing. Freezing your freshly-harvested tomatoes is a great way to enjoy their superior flavor all year, and avoid those bland supermarket tomatoes. Organic Gardening Magazine offers step-by-step instructions for peeling and freezing tomatoes, or for freezing tomatoes with the skins on and peeling them after you thaw them out.
2. Pickling. Pickling your summer tomatoes adds a tart and spicy flavor to the tomatoes’ sweetness. This healthy recipe also incorporates bell peppers and fresh garlic, which are also popular garden crops. Why not preserve 3 crops at once?
3. Dehydrating. Home dehydrators are easy to use, and dehydrating your tomatoes gives you little bundles of concentrated flavor that are easy to store or freeze. You can eat dehydrated tomatoes as a healthy, delicious snack, or use them in recipes that call for sun-dried tomatoes.
4. Tomato Jam. Tomato jam is a unique combination of sweet and savory. It is delicious spread on toast, and you can spread it on crackers and top with goat cheese to create a sophisticated appetizer for dinner guests. This recipe uses oven-roasted tomatoes, which add extra depth to the flavor. Freeze tomato jam to enjoy it all year.
Peaches seem to pack all of summer’s sweetness into small, fuzzy globes. Fresh peaches don’t keep forever, though, and canned peaches from the store can sometimes take on an unpleasant metallic taste.
Here are some ways to preserve the peaches you get from your fruit trees or local farmers’ market this summer, and enjoy their sweetness through the winter:
1. Freezing. Freezing peaches locks in their flavor without the need for canning. Just blanch, peel and pit the peaches, and then you can freeze them in a variety of ways. Better Homes and Gardens gives step-by-step instructions for freezing peaches in water, sugar or syrup.
2. Making cobbler filling. Peaches were made for cobbler, and cobbler filling is our Wet & Forget team member Melissa’s favorite way for freezing peaches. Melissa simply follows this recipe from Williams-Sonoma to make batches of cobbler filling, and freezes each batch in a freezer bag. Then, when her family is ready for warm peach cobbler on a cold winter day, she just brings a batch of filling to room temperature, makes the quick and easy cobbler dough, pops it in the oven, and, voilà! Her family has made-from scratch peach cobbler to warm their bellies and bring the taste of summer to the depths of December.
3. Making freezer jam. Peach jam is delicious on toast in the morning, or even on top of vanilla ice cream. Freezer jam gives you all of the delicious sweetness without any of the canning hassle. Eating Well Magazine has this recipe for freezer jam, which comes with different quantities of sugar, so you can choose how sweet your jam will be.
Cucumbers give a refreshing flavor to salads, sandwiches and soups, but much of your fresh cucumber harvest will spoil if you don’t preserve some. Here are some delicious options:
1. Freezing. Freezing cucumbers is a fresh, easy option for keeping these delicious veggies after harvest-time has passed. Organic Gardening Magazine recommends peeling your cucumbers and freezing them in chunks, and also suggests ingredients for a refreshing off-season smoothie.
2. Making dill pickles. Dill pickles are a perennial favorite, and homemade pickles have a flavor that will blow those store-bought pickles out of the water. Epicurious.com has a homemade dill pickle recipe for that’s gotten rave reviews.
2. Making bread-and-butter pickles. Bread-and-butter pickles, also called sweet pickles, are an excellent companion to the more tart dill variety. Here is a popular sweet pickle recipe from Allrecipes.com.
Zucchini is a yummy addition to salads, pasta, and lots of other dishes. Although it’s popularly known as “summer squash,” here are some ways to save some zucchini for the rest of the year:
1. Making zucchini bread. Let’s face it: Growing zucchini without making any zucchini bread would just be downright wrong. Zucchini bread also freezes very well; Wet & Forget team member Melissa makes several loaves each summer and freezes them, and thaws out a loaf when her family has a craving for cinnamony goodness. A slice of zucchini bread warmed up in the microwave and smeared with melting butter is a little piece of heaven. Here’s a yummy zucchini bread recipe, courtesy of The Kitchn.
2. Making zucchini relish. Zucchini relish is a fresh take on sweet pickle relish. Once you’ve tried homemade zucchini relish, you’ll never go back to the stuff from the supermarket! To preserve your zucchini relish, you can either can it or freeze it.
3. Making zucchini dill pickles. Zucchini dill pickles put a new twist on the familiar favorite. Here’s a recipe for zucchini dill pickles, courtesy of Bon Appétit magazine.
Whether you grow your own corn or buy it fresh on the cob at the local farmers’ market, you just can’t beat the flavor of fresh-picked sweet corn. Freezing corn yourself ensures that it’s been preserved at the peak of freshness, with all of the flavor and vitamins intact. Here are two options:
1. Freezing plain corn. Freezing corn fresh off the cob preserves its flavor, and gives you flexibility when it comes to using it in recipes. Organic Gardening Magazine provides these easy-to-follow instructions for freezing fresh corn.
2. Freezing cream-style corn. Cream-style corn is perfect for making recipes such as soups, corn fritters and scalloped corn. Making your own cream-style corn from scratch will add a better flavor to your recipes than the canned corn from the store, and cream-style corn is easy to make in batches and freeze in freezer bags. About.com has this recipe for homemade cream-style corn on their Southern Food page.
Photo courtesy of Missy.