Nothing lasts forever

Although it’s the wrong end of the season to be preserving much food, now is a good time to think about how to store produce and what it is possible to keep. The summer is full of good things to eat from the garden, but some simply have to be enjoyed in season; others can be preserved by processing and some will last for months in their raw state.

Some of last year's harvest - raw and processed

I love winter squashes and pumpkins because they provide me with fresh food for many months after harvest – simple ripening and they are ready to be stored in a cool place. We put ours in the loft for the winter, only cutting into the final one from 2011 a few weeks ago. I do wish I had grown more last year and will try to rectify that in the coming season. Here in west Wales my best producer is ‘Boston’ and that is the variety that I will be concentrating on this year: it is a beautiful yellow fruit and, for me, the orange flesh is like sunshine in the dark winter days! So, if I plant the right seeds now, I should be enjoying the fruits (or vegetables) of my labour until this time next year, or beyond.

Unlike squashes, most crops require some active preservation. Perhaps the easiest method is freezing. Although some crops, like mangetout and runner beans, require blanching (plunging into boiling water for a few seconds), quite a few can be frozen from fresh – peas and raspberries, for example. Some crops, however, need much more processing. Courgettes can be fried then frozen for use in stews or soups, or any vegetable or combination of vegetables can be turned into soup and frozen for later consumption. But, of course, this requires a sizeable freezer if there is food for several months and there are costs (financial and environmental) for both the electricity to run it and for its production in the first place.

Canning and bottling are options that require time and energy (both personal and for heat production) at the outset, but subsequent storage should be energy-free. There can be substantial set-up costs too, but all the equipment will be used year after year. I had considerable success with bottled apples – both slices and puree – last year and hope to repeat the process this year if my friend Perkin supplies me with as many apples as he did in 2011. I’m planning on jars of passatta as well, although I’m hoping that Perkin can oblige with the raw materials for this too, as I have limited success with tomatoes usually. Perkin gets a fair deal – I process produce for him too so he has time to concentrate on more growing things. Jam making is another ‘bottling’ technique used by many and you can end up with preserves that last for years.

If your runner beans get too big, then let the seeds develop and dry them to use later in casseroles. Herbs, of course, can be dried, as can apple rings and onions. Fruit and vegetables can also be fermented – parsnip wine anyone? And then there are fruit leathers, sauerkraut, pickles… so many options.

Perhaps the most satisfying way to feed yourself through the year is to have crops that prolong the season or that are harvested at unusual times. Great winter standbys are leeks, kale and purple sprouting broccoli, plus there are many oriental winter vegetables and a variety of salad leaves.

So, as you buy and plant your seeds, think about the vegetables (and fruit) that will crop for you over a long period and at different times of the year. Think about varieties that store well. Think about sequential planting to prolong the season. Then, when you come to harvesting, try to store some of your produce; and if you can’t do this share it with other people and store it in the form of good will!

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5 Comments

  1. Is that a Hubbard Golden in the picture? I just planted those this year … bought the heirloom seeds online. My plants are already huge! I also planted some baby pumpkins. I hope to have plenty of both for long-term storage this winter. Good post!

    Reply
    • No, that’s a ‘Boston’… they ripen well even with the relatively short season that we have here. I would heartily recommend them if you can get the variety. I have not tried golden hubbard, but your plants sound great.

      Reply
  2. Yes, I’m impressed with Boston Marrow, a good squash for our climate, although the skin is softer and waxier than some and this fact is not lost on the voles who chewed through and into several fruits last year. It has big seeds and I’ve grown it direct seeded, which reduces transplanting shock – usually tdirect sown plants catch up and overtake the transplants.

    Reply
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