How To Preserve Your Veggies: Freezing, Drying, Pickling, Canning and Fermenting!
Sometimes, CSA shares can be so abundant you might start to feel like you have a surplus of vegetables. On the other hand, you might just be looking forward to enjoying the flavors of the growing season well into the winter months. Either way the answer you’re looking for is the same: preserving!
There are many ways to preserve fruits and vegetables. That’s why we whipped up this guide on the most common preservation techniques. Read on to learn about your options when it comes to preserving CSA items at home!
Freezing is generally the easiest way to preserve fruits and vegetables. A good way to think about which veggies freeze well it is to consider what you’d find in the freezer aisle of your local grocery store. If it’s there as a “ready to cook” option it’s a good candidate for freezing.
Before freezing it’s important to thoroughly wash your vegetables and cut them to the desired size.
Many vegetables freeze better if they’re blanched first. Blanching means you briefly boil the vegetables and then plunge them in an ice water bath to stop them from cooking further. Usually blanching only takes 2-5 minutes. Common examples of what to blanch before freezing include:
After blanching you simply place your vegetables in a freezer safe container and then in your freezer!
Expert tip: Before freezing, dry your vegetables and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Freeze the vegetables until solid and then remove them from the cookie sheet and store in a freezer safe container in the freezer. This keeps vegetables from freezing together in a solid block!
If you’re fortunate enough to have a food dehydrator you’ve probably fallen in love with drying fruits, vegetables and herbs! While it is possible to dehydrate CSA items in the oven or even by air-drying, a food dehydrator is the most consistent way and a very sound investment.
Drying food is easy. All you need to do is thoroughly wash and cut your share items as desired and follow the manufacturer’s directions for your dehydrator! Don’t forget to remove any stems or ends that you don’t want to eat. After drying you’ll want to store items in a clean food safe container with a locking lid. Mason jars and other glassware are always a good bet for storage. Taking cues from store bought dried fruits and veggies, as well as looking up recipes is a good way to get familiar with the best ways to cut and dry your produce. On the farm we love drying hot and sweet peppers, kale chips, sliced strawberries and plum tomatoes!
Tip: It’s important to cut even consistent sizes that aren’t too thick so your items dry evenly. In general, it’s best to use slices no thicker than a pickle chip. Some items that are more watery (like tomatoes) can be cut a bit thicker. Alternatively, thin-walled fruits like hot peppers can even be dried whole.
At its core, pickling is really about the brine. Brine is a salty, and often acidic solution, that produce is soaked in to infuse the food with flavor and preserve it for longer. Some pickle recipes also involve a canning step, whereas others don’t. One of the most well known is the dill pickle, which is slightly cooked during the canning process.
Other pickles known as “quick pickles” or “refrigerator pickles” can even be made and enjoyed in the same day. These won’t last as long as canned pickles but are absolutely worth trying. Usually they just involve making a brine, and then submerging washed and cut produce in the brine overnight in the refrigerator. There are no shortage of quick pickle recipes and they’re perfect for summer.
Some of the best items for pickling are cucumbers, beets, peppers and green tomatoes. Just like with canning and fermenting, it’s best to closely follow an established recipe (preferably with an experienced pickler if it’s your first time). Pickling is a time-honored culinary tradition and luckily there’s no shortage of resources and classes!
It’s hard to imagine something more closely related to the farm kitchen than canning. Canning involves processing foods at high temperatures inside a glass jar, which in turn creates a vacuum seal inside the container. That seal is why jars “pop” when opened. Recipes and procedures are integral to canning, but it is a straightforward process that is incredibly rewarding!
Canning is easy to do at home with a few simple tools. Here’s the basics you’ll want to have on hand:
Water bath or pressure canner
Bubble freer and head space tool
Some of our favorite foods to can on the farm are:
Kraut, kimchi and more have long been a staple in many cultures around the world. Fermented foods are naturally probiotic, have a long shelf life and taste great! What’s not to love?
Wine, beer, cheese, bread and cured meats are all common fermented foods.
Fermenting requires conscientious cleaning and attention to detail. Sometimes foods are inoculated, meaning an outside probiotic source is used. Other times, naturally occuring yeast and bacteria on the food is used to create the probiotics for fermentation. During fermentation, produce develops cultures that flavor and preserve the final product. If you’re considering fermenting it’s best to attend a workshop or learn from books or another credible source before venturing into making your own...but it’s so worth it!
Once you begin making your own ferments it becomes easier, just like baking bread or brewing beer. People have been fermenting foods for thousands of years and this is one of the best (and maybe most interesting) ways to preserve your CSA share.