By Roberta Bailey
Many magazine or periodical journalists write their pieces for the readers of the future. With my Harvest Kitchen column, for example, I write in April for the summer issue of The MOF&G. Normally I don’t know in April whether summer will turn out to have been dry or whether we will have had a major weather event, but usually I do know what will be ripe in the garden or available at the farmers’ market by summer. I write toward a fairly predictable future. In April of 2020, however, we were still sheltering in place, and I had the unsettling task of writing to an audience that knows that the next few months will be dominated by all the unknowns of the coronavirus pandemic.
I do know that the pandemic made many extremely aware of their food insecurity. People decided that they had better grow more food. Farmers responded to the increased demand for local produce, eggs and meat. As a result, seed companies were overwhelmed with unprecedented numbers of orders – so many that some had to shut down their websites temporarily so that a reduced staff could fulfill existing orders. Farmers who had products to sell got creative with curbside marketing and deliveries. I hope that this shift toward valuing a more-local economy will endure beyond the immediate demand.
I think I can safely predict that many gardeners now have a counter overflowing with freshly grown produce. Who knew that a row of beans would yield so well? What can one do with 20 zucchinis or all the broccoli that is ready at the same time?
Or perhaps your seeds are still in their packets. If so, consider buying in bulk from a farm or at a farmers’ market. Winter squash and onions will keep for months in a cool room. Potatoes, beets, cabbage, leeks and carrots will keep in a cold cellar or back room, especially if you can bag them to control moisture loss.
You can also put off processing until a cooler or less hectic time of year. I often freeze berries in the summer and make jam or juice in the fall when I have more time and when I appreciate the heat from the stove more. This delay also allows for mixing foods that ripen at different times – to make, for example, blackberry elderberry juice, raspberry or peach applesauce, peach and fresh ginger marmalade, or tomatillo salsa verde.
Here are a few tips for quick and relatively easy ways to deal with your bounty. Also consider lacto-fermenting vegetables. The process is quick, very easy and can use up a lot of surplus produce. Reliable instructions are available on the web.
Use this puree as a simple soup, or freeze and use it as a base or background flavor enhancer for soup, sauces or stews.
Lots of zucchini or summer squash, cut into chunks
1 to 2 or more onions, chopped in eighths
Basil or other herbs (optional)
In a large stock pot, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the squash and onions. Steam until tender. If adding salt or herbs, toss them on top of the hot squash. Let cool and puree with an immersion blender or food processor, or hand mash. Freeze in pint or quart containers. If making a soup to eat now, adjust seasonings. Garnish with minced chives or parsley, if desired.
These are like dilly beans but are made with any vegetable you have.
Pack hot, wide-mouth pint jars with clean, bite-sized raw vegetable pieces. Asparagus, green or wax beans, cauliflower, carrots and snap peas work well.
Add to each jar:
½ tsp. whole mustard seed
½ tsp. dill seed or 2 heads fresh dill
1 clove peeled garlic
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper or 1 small piece fresh hot pepper (optional)
Mix and heat the brine. Ten cups of brine fill 8 or 9 pint jars of vegetables.
5 c. vinegar
5 c. water
1/3 c. pickling or sea salt (non-iodized)
Pour boiling brine into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal and process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Remove and cool.
Seven Tree Farm’s Broccoli Cheddar Soup
4 Tbsp. butter or vegetable oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced large
3 large garlic cloves, sliced large
2 quarts veggie or chicken stock
1 or 2 large heads of fresh broccoli, cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 additional head of fresh broccoli and/or cauliflower or kale mix, steamed and cut into bite sizes
8 to 10 oz. cheddar cheese, cut into a few squares
2 c. whole milk
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (or more to taste)
Salt, white miso, or bouillon and pepper to taste
Saute onion and garlic in butter or oil until translucent. Add chopped broccoli and stock. Gently boil stock with onions, garlic, initial head of broccoli, and potatoes for 20 minutes or until soft.
Remove from heat and use a stick blender or food processor to blend the mixture to a puree.
Return to gentle heat and add the cheddar, milk and nutritional yeast. Simmer and stir until the cheese melts. Season to taste with miso or salt and pepper, etc. Add the additional cooked broccoli/cauliflower and bring to temperature, being careful not to boil. Serve with fresh bread or cornbread on the side.
Note that you can cook all the veggies in the first stage if you want a wholly pureed soup; you can add grated raw carrots or cooked cubed carrots with the second-stage veggies for additional texture and flavor; and you can garnish with freshly minced chives. Sidebar
Freezing Goods from the Garden
Freezing fruits and vegetables can be quick and efficient. Freezers are relatively inexpensive and are sometimes free on the side of the road! Always label your frozen goods with the type of produce and date frozen.
Pick leaves of basil, cilantro, oregano, sage, parsley or other herbs. Lay the leaves flat, packing them well into a glass jar or plastic yogurt-type container. (Parsley is best chopped.) Place a lid on the container and store it in the freezer. Herbs keep all winter this way with excellent flavor, and the leaves separate easily for removal from containers. Use them in cooking or crumble frozen herbs on a salad.
Frozen Pureed Herbs
Blend herbs in olive oil and a small amount of salt. Place the puree in glass or plastic containers and freeze, or freeze them in ice cube trays and pop the frozen cubes into freezer bags or containers. Use pureed herbs to season sauces, meat or fish, or as a pesto base for pasta, pizza and more.
Frozen Sweet or Hot Peppers
We use 4 gallons of frozen sweet peppers each winter. Their flavor and aroma is amazing. They are excellent in any cooking and are great in salads. Their texture is not crisp but not too soft. To prepare, remove seeds and stems from peppers. Dice into quarter-inch pieces or desired size. Hot peppers can be sliced whole or prepared as noted for sweet peppers. Fill freezer bags or containers and pop them into the freezer.
Wash and slice ripe tomatoes. Lay the slices on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Place the frozen tomatoes in freezer bags or containers. Use them in cooking or to make sauce.
Fruits and Berries
All berries, rhubarb and most fruits can be frozen without any other processing. Some need to be pitted, skinned or chopped to the desired size. Then just place them in containers and freeze them – or freeze them on a baking sheet and place frozen fruits in containers.
About the author: Roberta grows an abundance of produce and saves seeds at her Seven Tree Farm in Vassalboro, Maine. She is the longest-running columnist for The MOF&G.