As summer lingers in my garden, the first three days below 90 degrees Fahrenheit triggers the beginning of autumn planting. This timing usually synchronizes around the date we flip the calendar page over to October. Not needing to contend with pounding rain, scorching sun, buzzing mosquitoes, and back-to-school headaches revisits the joys of gardening. Fast forward 60 days and everything we planted is now producing all at once. Eat, share, waste or preserve?
Oxymoronically referring to a root cellar in Florida leaves us pondering where to store any excess harvest. Relative heat, humidity, bugs and geologic limitations (no basements in Florida) limit many passive crop storage options. A primary rule of thumb is to have a use planned for any crop before the first seed is planted. This usually plays out to the shortest route from the garden to dinner plate. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomach, so what’s a poor boy to do?
Every kitchen is equipped to blanche and freeze most vegetable crops. After quickly plunging diced veggies from the boiling cauldron straight into the freezer, nutritional qualities surpass casually stored and refrigerated produce. You can see by the number of zip-lock bags of green beans and carrots in my freezer that blanching is high on the practicality list.
Salsa of tomatoes, peppers, onions, citrus and herbs are one of my favorite ways to simply use garden produce. The acid content of a salsa concoction is critical to avoid food poisoning. Judiciously following ingredient quantities for a better flavor is one thing, but recipe variants should be eaten fresh.
Drying fruits and vegetables is a skill of complexity and equipment in parallel to other home preservation projects. Eternal humidity in Florida must be hushed to the extreme or a ‘hairy’ mess will await eager forages into the pantry. Dedicated dehydration devices used in tandem with a warm oven easily deliver this skill to any homesteader. I’ve dried cherry tomatoes and hot peppers, but have not stored them much past immediate use.
Hot bath pickling with vinegar and salt is a long-term solution to preservation needs. The initial hardware investment must be supplemented with regular purchases of jars, lids and rings. My pickled okra is to die for. Dilly beans have survived for months before being slurped down with a cold beverage at happy hour. A web search of detailed instructions will do this home-economics project the justice it deserves. (Before tackling any of these preservation projects, please research the various cautions regarding food safety and spoilage.)
Have a happy and locally grown holiday season!