GTTY – August
The gardening article is in Local Food this month because it has much information about preserving the harvest, yours or the produce you buy from local farmers. Very often farmers are delighted to sell bushels of tomatoes, peppers or onions, bags of corn and mountains of winter squash at great prices. Take advantage of the bounty of the season and put some food by for the winter. It will save you time and money. Information on storing winter squash will be in Septembers "Gardening Through the Year"
August is a wonderful month in the garden, or rather in the kitchen after you have spent time harvesting. The summer squash keeps coming, joined by tomatoes and beans in abundance. The potatoes, onions and garlic are ready for harvest and to be stored for the winter. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale continue to produce. Swiss chard is growing faster than you can harvest and eat it. Cucumbers are filling baskets and neighbors’ tables. Every meal has the bright colors, high nutrition and superb flavor that keeps you gardening.
From the beginning of August to our frost date (September 15) is long enough to plant a few more seeds for lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes and even broccoli, collards and beans. We rarely have an early frost and many tender plants can be protected through most of October. It is a good idea to plant all your late crops close to each other and then you can rig up a "greenhouse" with plastic and supports that will give you August harvests in September, October and maybe even November. If you plan on bringing herbs inside for the winter, now is the time to start them outside so they are off to a strong start and still young when you bring them in.
The challenge this month is how to keep up with the harvest. There are many answers depending on your time, freezer space and family’s eating habits. Giving away all you can’t eat is one solution, but a little extra work now can provide vegetables all winter. Preserve what you can’t eat within two days by canning, freezing, drying or storing. Brief instructions for freezing and detailed instructions for an easy method to can tomatoes are given below. If you have the freezer space, August is a great month to make big pots of chili and soup. All the herbs are fresh and vegetables abundant. Here are a few suggestions by vegetable that are harvested in August:
Beans: Sometimes called “snap beans”, the best way to separate the young tender beans (the ones you want) from those that have gotten stringy or woody, is the snap them. If they are particularly long, snap them twice or three times into lengths you enjoy eating. Rinse them in a colander. Even if you have a very big batch, blanch* them all. Freeze* those that are extra and continue to cook those you wish to eat now. One favorite summer dish is three bean salad. The intense color and crispy texture of a blanched bean is particularly good in bean salad. Canning green beans requires a pressure canner, is more work and most people prefer frozen to canned.
Cucumbers can be pickled, eaten raw or in cold soups.
Corn: Freezing works well for summer fresh taste. Take the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife after blanching and cooling. You can also not completely shuck the corn and bend back the inner leaves, tying them together with a rubber band and hanging it to dry in an airy, warm spot out of direct sun. When dry, the kernels can easily be rubbed off the cob and stored in jars, ground into meal or rehydrated for use in soups, stews, etc.
Greens: Tender greens like spinach, Swiss chard, lamb’s quarters, and amaranth, can be “blanched” by simply steaming them in the water that clings to leaves when washing them. They can be seasoned with oil or butter, garlic, tomatoes, etc. before letting them cool and placing them into bags or containers. Greens like kale or collards can simply be stuffed into plastic bags and frozen. Blanching, however, reduces the mass and saves freezer space. The greens of the brassica family are best after a frost and can withstand very cold temperature (into the teens)
Peppers and Tomatoes: Simply wash cut into desire sizes. Put into a zip lock bag and freeze.
Onions and garlic should be harvested as the tops die back. Both need to cure in an airy, dry spot for a week or so before cleaning them up a little for winter use. Both store well in baskets at about 40 - 50 degrees. It is good to watch the onions as you use them for those that might sprout or spoil. Small baskets make this easier.
Summer squash can be grated or cubed and frozen without blanching. Making loafs of zucchini bread is a good way to use up those “ones that got away”. Freezing stuffed squash is also a nice way to preserve the summertime flavors. Zucchini also makes great sweet bread and butter pickles.
Freezing instructions for vegetables that need to be blanched: (beans, broccoli, greens, corn):
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. A spaghetti cooker works very well for this.
2. Wash the vegetables
3. *Blanch by putting the vegetables in a colander or basket and lower into the boiling water
4. Time 3-4 minutes (this kills the enzymes that would alter the taste and texture)
5. Remove basket and dump the vegetable into a dishpan full of cold water
6. After 2-3 minutes, the vegetable will be cool, remove to a colander
7. Drain well (you can put beans on a bath towel to remove excess moisture)
8. Scoop into freezing container (zip lock plastic bags, jars, old cottage cheese or yogurt containers, etc.)
9. Place in the coldest part of your freezer
Canning Tomatoes: Without a pressure canner, tomatoes, pickles and applesauce are the only products that are safe to can. It is fast and easy, but does require an investment in canning jars and rings (one time) and lids (every year). Canning tomatoes has the advantage, that once in the jar, no more electricity is needed. You can also can a great variety of products seasoned to your taste and preferences using your own fresh herbs. This is how:
1. Wash all the tomatoes, remove stem and blossom ends, cut coarsely or crush in a large pan. Tomatoes should be fully ripe and near perfect.
2. Bring tomatoes to a boil and simmer until very soft. While they are cooking
3. Wash the estimated number of jars in hot soapy water or in your dishwasher.
4. Place the jars in the oven at 225 F.
5. Ladle the tomatoes into a conical sieve and allow the light juice to drain into one pan
6. Put the pulp through the sieve into a second pan (There will be twice as much light juice as there is heavy sauce. )
7. Fill a small sauce pan with water and bring lids to a boil.
8. Bring both pans (thick and thin) to a rolling boil.
9. Ladle into hot jars (take jars out of the oven, one at a time), put on lids and rings
10. Let cool and make sure the lid pops assuring that it has sealed. Do not disturb for 12 hours or more.
This will make two quarts of thin juice which is good for drinking or using as a base for soup and two pints of thick sauce which can be used as you would any unseasoned tomato sauce. You can vary the process for several different products as follows:
(Lasagna sauce) At step 5 above, push the all the tomatoes through the sieve into one pan in which you have sautéed onions and garlic. Add herbs of choice (e.g., oregano, basil, marjoram). Bring to a boil. Simmer for about ten minutes. Bring to a rolling boil and continue with steps 7-10. This is a thin sauce and your lasagna noodles do not need to be cooked. Just layer with uncooked noodles.
(Pizza sauce) At step 6, push the pulp through into a pan with sautéed onions and garlic. Add herbs and simmer for about ten minutes. Bring to a rolling boil and continue with steps 7-10.
(Spaghetti sauce) At step 5, put all tomatoes through the sieve into a pan with onions and garlic. Add desired herbs and cook down until it is the desired consistency. Bring to a rolling boil and continue with steps 7-10.
(Tomato soup base or pureed tomatoes) Push all tomatoes through sieve and can.
If you want stewed tomatoes or some tomato pieces in your product, you can drop whole tomatoes into a pan of boiling water in a metal colander. Let the water return to a boil (no more than 30-45 seconds). The skins will easily slip off.