Popular Topics

BACK TO How to Cook Preserving the Seasons Bounty

Preserving the Seasons Bounty

So you’ve got all this fantastic summer and fall produce—how do you capture it so you can enjoy it long after the season has passed?

These simple techniques and ideas will show you how easy it is to make the most of everything the season has to offer.

Pickling

One of the easiest methods for “putting up” summer vegetables is to quick pickle them—asparagus spears, carrots, cauliflower, chili peppers, cucumbers, green beans, onions, radishes and zucchini, even peaches, plums and cherries, are all up to the task.

Quick pickles are made simply by pouring a hot brine of sugar, vinegar, fresh herbs (rosemary, tarragon, etc.), dried spices (usually mustard seed, dill seed and/or pickling spices) and salt over prepared produce that has been packed into containers. No need to collect jars or hover over pots of boiling water on the stove! However, because quick pickles don’t go through the long boiling process of traditional pickling, they must always be chilled (hence, their other name: refrigerator pickles). They’re best eaten within a week or two—if they sit longer than that they’ll turn a bit soft.

Tap into books and online resources for quick pickle recipes, then use them in any of the following ways:

  • Layer sweet cucumber pickles on a tuna or roast beef sandwich with Cheddar cheese.
  • Serve pickled onions or carrots on an appetizer tray with salami or prosciutto, cheese and assorted Pepperidge Farm® breads or crackers.
  • Use an asparagus spear or a couple of green beans as a “stir stick” for Bloody Marys.
  • Pickled fruits are delicious served with roasted or grilled meats—try peaches paired with pork chops or cherries with chicken.

Do you know your Crème fraîche from your chorizo? Read: Glossary

Freezing

Freezing is an easy, fairly straightforward technique, making it a terrific preservation method when you have a lot of fruits or vegetables on your hands. Here are some general guidelines for freezing seasonal favorites and ways to use them later.

Berries: The easiest way to freeze berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.) is to simply arrange lightly rinsed fruit in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid (if freezing strawberries, remove the hull first). Transfer the fruit to labeled and dated freezer-safe containers or bags for prolonged storage. While the berries will lose texture from freezing, they’ll still be great for stirring into yogurt in the morning, blending into a smoothie or puréeing for dessert sauces.

Stone Fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, etc.): Toss pitted sliced stone fruit with sugar (about one-third cup sugar for every pound of fruit) or sugar substitute and a teaspoon or two of lemon juice, let stand until juices form (about 20 minutes) then spoon the fruit into labeled and dated freezer-safe bags or containers (leave ½ inch of space at the top of the container for expansion). Use the fruit in smoothies, shakes or as a topping for ice cream or pound cake.

Tomatoes: Rinse and dry whole tomatoes then carefully pack into labeled and dated resealable plastic freezer bags. Frozen tomatoes can either be thawed and chopped before adding to soups or sauces or added directly, still hard, and simmered until thawed (break them into smaller pieces with a spoon once soft). Because tomatoes turn mushy during freezing, they won’t work as a substitute for fresh tomatoes. If you prefer, chop or purée the tomatoes first before packing and freezing.

Vegetables: Generally speaking, all vegetables must be blanched before they can be frozen. Parcooking them in boiling water then plunging into ice water kills enzymes which would otherwise alter their flavor during freezing, cause them to turn mushy and change color. How long they’re blanched depends on the vegetable—consult this chart for general guidelines.

Once blanched and cooled, pat the vegetables as dry as possible then arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Transfer to labeled and dated freezer-safe bags or containers. (Freezing the vegetables on a baking sheet first will help prevent them from freezing into an icy clump in a bag or container.)

Herbs: As a rule, freezing fresh herbs isn’t recommended. Imagine how your outdoor plants react when the temperature dips in the fall—that’s how fresh herbs react, too. But you can still capture their fresh flavor to use throughout the year by blending rinsed herbs (leaves only) in a food processor or blender with a touch of Swanson® stock or broth until a paste forms (or make pesto to toss with cooked pasta). Freeze the paste in an ice cube tray until solid then pop the cubes out and store in a bag or container. Whisk a cube or two into sauces or soups when you want a hit of fresh summer flavor during colder months.

Herbs can also be dried quite successfully. Those that have a low moisture content (sage, thyme rosemary, oregano, dill) can be tied in small bundles with kitchen string and hung in a cool place to dry. Transfer them to resealable plastic bags, containers or glass jars for storage. High-moisture herbs (basil, tarragon, mint) are best dried on a baking sheet in a 200°F. oven—otherwise they could mold. When dry, store in bags or jars as described above.

 

Freezing FAQs

How long can fruits and vegetables be frozen?

  • Prepared and stored properly, fruits and vegetables will keep well for eight to 12 months.

What is freezer burn?

  • Freezer burn often occurs when foods aren’t wrapped well and lose moisture but it also happens when the temperature inside the freezer fluctuates, causing foods to thaw slightly then refreeze. It’s easiest to see freezer burn on meats—they often look discolored and dried out. On fruits and vegetables, ice crystals will form inside the packaging and the produce may have a dried out appearance. Freezer burned foods aren’t dangerous to eat but they won’t have the flavor or texture you are expecting.

Can I refreeze food?

  • If you’ve thawed something and can’t use it when you intended, refreezing is not advised. Freezing damages cell structure (which is why berries tend to get a bit mushy) and refreezing causes further deterioration. If, however, you’ve used frozen items in a recipe (such as tomatoes in a soup), it’s okay to freeze the finished cooked dish.
Jams, Preserves & Chutneys

Making jams, preserves and chutney is another way to hold on to the flavors of summer.

Freezer-style jam is the easiest of the three, requiring just crushed fruit (berries, peaches, etc.), sugar and pectin then transferring to freezer-safe containers. No cooking is required and the jam is stored in the freezer until you’re ready to use. Once open, store freezer jam in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Because it’s not cooked, it tends to turn moldy quickly.

Find recipes for making freezer jam on packages of pectin, in books or online. The jam is typically very soft and best used as a spread on toast, pancakes or biscuits. Also, keep in mind that the amount of sugar in freezer jam is critical: it’s pivotal to how the jam sets. If sugar content is a concern to you, there are recipes using reduced sugar or sugar substitutes.

Classic jams and preserves are made by cooking a mixture of fruit and sugar until thick, packing into sterilized jars then simmering in a water bath to seal. Because they’re stiffer than freezer jam, homemade jams and preserves can be spread onto cake layers or spooned into pastries.

Savory-sweet chutney is made like jam with fresh and dried fruits (plums, peaches, cherries, raisins, etc.), vegetables (onions, garlic, etc.) and spices (cinnamon, cloves) cooked with vinegar. A classic condiment in Indian cuisine, chutney is also terrific in savory pastries, as a sandwich spread or an accompaniment to roasted meats.

Purées & Vinegars

Fresh vegetables and fruits can also be cooked and puréed, frozen then added to dishes—use carrot, spinach or squash purée in soups or to “sneak” vegetables into dishes without the kids knowing it! And whenever you have bananas on the verge of turning unusable, simply peel and freeze them in resealable plastic freezer bags for your next batch of banana bread. When you’re ready to bake, just thaw the banana and mash directly inside the bag!

Another simple way to use ripe raspberries or blackberries is to flavor vinegar with them. Just combine equal parts by weight of berries and red wine or distilled white vinegar in a clean jar, cover and let stand for three or four weeks. Strain the vinegar and transfer to sterilized bottles (tuck a sprig of fresh tarragon or rosemary in the bottle to infuse even more flavor) then store in a cool, dry place. The vinegar will keep for up to six months and adds a delicious touch to salad dressings or marinades.