As our short growing season winds down, late produce keeps the canning kettle bubbling and fills the freezer. I’ve been pickling, fermenting, freezing, canning and dehydrating fruit and vegetables all summer, but the pace picks up as the threat of a hard frost approaches. If you haven’t yet saved the food you want to eat all winter, now’s the time.
The Whitefish and Columbia Falls farmers’ markets are in their final week of offering up local produce. The Kalispell Farmers Market has a few more sessions, and some farms will be selling greenhouse-protected and storage vegetables until cold weather settles in.
In my garden, tomatoes have won this year’s bumper crop award, filling my canning shelves with sauces, salsas, jams and more. Cherry tomatoes have been bagged and frozen; skins peeled off large tomatoes during canning have been dehydrated and ground into powder as a tomato paste substitute. More tomatoes will ripen in the greenhouse until it no longer protects against chilly nights, and then semiripe and green ones will be spread out in boxes, hopefully to turn red and flavorful indoors.
I’ve been stashing berries as the different crops ripen throughout summer, freezing them as whole fruit and canning them as jam. I’m just starting to squirrel away plums and apples. Halved plums freeze well, besides being tasty in canned preserves and sauces. Most of the apple harvest becomes sauce or butter, but one late-ripening variety produces fruit I can wrap in paper, box and enjoy fresh for many weeks.
These are some of the other fruit and vegetables I’m saving for winter – and how I’m storing them:
• Broccoli: Blanch, bag and freeze for soups and other dishes.
• Beets: Clip off the green tops and bury in sand.
• Carrots: Store in sand like beets. Carrots can also be shredded, bagged and frozen for quick breads and cakes.
• Chiles: Bag whole and freeze to substitute for fresh ones.
• Eggplant: Grill, puree and freeze for spreads.
• Garlic: Let heads dry completely and store in a cool, dry place. Minced cloves packed with oil in an ice cube tray and frozen can be dropped into many dishes.
• Herbs: Dehydrate whole leaves on the lowest setting, or mince and freeze in an ice cube tray with a little water or oil.
• Onions: Let whole onions dry several weeks so that they keep well. Fresh or grilled ones can be chopped, frozen on a tray and then bagged for long-term storage.
• Potatoes: Let the skins dry and thicken for at least a week before sorting and storing, all in a cool, dark place.
• Pumpkins and winter squash: Cure in a warm, dry area for at least a week before putting in a cooler storage space. Roasted and pureed winter squash freezes well in containers for soups and pies.
• Sweet peppers: Freeze like onions, grilled or fresh.
• Zucchini: Freeze like carrots for quick bread and pancakes.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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