Put 'em up! Preserving vegetables from a small harvest

August 24 | Guest post by Kristin Roach

I know many of you have gardens just like me. Once you finally cleared away the weeds in that mid summer purge, there was a whole lot less going on in there than you thought. There are bald patches that feel like a lost opportunity.

I had ideas of producing pounds upon pounds of produce to put away for the winter after I'd enjoyed them all summer long. Well, I have enjoyed peas, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and basil, but definitely not enough to "put up." I kept waiting to get enough of one thing to can, freeze, or dry — but it just never happened.

This week I finally learned the most amazing thing about gardening as a grocery supplement:

You need a whole lot less of one thing to can than you might think.

I really wanted to put SOMETHING up! I dug around in the fridge and I had:

  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cups of cherry tomatoes
  • 3 ears of corn (local farmer) that I had grilled
  • 2 pablano peppers
  • 6 blood carrots
  • 1 lone zucchini –- I think a wasp finally came around and pollinated it
  • onions and garlic from the farmer's market
  • Dill seed

There wasn't even enough to make a batch of salsa.

I didn't feel like eating this stuff straight up — I already had my fill of veggies for the day. You know when you kind of look in the fridge and you just kind of feel "meh" about everything in there?

I really wanted to can something. Anything. I had a canning kit, loads of sugar, vinegar, and salt. I had anticipated the harvest and bought all the supplies last year when I made pickles from my surprise batch of cucumbers.

I started with the zucchini:

Maybe I could slice it up and dehydrate it or puree and freeze it to use as a base to a soup or sauce? I grabbed my new book — Put 'em Up! — and flipped to the squash section. To my surprise, the recipe for squash and onion relish required just two pounds each of squash and onions. Equal portions! I happened to have one zucchini weighing in at 13 ounces and two onions equaling 12.4 ounces. Close enough! I was able to fill four half-pint jars.

Okay. Zucchini and onions taken care of. What's next?

Hmm, what should I do with these carrots?

I flipped over to the carrots section — that's one of the things I love about this book; it's arranged according to the vegetable name, so in each veg section there's a couple recipes, and then storage suggestions for fresh and, if applicable, frozen and dried. There was an enticing recipe for spicy carrots, requiring a handful of carrots and a jalapeno. Cutting the recipe down by two thirds made exactly a pint of spicy carrots.

Corn

Hmm. You are already roasted, oh delicious corn — what shall I make with you? I was thinking maybe some kind of corn salsa. Well, wouldn't you know it, there's a whole section on corn and a recipe for something delightful called picnic relish. It calls for corn, green peppers, onions, and spices. Granted they want you to use 12 ears of corn and I had just three, but that's okay — I cut the recipe in fourths and was all set. It made three half-pint jars in the end.

I waited until I put everything into jars and processed everything at the same time — a properly-sized batch of eight cans.

I was surprised at the sense of discovery, and the feeling I wasn't wasting anything. There's always fear with a new canning recipe that it'll suck a whole lot and you've just wasted your summer harvest. I was able to make three small batches of three different recipes in just one afternoon of canning. With my next clutch of carrots I'll try something slightly different — maybe pickled carrots, or slice them up and freeze them, or maybe even dice and dehydrate.

I was honestly shocked that, at the end of it, the only thing left in my harvest basket was some dill seed I had collected this afternoon — which I promptly put in a jar and vacuum sealed until I collect enough to dehydrate.

If you want even more info on canning, dehydrators, books you should read, and tools you'll want, visit Kristin's blog for recommendations.

  1. I just ordered a copy of the book for my very own. I have a small yard and only do container gardening, supplementing our other produce needs with the farmer's markets and farms nearby. I love the idea of putting up small amounts and those recipes look inventive and delicious!

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  2. THANK YOU! I actually have this book and my little container garden has been so, so sad, so I have felt I couldn't can anything. As a novice gardener and novice canner, I was dithering, "Um, can I just cut the portions down? Will it still work? I AM PARALYZED WITH STUPID FEAR!" Thank you for re-confirming my suspicion, "Um, yes, it will totally still work."

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  3. I love this book too. My wife & I have been discussing "cooking the book" — something I have never actually wanted to do before. We have blogged some of the recipes we've made… like the black cherry preserves. (make them – they are awesome on grilled cheese sandwiches)

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  4. These all sound delicious, but I have a question. This may sound ignorant, but I've never had much exposure to preserved foods, so… How would you serve/eat these types of things?

    I could just see myself doing this and then having no idea what to do with them, resulting in wastage.

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    • It depends on what you make–I've done big batches of apple butter, which is great on bread, ice cream, out of the jar… ;)

      If you're preserving fruits, you can make jams, jellies, butters, etc. If you're doing veggies, you can do salsas, pasta sauce, kim chi, saurkraut, or just pack herbs in oil for use later.

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    • I imagine the relishes being served on some sort of braut, though that corn one may well work on just crackers. I've made pepper jelly that was great on a bagel with cream cheese and alfalfa sprouts, but probably would have been fantastic on pork shops if I ate pork. Pickled veggies (which the spicy carrots might be) are great as a snack, but also work as side dishes. I love just munching on pickled okra or green beans throughout the day, but I'll also serve them with lunch next to a sandwich. think of them just like traditional pickles only with nutrition!

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  5. I just had this thought yesterday, but for preserving fruits for winter: people usually cook jam in batches of 50 jars, spend a whole weekend doing it and that's it. I cook a couple of jars a week, depending on which fruits I have in excess or are about to go bad. It might not be interesting in terms of time management, but this way I still have many jars of jam come winter, and no two jars are the same as I add cinnamonspices, herbs, edible flowers… depending on what I fancy or what I have in store. You could apply that to preserving veggies in order to have tasty preserves which never feel monotonous.

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  6. This is awesome! I'm always too lazy to do such things. Maybe sometimes I should try it.

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  7. Just ordered the book! I, too, am a container gardener, and it would be nice to put something up to enjoy during the long cold winter months. I can't wait to get it in the mail!

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  8. A book I can recommend on canning is Saving the seasons by Mary Clemens Meyer and Susanna Meyer. Additionally the USDA has some good publication on canning. Our goal is to be self sufficient and I personally consider the freezer to be a waste of electricity.

    The first thing that will increase yeild is to be out in the garden every 2 or 3 days… A light hoeing will stop alot of those weeds (the weeds are shading out your food plants!!) The second thing to to worry about your soil… one zucchini tells me that you need compost, fertilizer…something. I use a combination of compost and 10-10-10.

    I usually have more summer squash than I know what to do with…

    Regardless, Good luck!

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  9. I just bought this book, but I haven't looked at it yet because I'm waiting till next pay day to get me some jars! Glad to know I can still work with what little I have :)

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  10. I got my copy today! I can't wait to find out what I can make with my one prolific chili pepper plant. It's really the only thing that took off under my care this year.

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