Garden Goodies All Year Long

By: Lauren Brostowitz

By this point in the summer, you’ve put in the time pruning, weeding, watering and fertilizing your garden. And now, all your hard work is finally paying off in the form of bountiful veggies, fruits, and fragrant herbs. But sometimes that bounty can be a bit overwhelming, and even after gifting to your friends, family, co-workers, the mailman and just about anyone, you’re still swimming in cucumbers.

Fortunately, there are a variety of clever ways to preserve and store your garden goodies, from blanching and freezing to canning and pickling. It’s a perfect way to reap the benefits of your summertime labor well after the growing season ends. This week we’ve gathered up our favorite food storage and preservation techniques to keep your harvest out of the compost and in your kitchen instead.

Tips from the Pro

Donna Van Evercooren, Annual Sales Team member at TGP, really knows her way around canning. She’s been the winner of multiple blue ribbons at the Sandwich Fair for her pickling and canning prowess. These are her keys to success.

1. Don’t deviate from the recipe

Ensuring that your food is safe to consume should be your top priority. Because botulism spores and certain types of bacteria flourish in an anaerobic environment (one without the presence of air) it’s vital to your safety, as well as others, that you use the proper processing time. Proper processing times ensure destruction of the largest expected number of heat-resistant microorganisms in home-canned foods. By making sure you have the correct level of acidity of your food and appropriate cooking time, you’ll be on your way to safe canning.

2. Always sterilize your jars

You’ve cooked your product or pickling solution, but it’s no good if you place your prepared product into a jar that’s not cleaned. Glass surfaces can also harbor harmful bacteria, so be sure to boil your jars for at least 15-20 minutes to ensure all microorganisms are removed before beginning your processing. You can also sterilize your jars in the dishwasher. However, NEVER boil the lids because it damages the rubber top, which is essential in ensuring a proper seal forms. It is safe to simmer your lid, or place it warm water for a short time but never boil it. You should also never reuse a lid because it will not form a proper seal again.

3. Double check seals are secure

Select the right processing time, which could be anywhere from simmering your product in a water bath for 10 minutes or submerging your product in a pressure cooker for eight minutes. Check your recipe to be sure. Then, you’ll want to cool your jars for 12-24 hours. Do not retighten jar lids after cooling because it may cut through the gasket and cause seal failures. To test your jar seal, press the middle of the lid with a finger or thumb. If the lid springs up when you release your finger, the lid is unsealed. If you hold the jar at eye level and look across the lid, it should be concave (curved down slightly). If the center is flat or bulging, it may not be sealed properly

Pickle It

Did you know that pickling began nearly 4,000 years ago? Cleopatra insisted that pickles were part of the secret to her beauty. Now, pickles are a part of American culture with the average person consuming 9lbs of pickles every year! Donna suggests pickling as an excellent way to store foods long term. She encourages using pickling salt and buying spices in bulk to ensure you get your bang for your buck. In addition, be sure to use vinegar with 5% acetic acid.

A general rule is 2/3 vinegar to 1/3 water when making brine. This ratio will create an acidic enough base for whatever vegetable you choose to pickle. If a recipe suggests a lighter vinegar brine, you must follow the exact recipe or you’ll risk spoilage.


Donna's Award-winning Corn Relish Recipe (Taken from You Can Can, Ball Blue Book guide to Preserving)
Prep: 1.5 Hours Cook: 12 minutes, Process: 15 minutes, Makes: About 5 pints (70 servings)

12-16 fresh ears of corn
2 cups fresh water
3 cups chopped celery (6 stalks)
1 1/2 cups chopped red sweet peppers (2)
1 1/2 cups chopped green sweet peppers (2)
1 cup chopped onions (2 medium)
2 1/2 cups vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

1. Remove husks and silks from corn; cut corn from cobs (do not scrape cobs). Measure 8 cups of corn. In an 8- to 10-quart stainless-steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy kettle or pot combine corn and the 2 cups water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes or until corn is nearly tender; drain.

2. In the same kettle, combine cooked corn, celery, red and green sweet peppers, and onions. Stir in vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickling salt, celery seeds, and turmeric. Bring to boiling. Boil gently, uncovered, fro 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir together cornstarch and the 2 tablespoons of water; add to corn mixture. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 2 minutes more.

3. Ladle hot relish into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process filled jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to a boil). Remove the jars from canner; cool on wire racks.

Sauces, Jams and Jellies

Tomatoes, peppers, raspberries and apricots work well in sauces and jams. So, if you’ve got a surplus, consider making a sauce and freezing it, or grab some pectin and make a jam! Sauces can be kept in the freezer in Tupperware containers, and jams can be put through a water bath for storage, or simply kept in the refrigerator for use. When making a jam, you can also invert the jar during the cooling process in order to suspend a product you’ve placed inside, like this Rosemary Hot Pepper jam made by Donna. Grab some crackers or a piece of bread and dig in!


Blanch and Freeze

Have you ever wondered why you boil green beans for 2-4 minutes before submerging them in an ice bath just to then freeze them? It’s a lot of steps, but boy, are they important. Because most fresh foods possess certain types of mold and bacteria like botulism and yeast, it’s important that you blanch certain products like tomatoes to stop the microbial activity from occurring. By heating the product, you stop enzyme growth so you can store it and consume it safely at a later date. Blanching also keeps the product from darkening, losing texture and it locks in vital nutrients. Click here for a step by step instruction on how to properly blanch beans. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try blanching and freezing asparagus, broccoli, or kale.

Dry and Store

Drying and storing is a simple way to keep your basil, mint, sage and other herbs fresh all year. You can also dry peppers and tomatoes too! Certain herbs have a high-moisture count while some, like sage, oregano, rosemary and dill, have a low-moisture count. Air-drying works best for low-moisture products. So, do a quick search online to see if air-drying or oven-drying will work best. Peppers do fine with air-drying too.

To Air-Dry
Gather 5-10 branches together and tie with string or a rubber band. The smaller the bundle, the easier and faster they will dry. Put the bundle of herbs, stem-side up, in a paper bag. Tie the end of the bag closed, being sure not to crush the herbs as you do, and poke a few holes in the bag for ventilation. Hang the bag by the stem end in a warm, well-ventilated room. Your herbs may be dried and ready to store in as little as one week.

To Oven-Dry
Place herb leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet one inch deep or less. Put herbs in an open oven on low heat – less than 180 degrees F – for 2-4 hours. To see if the herbs are dry, check if leaves crumble easily. Oven-dried herbs will cook a little, removing some of their potency and flavor, so you may need to use a little more of them in cooking.

When your herbs crumble easily in your fingers, you’ll know they’re dry and ready to be placed in a sealed zip-loc bag or a mason jar. Make sure to label, date and ensure your container is tightly sealed. For the freshest flavor, leave your leaves whole until you need them then crush. Use within one year.

Excellent Resources

If you are interested in learning more check out these sites for very detailed and specific instructions. And remember Donna's number one rule: Follow the recipe exactly!

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right plantsĀ in right places.