Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Preserving for Busies

'Tis the season for preserving. Does that cause you anxiety? Many people equate preserving with pickles, jams and jellies, all requiring sterile environments, candy thermometers, and complex chemical interactions. That's part of preserving, and I don't shy away from making pickles and jams. The thought of doing them doesn't cause me anxiety, but it does make me do a quick calculation of my available time. If that time isn't substantial (because it does take at least an hour to prep the jars, fruit/vegetables, line up the equipment, check that I have all the ingredients, and so on), I'll opt for something easier.

This year, with a minimum of time and effort, and the help of my deep freeze, I have put away raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, sour cherries, green beans, radish leaf pesto, basil pesto, and pureed basil that can replace fresh basil in the dead of winter. I will also be freezing grated zucchini, tomatoes, either whole or as salsa, and many more herbs from my kitchen garden.

Most of these items were simply washed, frozen individually on cookie trays (so they aren't solid lumps, and we can remove as much or as little as we need) and dumped into freezer bags. I do all my berries like this, and have also frozen peaches and apples (tossed in lemon juice) this way. The zucchini is simply grated and packed into freezer containers, to be pulled out whenever I have a craving for morning glory muffins or chocolate zucchini cake. I have literally tossed tomatoes in a bag and stuck them in a freezer, when I simply don't have time to deal with them. They are ready and waiting to be turned into tomato sauce or replace canned tomatoes in any recipe, whenever you need them.

I make big batches of roasted tomato salsa, so instead of chopping and boiling everything together, I place whole vegetables under the broiler until they're blackened, and then puree them and pack them in freezer containers.

Our pesto, also frozen, lasts right till the next basil season, bringing a taste of summer and one of our favourite quick meal fixes and kid favourites: simple pasta with pesto. Throw in some veggies and leftover chicken for a delicious one dish meal.

I have more basil than I can make into pesto, so the remainder gets pureed with a pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to make it a paste. I fill ice cube trays with the blend, freeze it, and then toss it into any winter dish (soups and stews especially) that calls for fresh basil.

Other herbs, I just wash and freeze whole. They can be chopped and added to anything and are the next best thing to fresh. I'm also experimenting with herbes salees this year, a Quebec tradition. I already have a jar of them in my fridge, but haven't started using it yet, since my fresh herbs are still available.

In all of this preserving, I only heated up my blancher once, and that was for a surplus of green beans. They cooked in the hot water no more than two minutes before I pulled them out, cooled them in ice water, and froze them individually on trays, again, so they can be tossed in a large freezer bag and pulled out as needed.

I did make a couple of batches of crabapple jelly this year, as well as a batch of cucumber relish, because I was gifted with some overripe cucumbers. I love the snap of hot jars sealing in delicious garden goodness that can be enjoyed any time of year.

I've also got three kinds of fruit liqueur on the go: raspberry, crabapple and sour cherry. These are one of the easiest ways to preserve the summer flavours of fruit, as long as you tipple now and then. Simply mix 2 parts berries or cherries with 1 part brandy or vodka and 1 part sugar, mash together to dissolve the sugar, and let sit for three weeks. Strain and pour into sterilized bottles (this takes a bit of organization, both to have the bottles, and to have them washed and boiled in water for ten minutes to sterilize. I haven't yet gotten around to bottling my liqueurs, even though they have all been sitting longer than three weeks, but the good news is, the process is extremely forgiving, and no matter when I get to the bottling, the results will be delicious, and will last at least a year).

If I had more time, I would be doing more preserving, but I can barely keep up with regular meals and garden tasks in among raising kids and trying to make a living, let alone spending a couple of hours at a time devoted to washing, prepping, cooking, and canning various fruits and veggies. It's a sad reality. I have even had to give away some of my garden produce because I don't have time to blanch it or grate and freeze it. But paying it forward is always rewarding in the end, so if this is where I'm at right now, then at least nothing is going to waste and others get to enjoy it. So however I can make the fresh food last in the simplest manner possible—that's what I've been doing this year.

Hopefully you'll find a way to save a bit of this season's bounty for colder times of year. With a minimum of planning, your deep freeze will help you sock away fresh herbs, veggies, fruit for smoothies and pancakes (or just for plain eating—frozen blueberries are a favourite any time of year in my household). All you need is a box of freezer bags and some freezer containers to get you started.

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