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Health & Wellness

How to Save Your Summer Produce to Enjoy Year-Round

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My vegetable garden is flourishing this summer. I’m looking forward to a bumper crop of tomatoes and bushels of figs. My basil plant has grown to the size of a small bush, rivaled by the abundance of the nearby pot of mint.

Like a lot of backyard gardeners, I’ll be sharing this bounty with neighbors and friends. But that will still leave a lot of produce that will go to waste if I don’t find ways to save or preserve it.

So, here are some of the techniques I’ll be using to extend the pleasure of summer’s produce:

Fresh herbs. Nothing brightens up a dish like the zing of herbs. I’ll be following tips from the University of Minnesota Extension to enjoy my mint, parsley,  and tarragon when the temperature drops. Their garden experts offer several methods of freezing: Place a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap or in an airtight freezer container. Spread on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer, and, when the herbs are frozen solid, pack into those airtight containers.

Here’s my favorite technique: wash herbs, dice, and pack into ice cube traps, fill to the top with water. Store in the trays or pull out the frozen cubes and place in containers. Then, simply pop a cube or two in the soup or stew you’ll be making this fall or winter. Don’t forget to label the trays or containers: it can be hard to tell frozen mint from parsley or thyme.

I’ll also be making batches of pesto, some with basil and some with mint. I might even try a version with sage. Pesto can be saved in ice cube trays or containers, just like fresh herbs, and used as a sauce with spaghetti or to dress up roasted fish, chicken, vegetables, scrambled eggs, or a bowl of grains.  Search “pesto” online and you’ll find countless simple recipes.

Tomatoes. I’m going to be whipping up quarts of gazpacho this summer. It’s my favorite way to start a healthy, no-cook meal on a sizzling day. On a weekend morning, before the mercury soars, I’ll turn on the stove and make a simple tomato sauce, like this one from The New York Times. I might also ask my neighbor David, who taught me everything I know about growing tomatoes, for the recipe to his delicious tomato sauce with meat. (Searching online for “Bolognese” will bring up thousands of variations of meat sauce.) With both versions, I’ll let the sauce cool, then pour into freezer bags, label, and stash for easy weeknight dinners months from now.

Penn State Extension offers several more ways to save tomatoes, including making tomato juice, canning tomatoes, and saving whole or halved tomatoes. Canning requires careful attention to sterilizing jars and following other safety precautions to prevent foodborne botulism, so make sure you take your time with the process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) offers tips and resources on their website.

 Fruit. If you have backyard fruit trees or a farmer’s market where you can buy bruised fruit at a bargain, you might want to consider making jams, marmalades, preserves, or jellies. Like canning tomatoes, this isn’t something you do in a hurry. For safety reasons, and for the best taste, you need to take careful measures to prevent mold, bacteria, or yeast growth. It’s the kind of leisurely project that can be deeply pleasurable, both in the attentiveness it requires and in the delectable results. (Those bottles of jam or jelly also make great holiday gifts.)

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a good place to start. Their website offers everything you need to know about preserving fruit, including the difference among the various types of jellied products. The branches of my fig tree are heavy with fruit, so I plan to make a fig jam, though I may be tempted by some of the dozens of other recipes on the website, including corncob jelly, watermelon rind preserves, and citrus marmalade.

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