Gluts are an inevitable part of growing your own fruits and vegetables. No matter how meticulous you are with planning crop timings, there’s always going to be a hardcore of homegrown hooligans that arrive en masse, intimidating gardeners with more fresh produce than can be coped with! Common culprits include the likes of pole beans, zucchini and a myriad of fruits that can’t be picked fast enough. It’s a nuisance – albeit a welcome one.
Preserving techniques help to spread out sudden gluts so that summer’s bounty can be enjoyed later on in the year when fresh pickings are thin on the ground. A few of these techniques hark back to a time when putting aside some of the growing season’s plenty was essential to guarantee survival through the long, cold months.
Today it’s just wonderful to be able to click open a jar of home-made chutney, or to add a generous pinch of dried herbs to cooking that will bring a reminder of summer in the depths of winter.
Drying and Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables
Drying is one of the very easiest methods of preserving, requiring no specialist skills – just lots of fresh produce. Hang herbs upside down in a warm, dry and airy place. Cover them with paper bags to stop them getting covered in dust. Once they are completely dry and crisp, crunch them into airtight jars. Use them to bridge the gap to next season’s abundance.
Dehydrators are a joy. Slice vegetables and fruits thinly then dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I love my trusty dehydrator and use greaseproof sheets to make fruit leathers.
Some gardeners even dry produce in the oven, setting it at its lowest temperature and propping the door fractionally open to further moderate the temperate, though I imagine this method can waste quite a lot of energy.
Freezing Homegrown Produce
The freezer has transformed the home-grower’s lot. Frozen produce will keep for a year and beyond, turning seasonal treats into year-round staples. Preparing for the freezer is quick, it can be done in small batches, and much of the original flavor and nutritional value of the produce will be retained.
To freeze, slice vegetables then blanch (boil) them for one to five minutes. The cooking process then needs to be stopped in its tracks by plunging the blanched vegetables into ice-cold water (I use a clean bucket of water stuffed with fistfuls of ice). Dry off the produce before storing in freezer bags or Tupperware in portion-sized batches. Label each bag with the date and details of what’s inside – you’ll quickly forget and it can be hard to identify frozen produce through the haze of ice crystals.
The exact length of time required to blanch your vegetables depends on the type of vegetable. For example, peas and zucchini sliced into 1cm (0.5in)-thick rounds need just one minute. Tougher vegetables, such as carrots, need four.
You can also freeze home-made tomato sauces, soups and passata. Berries and currants are very easily frozen – just lay them out onto sheets so they’re not touching, freeze them solid then decant into freezer bags or containers for packing up. Herbs can be chopped up and frozen into ice cubes that can be dropped whole into recipes.
Making Pickles and Chutneys
Pickles – raw vegetables preserved in spiced vinegar – and chutneys – vegetables and/or fruits cooked slowly with herbs, spices, sugar and vinegar – are a must for any kitchen gardener travelling on the road to self-sufficiency. Many recipes abound, so it’s worth rooting around in books and the Internet to find the ones you love.
Chutneys are simply magnificent, capable of storing in the cupboard for many months. Like a fine wine, chutney matures with age as all the ingredients meld into a delicious symphony of flavors.
You can make chutney from just about anything you have a glut of: beetroot, apples, beans, or the last of the season’s tomatoes, for example. Chop the produce up into small cubes about 1cm (0.5in) square. Place them into a pan with your spices, plus sugar and vinegar. Simmer until thick (this should take anywhere from one to three hours) then decant into sterilized jars.
As you’d expect, there are many thousands of chutney recipes. One of my favorites deals with that glut goliath, the zucchini. It uses 900g (2lb) of the fruits together with a large onion and a cooking apple. For flavor add a big fat clove of crushed garlic, 250g (9oz) of dark brown sugar, 280ml (half a pint) of white wine vinegar, plus some grated ginger, a few chopped chillies, mustard seeds and a generous pinch of salt. Follow the steps above.
Ideally chutneys should be left to mature for at least four months before serving – just long enough to make a batch in summer for giving at Christmas.
There are, of course, many other ways to preserve some of the growing season’s generosity (a kinder word than ‘glut’, which sounds a little ungrateful!). Have you tried bottling, preserving in vinegar, flavoring oils or making your own fruit liqueurs? It would be great to hear about your experiences, so please share your favorite recipes by leaving a comment below.