Late summer in the Pacific NW is a great time for preserving local produce! Summer fruits and vegetables are cheap and abundant, and many reach peak flavor this time of the year. Most vendors at the market offer bulk discounts to make preserving an even more attractive option. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, eggplant, stone fruit, berries – the list goes on, and it’s all available in abundance at the market! To help kickstart your imagination, we’ve compiled 15 easy ideas for preserving projects.
1. If you don’t have the equipment for any of these projects, check out the kitchen tool lending library Kitchen Share! It’s a non-profit that loans out dehydrators, canning equipment, ice-cream makers, juicers, mixers, bread makers, and more. The Southeast Portland branch is located at SE 28th and Harrison. The Northeast branch at 20th and Killingsworth is now open two days a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays!
2. Tomato paste is a great way to preserve peak-season tomatoes. It’s easy, tastes way better than store-bought canned tomato paste, and doesn’t take up much room in the freezer. Freeze it in ice cube trays so you can easily use it just a little at a time.
3. Freezing corn kernels is one of the easiest ways to preserve summer flavor. Just blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, then pack in a ziploc and freeze. The whole process takes maybe 15 minutes!
4. For many of us, nothing conjures up the feeling of summer in January like a jar of delicious salsa. The beauty of salsas is that almost every ingredient is available in late summer at the farmers market – for some recipes, everything but salt and citrus or vinegar! There’s a tremendous diversity to choose from – tomato salsa, peach salsa, tomatillo salsa… Experiment! Some say spiciness goes really well with melons. If you’re making a pureed salsa and have space in the freezer, you can save the work of canning by freezing your salsa.
5. Next time you fire up your grill for a barbecue, buy some extra peppers and throw them on the grill. Then freeze them to enjoy out-of-season roasted red peppers. You can do the same thing with eggplants and whip up some lovely smokey baba ghannoush in the winter! You can also preserve grilled eggplants or peppers for a month or so by pouring olive oil over them and storing them in the fridge.
6. There are many ways to preserve vegetables naturally without canning or freezing. One is naturally fermented sauerkraut, which only requires two ingredients – cabbage and salt! If you’ve never had naturally-fermented kraut, give it a try – the taste is more complex and not as vinegary compared to store bought kraut.
7. Another naturally fermented preserved vegetable is the traditional dill pickle. This recipe is the one used by Gales Meadow Farm for their pickled cucumbers.
8. Most of the ingredients for a delicious fresh pesto are available at the market for much of the year, from the herbs to the garlic to the nuts (hazelnuts and walnuts). You can make pesto from any herb or green – cilantro and arugula are particularly tasty alternatives to the traditional basil. It doesn’t take up much space in the freezer – again, use an ice cube tray to freeze it in single-use amounts.
9. We left jams and jellies out of this list, as most people already know about them and many are tired of them! A fun (and low-sugar) alternative to jams are fruit butters. Cook down a bunch of peach (or apricot, or apple, or pear, etc.) puree with spices until it is thick and spreadable. Then pour into jars and can according to your recipes’ instructions.
10. If you bake pies regularly, why not can your favorite pie filling? Then all you need to do is open up a jar to make a summer pie in the middle of winter.
11. Raw packing is a great and easy way to can summer fruit and preserve its flavor. Just fill the canning jar up to the neck with rinsed and drained raw fruit, fill it up with hot syrup, juice or water (leaving 1/2 inch headspace), cover and process according to the instructions here. Works great for peaches, apricots, plums and berries!
12. Fruit leathers are homemade fruit rollups made from fresh fruit. Just pour any fruit puree onto a flat surface for drying, whether in a food dehydrator or a low-temp oven.
13. Pureed soups like tomato or roasted red pepper freeze very well, and during the height of the season it’s easy to make more than you need and freeze the rest. If you wanted to can these soups you would need a pressure canner, as they are too low-acid for water-bath canning.
14. If you love peaches, the best way to preserve flavor is by canning them in syrup. This one is a bit more work, but you get a lot out of it – the sweet flavor of late-summer peaches in the winter.
15. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a website that is an amazing resource, with by-the-book instructions on canning, freezing, pickling, drying, etc almost anything! If you prefer the printed page to a computer screen, Putting Food By, by Janet Greene, is a classic comprehensive preserving manual that discusses techniques, reason for techniques, suggestions on timing, storage instructions and more.