I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on our new veggie garden. My boyfriend had asked our friendly neighbor to plow up the lawn we were converting with a tractor. I knew about that. What I didn’t realize was that our garden would be as big as a city lot. It made the 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed I was used to square foot gardening in look like a flower pot. I was both thrilled and intimidated.
Now that the shock has subsided, I’ve come to love having so much excess produce to preserve for the rest of the year. Dehydrating, fermenting, cellaring, canning and freezing are all great ways to get the most out of a bumper crop. The more I experiment with preserving food, the more I’ve come to think of it as a hobby in and of itself. I find it a relaxing and creative process. I get to pretend I am a resourceful and capable pioneer, and if things turn out wrong I don’t actually starve to death over the winter, snowbound, in a freezing one-room cabin.
Even if you don’t keep a garden yourself, this is a great time of year to pick up veggies from gardening friends and neighbors, all of whom are likely to be drowning in zucchini and tomatoes. During the peak weeks of a harvest, you can often get great deals at farmers markets on tomatoes, apples, cucumbers and other produce in bulk. Talk to the vendors. They will sometimes offer scratch and dent prices to bulk buyers, and are frequently full of suggestions for the home cook. I first learned about Sweet Sixteen apples from a grower, and they are so sweet and candy-like, I don’t have to add sugar when I make sauce.
There are a couple of preserved goods that I now consider pantry staples. Adapted from An Amish Garden: A Year in the Life of an Amish Garden by Laura Anne Lapp, this recipe makes pizza sauce as good as or better than any other I’ve tasted. It’s a very fast project if you are able to use that favorite tool of Amish cooks, a Victorio food strainer. I got mine last year during a canning season sale, and have never regretted my purchase. You can also make this recipe using whatever tools you have on hand to peel and seed the tomatoes.
Pizza Sauce [Printable Version]
Yield: 8 cups
9 lbs. plum tomatoes, enough to make 13 cups tomato puree
½ C lemon juice
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
Quarter tomatoes and steam until tender (3-5 minutes). Pass through Victorio food strainer immediately. Ladle puree into large pot and add remaining ingredients. (Laura and I agree, add more salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic salt than the recipe calls for.) Boil hard until mixture is the consistency of a thin sauce. (I prefer to boil at a lower temperature for a longer time. Both work, but make sure your sauce doesn’t burn if you boil it hard.)
Pour sauce into prepared hot jars, add lids, and process for 35 minutes.
Basil is a super easy herb to grow, and pesto is a great way to take advantage of the abundance. I grow several plants each summer so I’ve got plenty of fast, delicious dinners in the winter. Just defrost, stir in the cheese, and add to prepared pasta! This recipe, adapted from one by Elsie Bauer via Simply Recipes is extremely easy with a food processor, but I have also made small batches using a hand-held food chopper.
Fresh Basil Pesto [Printable Version]
Yield: 1 cup
Note: If freezing, omit cheese. For best results, freeze 30 minutes on a sheet of plastic wrap in a shallow pan. Break into pieces, and store in freezer bag. To use, defrost in refrigerator or on counter, then mix in grated cheese.
2 C packed basil
½ C pine nuts or walnuts
3 cloves garlic
½ C grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
½ C extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a food processor, pulse basil and nuts. Add garlic (and cheese, if using pesto immediately). Pulse several times more, then scrape down bowl. With processor running, add oil in a small, steady stream. Season to taste.
If you have any favorite recipes or tips, this is no time to be shy! The harvest is upon us, and I for one am about to be overrun by winter squash, brussel sprouts, and beets.