Harvesting and preserving your own fresh food can be as satisfying as growing it—and brings the added pleasure of enjoying your whole-food bounty in winter months. Follow us through this primer as we explore some of the time-tested ways to make the most of your summer bounty.
SAVE FOR LATER
One to six months
Hardier crops: broccoli, apples, pears, pumpkins, onions, leeks, potatoes, winter squash, beets, parsnips, carrots, cabbage, turnips, and brussels sprouts.
In pre-refrigeration days, every home had a cool, ventilated root cellar to keep food fresh all winter. Today, you can use a corner of your garage or basement or bury a garbage bin underground. Each crop has a different need. For example, fruit should be picked before it is ripe, beets and turnips like to be buried in sand, and potatoes prefer a newspaper wrap
TIP: For onions, shake off soil and put on window screens, in a single layer in the sun to cure for 2–3 weeks.
Up to one year
A great way to preserve veggies’ flavour, colour, and nutrition
- Wash crop thoroughly and cut into even, bite-sized pieces. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
- Blanch for no more than three minutes, then plunge into the ice bath.
- Dry thoroughly on a rack or tea towel then place in a single layer on a baking tray. Freeze for one hour, then loosely pack in containers.
- Seal well, label, and date.
TIP: Organize your freezer by types offood and keep a dated list on the door as a quick reference. As you remove an item, just cross it off so that you know exactly what you have.
Up to one year
There’s nothing more satisfying than a pantry full of shiny jars packed with goodness. Think relish and chutney, jam and applesauce, salsa and pickles. The internet abounds with canning recipes. As for methods, for the basic boiling water technique you’ll need a large pot, jar lifter, wide-mouth funnel, wire racks, and jars with self-sealing lids and rings.
- Fill clean, sterilized jars with prepared food, leaving ¼” to ½” space at the top.
- Clean the rims and put on lids and rings.
- Submerge in boiling water (times vary widely, depending on recipe).
- Remove jars and place on a towel or rack to cool.
- Listen for the ‘pop’ of the lid being pulled down, creating an air-tight seal.
- Cool to room temperature. Remove lid rings to check if all the jars have sealed properly. Any that haven’t should be refrigerated and used first.
- Put on rings and tighten. Store in a cool, dark place.
TIP: Make sure to follow steps and recipe directions exactly to ensure food safety.
Four months to one year
Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, sprouted grains, herbs
Dehydration slows spoilage by removing most of a food’s water. It takes from 6 to 36 hours, depending on the food, preparation, and drying method.
• Sun: Requires a minimum temperature of 86°F for several days. Place items on a raised mesh screen to allow air to circulate. Cover with a second screen to deter insects.
• Air: The same as sun drying except in the shade. Best for greens and herbs.
• Oven: Set temperature to no more than 130°F and prop the door open to let moisture escape—not an ideal activity for a hot summer’s day!
• Electric dehydrator: With adjustable temperatures and drying times, this method makes dehydration easy.
- Choose ripe, bruise-free fruit and veggies.
- Wash, de-stem, core or pit, and cut to even thickness, about ¼” to ½”.
- Blanch vegetables that take longer to cook—like broccoli or carrots—to speed the process.
- Soak nuts and seeds overnight before dehydrating.
- Place on a single layer on racks to maximize air circulation.
- Pack loosely in air-tight containers and store in a dark place.
A few days to months
Just about any vegetable!
Teeming with gut-friendly probiotics, fermented foods are easy to make, and delicious. Get creative with flavour combinations—all you need are vegetables, sterilized jars, and patience.
- Wash veggies and cut into even pieces to ensure they all ferment at the same rate.
- Add flavour: try garlic, herbs, or chili flakes.
- Pack jars. Cover with saltwater: 2 tablespoons of sea salt to 4 cups water.
- Submerge completely to create an oxygen-free environment. Leave 1 inch headspace.
- Either nest a small jar in a larger one, place a glass weight on top, or cover veggies with cheesecloth or a cabbage leaf.
- If you use a tight-fitting lid, open daily to release gases.
- Ferment on your countertop for 2–3 days (70–75°F). Small bubbles will appear. Check submersion daily.
- Taste after two days. When you like the flavour, remove the weight, cover tightly, and keep in the fridge. Enjoy!
TIP: To sterilize glass jars:
- Wash jars and lids in soapywater, rinse well, and dry on draining rack.
- Place in oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove with oven mitts and cool.
Regrow Your Scraps
A wonderful way to teach children about how plants grow is to regrow new
vegetables from scraps.
Beets and Carrots
Slightly bitter and high in potassium and vitamin K, carrot and beets greens can be used in a salad, as a garnish, and in soups, stir-fries, and casseroles.
- Choose carrots or beets with some green on top.
- Cut 2 inches down from the crown, place on a shallow dish, and submerge halfway in water.
- Place on a bright, sun-free windowsill, and top with water, as needed.
- When greens start to grow—in 1–2 weeks—plant in soil.
Green Onions, Scallions, and Garlic
- Cut 2 inches above the root and place in a shot glass in 1 inch of water.
- Change the water daily and harvest green tops as they grow.
- Cut 2 inches above the root and let the root dry for a few hours, in a shaded area, to allow callousing.
- Plant and cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil in a pot, or directly in a bed.
- Cut new leaves down to one-third of the size, as they grow, if you want the bulb to develop into a mature onion; or harvest as green onions.
Lettuce, Celery, and Bok Choy
- To regrow in water, save about 2 inches of the end of the vegetable.
- Put stem end down in a dish with about half-inch of water, on a windowsill.
- Change the water daily.
- Roots and new leaves begin to grow in a couple of days.
- Snip off as needed or wait 10 days for a full head.
TIP: Romaine works best.
Waste Not, Want Not
Just about every food scrap can go into making stock for soup—except for peppers and cruciferous vegetables—even apple and pear peels and cores. Collect in a container in your freezer until you have enough to make stock (about 3 cups of scraps). Just cover with water, add a bay leaf, fresh garlic, and your favourite herbs and spices.
Up to one year
We usually think of pesto as a mixture of basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and garlic, but it can be any mixture of greens, herbs, and nuts. Try kale, spinach, arugula, mint, cilantro, and parsley; and hazelnuts, walnuts, or macadamia nuts. Go wild and add a chili or some lemon zest.
• Grind a handful of nuts in a food processor. Add greens, garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste, and enough olive oil to make a paste.
• Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze for a day. Pop frozen cubes into a container and defrost as needed, to add to eggs, casseroles, soups, and pasta dishes.
TIP: Silicone or metal ice cube trays are best since they won’t absorb flavours.