Put 'em up! Preserving vegetables from a small harvest

Guestpost by Kristin Roach on Aug 24th

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.


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.

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About Kristin Roach

Kristin publishes the zine Craft Leftovers, and arts, crafts, and blogs out of The Little Woods Homestead in Ames, Iowa.