August 13, 2012

Tips for stretching harvest season

By LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — For the past few years, our family has cultivated a very large home garden, the size being sort of a holdover from our commercial-market garden years. 

It’s absurdly large, really, but we tend to get carried away in the spirit of spring-catalog browsing — everything looks so good, and the old habits of growing in quantity to feed our community are hard to break. It all starts out well enough, but in the frenzy of tending, weeding and just plain eating the fresh vegetables, we frequently run out of time and energy to put food aside for the winter. 

If you’re trying to eat local foods, now is the time to be thinking about how to continue the trend through the fall and into the winter. You’ll be able to get fresh local products for several more months, but the search will get increasingly challenging. You can purchase surplus food now to preserve for the sparse seasons ahead, but it will take a bit of planning.

Putting food by is nearly a lost art and science, and canning, in particular, can be an intimidating prospect. Certain foods, when not canned safely, can develop deadly toxins, so be sure to learn the ropes before you try this. Personally, I like to can tomatoes and dilly beans. 

Because there is a grow ing interest in food preservation, Cornell Cooperative Extension offices are responding with classes to teach the necessary skills. In September and October, the Essex County Extension office will be offering a number of courses: “Salsa, Tomato Sauce and Dehydration,” “Pressure Canning Vegetables” and “Apple Jelly and Pie Filling.” To register, call 962-4810, Ext. 401.

Thankfully, not everything requires canning. Freezing is an excellent option for many vegetables. So far this year, I’ve frozen asparagus, green beans, broccoli and basil. The trick for freezing many vegetables is a brief dip in boiling water before packing them for freezing. This blanching process serves multiple purposes, including stopping enzyme actions within the vegetables. Enzymes can destroy the color and flavor of your vegetables after just a few weeks in the freezer, so be sure to follow blanching instructions precisely. The boiling water also helps remove dirt and kill bacteria. Make sure to remove as much air as possible from your bags, as excess air allows for freezer burn. 

I use several excellent guides in my kitchen, but my favorite is “Putting Food By” by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg and Beatrice Vaughan.

For the basil, I simply puree the fresh leaves with a generous drizzle of olive oil in my food processor, then pack it into zippered plastic bags for freezing. We love pesto in January, but I never have all the ingredients ready when the basil’s perfect for picking. Fortunately, freezing the basil in olive oil will preserve it just fine. After thawing, you can process the rest of the ingredients into the puree to make the pesto.

Root cellaring is another option for some crops and can often be done in a cool basement. Carrots, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, winter squash and pumpkins are all great storage crops but require slightly different conditions to stay fresh. Talk with the farmers at your local farm stand or farmers market to see how they store these vegetables. Their years of experience will help guide you to the optimal way to enjoy crisp, sweet carrots and firm, flavorful potatoes well into the early spring. 

There is a four-day Master Food Preserver training coming up in Malone at the end of August, but those interested must register by today. Contact Karen Armstrong at 483-7403 for more information. 

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest: Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: