All of your hard work in the garden is paying off as you bring in your delicious harvest. And while bountiful is good, sometimes you can end up with so much bounty that some of those delectable tomatoes go bad before you can eat them, or you find yourself pushing zucchinis on every guest who walks through your door. Then the season is over too soon, and you find yourself longing for your delicious homegrown fruits and vegetables. We’ve got you covered! Read on for tips on preserving fresh herbs such as basil and rosemary, fresh fruits such as peaches and nectarines, berries such as blackberries and cherries, and, of course, tomatoes and zucchinis. Now you can get the most out of your harvest, and savor summer’s flavors when the snow flies!
Tomatoes are the most popular garden vegetable in the U.S., and for good reason. These scrumptious fruits/veggies defy classification with their deliciousness, and their versatility is nearly unmatched. What other ingredient goes equally well plain with a little basil, olive oil and mozzarella, sun-dried and sautéed with corn and edamame, or simmered down into a complex, smoky barbecue sauce?
Growing your own tomatoes allows you to choose from a huge variety of delectable cultivars, as well as enjoy a level of freshness that you just can’t get at the grocery store. But the harvest season is limited, and fresh tomatoes don’t store for long. Here are a few ways to prolong the life of your summer harvest:
- Dehydrate your tomatoes. This is what’s called “sun dried tomatoes.” Just like so many of our favorite foods–bacon, dill pickles, and ham, to name a few–sun dried tomatoes were invented as a way to preserve tomatoes. While folks used to have to dry their tomatoes in the sun, now we have a faster, more modern way that keeps your tomatoes away from the birds and bugs: electric food dehumidifiers. Dehumidifiers range in price from the expensive luxury models, to this affordable version. Dried tomatoes store for a long time, and you can use them in lots of recipes. This recipe for tri-color vegetable sauté is an absolute favorite at Wet & Forget team member Melissa’s house!
- Make tomato jam. Tomato jam can be sweet or savory, and is delicious on toast or bagels. You can keep tomato jam for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, or for months in the freezer. This tomato jam recipe from The Kitchn slow roasts your fresh tomatoes to concentrate their heavenly flavor, then mixes in garlic and black pepper for more savory goodness. This mouth-watering tomato jam is perfect on crackers with mozzarella or a smear of goat cheese.
- Use a tomato press. If you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with, then a tomato press is an invaluable tool for your kitchen arsenal. Just like with food dehydrators, you can spend a lot for a fancy model, or less for an affordable option, depending on your budget and on the volume of tomatoes you plan to process.
Once you have your tomato press, the process is pretty basic. First you need to blanch the tomatoes: remove the stems, cut a shallow “x” in the bottom of each one, plunge them (very carefully) three or four at a time into a pot of boiling water, leave them for summer about one minute, remove them and plunge them into an ice bath, and peel off the skins. If your tomato press has a special strainer for removing skins, then you can skip the last step. Once you’ve processed your tomatoes with the tomato press, you’ll have a liquid that resembles thick tomato soup. You can store this liquid in freezer bags, and pull some out whenever you want! It is delicious in soups, simmered down into homemade pasta sauce or barbecue sauce, homemade ketchup, smoothies, or anything else that needs a little tomatoey goodness.
Zucchini is a plentiful summer squash that is a wonderful addition to pasta dishes, but fresh zucchini doesn’t keep for very much longer than tomatoes. The plants are also notorious for bearing their harvest all at once, leaving you with baskets and baskets of squash, and rapidly running out of ideas. Stop chasing your neighbors with bags full of zucchinis! Here are three wonderful ways to preserve these summer squash for months to come.
Bake some zucchini bread. Soft, moist zucchini bread is perhaps zucchini’s most delicious form. This cinnamony delight is best enjoyed warm, with a smear of butter on top. Here is our team member Melissa’s family recipe, which includes walnuts and chocolate chips. She also throws in some raisins sometimes, and takes requests for any combination of the three. And there are always lots of requests!
- 2 cups shredded zucchini
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Combine zucchini, oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.
- Whisk the dry ingredients together.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into 2 buttered and floured loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
You can keep this zucchini bread for about a week in the refrigerator. Better yet, once it completely cools, you can put the whole loaf in a freezer bag and remove the air. Then, freeze it for several months!
- Make yummy zucchini soup. Zucchini is also a delicious ingredient in soups, which you can freeze in bags or plastic freezer-safe bowls. Minestrone is a classic favorite that incorporates your delicious fresh garden zucchini, and Food & Wine Magazine also has this rich soup that makes zucchini the centerpiece, and manages the trick of boasting maximum creaminess while containing no cream.
- Make some crunchy zucchini pickles. Cucumbers are the typical pickle choices, but why not spice things up a bit? It also makes a wonderful pickle, and this recipe for bread-and-butter zucchini pickles is a staff favorite at Food & Wine Magazine.
Berries are in season, and they pose the same challenges as tomatoes and zucchinis; you don’t want to waste any, and you want to enjoy them all year long! Here are some ways to accomplish those goals:
- Make freezer jam. Freezer jam is a quicker, easier alternative to the canned variety. There is an endless range of recipes out there; here is a basic recipe for freezer jam that you can use with your choice of fruit or berries. Here is a recipe for strawberry freezer jam, some pear cherry freezer jam, and some nectarine raspberry freezer jam. For more tips on making sure your jam comes out perfect, click here and here. And click here for lots of creative and yummy ways to eat your jam, courtesy of The Kitchn. Hint: it’s not just for toast anymore!
- Prepare make-ahead pie fillings. Nothing says “I love you” like a homemade pie, but making a pie from scratch using fresh berries is time-consuming, to say the least. One way to sidestep this issue and preserve your surplus berries is to make batches of pie filling now and freeze it in freezer bags. When you’re ready to make the pie, you’ll just have to thaw the filling, prepare the crust, and bake. This raspberry-blueberry pie is a perfect recipe for this.
Fresh herbs provide the perfect accent for your homegrown tomatoes, zucchini, and everything else that graces your kitchen. But fresh summer herbs tend to put out a bumper crop of flavor that you just can’t keep up with. Here are a couple of ways to preserve the bounty:
- Dry your herbs. You can use a food dehydrator, discussed in the tomato section above, to turn some of your fresh herbs into dried herbs. Then you still have the cultivars you want, grown the way you want, and none of your herb crop will go to waste.
- Freeze your herbs. Believe it or not, it’s pretty easy to freeze fresh herbs in small amounts, so you can pull out just the amount you need, when you need it. Click here for step-by-step instructions, courtesy of Organic Gardening Magazine.
- For basil: make yummy pesto! It’s almost a crime to grow basil without making at least some pesto sauce, and this pesto recipe from The Kitchn is one of the best. Best of all, you can freeze pesto, either in plastic containers, in freezer bags, or in ice cube trays.
Peaches are one of the hallmarks of summer, and canned peaches just don’t have the same sweetness as fresh peaches. But the fresh ones disappear quickly, so here are a couple of ways to keep them around a little longer:
- Make peach cobbler. Wet & Forget team member Melissa doesn’t have her own peach tree, but she loves the flavor of the fresh peaches at her local farmers’ market. Melissa buys several pounds of fresh peaches each summer and uses them to make this delicious peach cobbler filling, which she freezes in gallon-sized freezer bags. Then, during January’s darkest days, she thaws out a bag of cobbler filling, whips up a batch of easy from-scratch cobbler dough, and pretty soon her family’s home is filled with the bubbling-sweet smell of summer cobbler. Let the sun shine!
- Make some peach freezer jam. Freezer jam isn’t just for berries; fresh peaches also make a scrumptious jam. This recipe from The Messy Baker is delicious on top of toasted English muffins.
Savor the flavor!