As a vegetable farmer, all season long I’m confronted with too much abundance — it’s absolutely overwhelming. In winter, though, it can feel like the opposite if I don’t prepare. So the question for me is, how can I manage the abundance of summer so that I can enjoy it into the winter?
I have four techniques for doing this: canning, freezing, fermenting, and fresh storage. All have their pros and cons. But let me tell you some of my favorite things to make, and then eat during winter.
Whenever I come up with extra peas, beans, and broccoli, I do my best to blanch and freeze them. I don’t grow my own sweet corn, so I often don’t spend the time dealing with someone else’s abundance. I try not to freeze too much, though. Freezer space is precious, and I’d rather have half a hog available to me than as much broccoli.
The one vegetable I devote really significant amounts of freezer space to is sweet peppers… I love making winter stir-fries with that sweetness, and no tomato-based dish is complete in my mind without plenty of peppers also. I just halve the peppers, take the seeds out and stem off, and toss them in a freezer container — no blanching necessary.
And finally, if I made a zucchini bread a little more often, it might be worth it to shred zucchini in 2-cup quantities and freeze it, but honestly, I don’t think much about zucchini bread except when confronted with big ones during the season, and the frozen stuff usually gets forgotten. (The tip here is: only freeze what you know you’ll like to use!)
This method loses some nutrients as compared to freezing, but it doesn’t take up freezer space, and it’s so satisfying to have a larder full of bright cans. I only water-bath can, which means I can only preserve acidic things without risk of botulism. In terms of vegetables, this pretty much means I can tomato products and vinegar pickles. I love making tomato and tomatillo salsa to can, and I make enough of it to eat until next tomato season, usually with corn chips as my lunch, or with eggs as my breakfast.
I also stew tomatoes and can those. All I do is choose tomatoes that aren’t too watery, cut them in half and squeeze the seeds out (I learned that technique when working at seed savers exchange), and then throw them in a big pot and cook down, skins and all. After a number of hours, I end up with something very like tomato paste. If I wanted to, I could run it through a food mill to make it smooth without the skins, but I’ve found that whatever I want to do with my stewed tomatoes—pizza sauce, pasta sauce, chili—doesn’t really mind having the skins in. I can it by packing it hot into jars, putting a tablespoon of lemon juice in to assure its acidity, and processing the jars for about 20 minutes.
I’ve learned to love making pickles, not only from cucumbers, but also from summer squash, beans, and okra. That sharp vinegar flavor coupled with dill or garlic or cayenne or all of the above is a really nice addition to any meal in the winter. But I don’t can too many batches of vinegar pickles because my next method of preserving these things is even better.