Today’s post is all about making the most of your home-grown harvest!
When I first started our garden, we planted a small-ish smart pot full of lettuce and kale seedlings thinking “this should be just enough to get us by.” Boy was I wrong.. after a couple months of eating salads (daily), I was beginning to think it was growing just as fast as we were eating! Which brought me to the question, “how can we make the most of what we have now – while it is fresh – and make it last as long as possible?” After all, greens are typically a cool weather crop, and the temperature has been in the 80’s and rising. Soon enough, it will be summer, and the heat will just kill off what we have anyway. And I couldn’t imagine wasting any of what we worked so hard for!
So I had that thought in the back of my mind – and then I took the kids to a local organic farm for strawberry picking. And this was what really pushed me to consider today’s topic. Because when we got home, I had a boxful of super-ripe strawberries, and try as we wanted to, there was no way we could eat all that in just a couple days before they started to spoil! Again, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting a single sweet strawberry. So.. let’s explore some easy options here:
First method (I prefer) – freezing. I looooove freezing fruit for smoothies! And even better is sending pieces of frozen fruit through my juicer, which crushes it and turns it into a sorbet consistency. It’s the perfect way to fix that sweet tooth late at night, and get some extra nutrients in at the same time! Now, vegetables, I’m not so keen on freezing for the mere fact that blanching is usually necessary. And I don’t want to kill all the raw enzymes of the vegetable by heating it up, simply to freeze it right after. I’ll do it in a pinch, but again, not a fan.
For vegetables, I prefer method 2 – dehydrating. The reason I prefer dehydrating vegetables is that you can turn your ordinary, run-of-the-mill veges into a snack that even the kids love! Add a pinch of salt or nutritional yeast with garlic powder to create a cheesy flavor that’s actually good for you! But for today, I decided to tackle that huge mass of kale I have growing, to make a great smoothie add-in for later!
First, pick your kale (or other green). Wash the leaves, and cut around the thick stem. You don’t want to keep that part – just discard. Place the pieces on a paper towel, and blot dry on top with another layer of towels to remove excess moisture.
Place the kale leaves on the trays inside your dehydrator. I set mine to 135, and let it dry for about 6 hours. Sure enough – nice and crispy! Once all moisture is removed, you can bag the kale “chips” as is, or do as I’m doing, and process them into a fine powder to scoop into smoothies later (or soups, or pasta sauce, or baby food etc). Any way to get those extra green nutrients into your family’s dinner is your game!
One thing to remember guys, is not to try to dehydrate over-ripe food, or food with bad spots on them. The drying process can’t keep up with the bacteria that grows on the fruit, so it may look dry – but it could make you sick. Or it could ruin the whole batch – definitely no bueno. Always follow the exact instructions that came with your dehydrator – especially since many have different options and capabilities.
Now, as far as using the dehydrator on fruit – not my personal forte. The main reason is I’m not a huge fan of leathery textures (that get stuck in my teeth). So, if I’m not freezing my fruit – consider..
Method 3: freeze drying! Now, I do love freeze dried fruit – especially if they’re berries – and they’re in my cereal! So let’s take a look at that batch of strawberries we took home and get them started.
Just look at those beauts! If only you could smell them.. YUM
So first you wash the fruit, then cut them up into approximately 1/4″ slices. Place them on dehydrator trays, and put them in the freezer. Even better is if you have a deep freezer! If using a deep freezer, make sure it is empty so that the strawberries don’t absorb any odors or odd flavors.
So I placed my strawberries in my deep freezer, and I let them freeze dry for about a week. The best way to test if they’re done is to take one piece out of the freezer and let it thaw. If it does not have the consistency you want, after thawing (dry and crunchy), the batch isn’t done yet – give it more time. If it holds a dry, crisp consistency after thawing, they’re good to be be stored! Mine were not quite to that stage of readiness, so I switched gears.
Now, to be fair, my deep freezer was having a circuit breaker issue this week – and for a couple days, it was not running (but everything was still frozen). So after the freezing time I allotted for the berries – plus a few extra days to account for the power outage, I started to notice some freezer burn starting up. So I promptly removed the berries, bagged them up, and put them in my regular freezer. No harm, no waste.
I’ve also come across a method of freeze drying using dry ice – but I haven’t tried that method personally. Definitely do more research if you’re interested in trying it out!
What’s left? Method 4: canning! Now I’m going to be honest. I don’t have a pressure canner – and I don’t have much experience with canning to feel comfortable telling anyone else how to can. I’ve canned maybe once in my whole life – and I’m not crazy about having to shell out all the money on canning equipment, or the actual jars/lids. Is it something I’d like to learn more about? Sure. I even have a book on how to can – and a recipe book. I’ve even read them too. But again, I just haven’t gotten my hands dirty enough to post about it. But just so you know, that is always an option.
Last method worth mentioning is method 5: culturing. This involves culturing (or fermenting) your foods to preserve them. An added benefit to culturing is that you’re also supplying your body with beneficial bacteria and enzymes when you consume the food! I tried a simple sauerkraut recipe a few years back that was absolutely amazing!
~This recipe is adapted from “Living Raw Food” by Sarma Melngailis ~
What you need:
1 Small Red Cabbage – cut out core and shred
1 Small Green Cabbage – cut out core and shred
3 Tbsp Celtic Sea Salt
*Optional* 1/2 Tbsp Caraway Seeds (I used them in my recipe and LOVED it)
In a plastic bowl, mix the cabbages with the salt and caraway seeds (if using) with clean hands. Make sure the salt and seeds are really mixed into the cabbage, then let it all rest for about 20 minutes. The cabbage will get wilty, and brine will begin to develop.
Place the mixture into 2 quart-sized mason jars (wide mouthed is best), and as you do so, really press the cabbage down until the juices come to above the cabbage. (A pounder or wooden spoon work fine for accomplishing this)
When you are done, the cabbage should be about 2 inches from the top of the jar – this allows room for expansion during the lacto-fermentation process, and you don’t want any overflowing!
If you don’t have enough liquid to cover the cabbage when done with this step, add just enough filtered water to accomplish this.
Place the lids on the jars, and keep at room temperature for about 3 days. When you open the jar and see bubbly liquid, it is done, and you can then move it to the refrigerator where the culturing process will continue at a slower speed.
Enjoy right away, or give it another week in the fridge for a stronger flavor.
There you have it! Easy AND tasty!!
So there you have it. Just a few (of many more ways, I’m sure) you can keep the goodness of your backyard garden giving back – even when the season is over! Enjoy!