August 26, 2012
Harvest has begun.
Better late than never, we finally have a steady supply of ripe tomatoes. The sweet corn is just right, some of the melons are ready, peppers are looking good, and the beans aren’t far behind. Our handful of zucchini plants have treated us well all summer– so well that we’ve had to start getting creative (zucchini nachos, anyone?)– and the herb patch is huge.
Now, canning and preserving can be totally pretentious. It’s become something quite trendy for many people. But for Bailey and me, it’s really just about being economical and enjoying good, homegrown food well into winter. We’ve put a lot of time and energy into growing the garden and we don’t want to see any of it rot away before we have a chance to eat it.
Earlier this summer, we invested in a Weck Canning System. It’s basically a big water bath crock pot situation with a spot-on thermostat. We use it for pasteurizing milk when we’re bottle-feeding, for cheese and yogurt making, and now for canning. Since it doesn’t take up any stove space, we have been able to just leave it full of water, on the counter, ready to go when we are. This way, I’m able to can tomatoes as they ripen, a few quarts at a time.
In addition to pickles galore, we’ve done a bunch of tomatoes, pickled watermelon rind, and some sweet & spicy zucchini relish. The plan is to fill up the pantry with as much as possible; beans, beets, peppers, salsa, sauerkraut, and whatever else.
Few garden treats are as splendid as fresh sweet corn, and we’re looking forward to enjoying ours for months to come. Last week, I got 65 ears blanched, scraped, and bagged up for the freezer. After eating several cups and sharing a couple ears with the pigs, I ended up with about 20 pounds. The good news is that there are probably 80 or more ears that are ripe for the picking. The bad news is that the freezer is at maximum capacity.
I saved all of the husks and have them drying in the sun. It is important to dry them in boxes so that the breeze doesn’t whisk them away. Also, they need to be brought inside at night to shield them from the dew. Dried corn husks can be used to wrap tamales, to make corn husk dolls, and to make festive autumnal corn husk wreathes!
I have recently accepted the fact that I was probably an Amish woman in a former life. *
Another way that we’ll be saving a few bucks and enjoying the garden long after frost is by drying our own herbs. It’s really quite simple. First, snip your herbs, leaving at least a few inches of stem coming out of the ground to facilitate regrowth. Pick off any dead leaves, then bundle your stems and tie them together pretty tightly. Cut some holes in a paper bag and slip it over your herb bundle. The bag keeps away dust and light. The holes are for ventilation, obviously. Finally, attach the stems to a hanging device (I used twine and Christmas ornament hooks) in an airy, well-ventilated place. Outdoors is not good because, like with the soon-to-be-wreathed corn husks, morning dew inhibits drying.
In about 2 weeks, the herbs will be dry and crumbly. Hanging for longer than necessary damages the quality of the herbs, so take them down when they are ready. Place the hooks back in your Christmas decoration storage area or, if you have extras, just keep them with the paper bags to use again next year. Remove the leaves from the stems and store them in a jar with a tight lid or a sealed baggie, and keep away from light and heat. The herbs will retain more of their flavor if you leave the dried leaves intact and crumble as needed rather than crumble them all right away.
Don’t forget that dried herbs have much more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, so if you’re using dried in place of fresh in a recipe, use only a third of the amount called for, then adjust from there.
Sure, canning and preserving is a little laborious. But when we’re enjoying garden-fresh tomatoes in January, it’ll all be worth it.
I think I know what all of our family members are getting for Christmas this year.