GARDEN GOURMET-- August 2008
With gardens peaking, August is a time for enjoying
the “fruits” of your labors, but as a plethora of produce floods the scene
it is also a time to turn the eyes . . . and efforts . . . to the winter’s
In short, it is a time to preserve the surpluses
. . . and there are at least three ways of doing this . . . freezing, canning,
drying. Each has its place in the overall scheme of preserving for winter,
perhaps for longer periods of time.
When all is said and done, it can be argued that
freezing probably is the most popular of the routes (it has been said that
freezing and canning are every bit as nutritious as fresh produce). Still,
I think that the method of preserving must be matched with the form of
Canning and drying were the mainstays of preserving
when I was a kid--my mother, grandmother and sister filled the family larders
with a great variety of produce.
As a member of a very poor family (post Depression,
you know), wild fruits and berries took on an important role in the winter
fare, but nuts and other goodies were used with relish (figuratively, not
literally) to complement canned foods. The only freezer in town was the
icehouse and we did not enjoy having storage space at our disposal there.
In an ordinary summer, the ladies would “put up”
upwards of 100 quarts and pints of “goodies,” not counting the smaller
jars of jellies, jams, and butters of apple, peach, plums and others. One
of the poor man’s desserts of that day was a leftover biscuit or homemade
bread swimming in canned and sweetened blackberries when the weekly supply
of homemade pies and cakes were a gleam in a growing boy’s eyes.
Not to be forgotten, were the evening gatherings
of family members around the “Parlour Furnace” in the living room. My father
would turn hickory nuts on their sides and with his old claw hammer crack
them on my mother’s flat iron held between his knees (handle down) to create
half kernels for the picking and snacking.
We would, of course, be listening on Saturday
evenings to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.
Piqued by such humble (but good) beginnings, and
the catbird seat from which I watched as the “good old days” unfolded,
I still place a premium on preservation. To be sure, half-cooked and frozen
morels do not quite measure up to fresh, but they fill a dietary niche
when the snow flies.
Likewise, a hot biscuit smeared with butter and
my tomato preserves fills a void in my diet. And boiled beans dressed with
a few spoons of chili sauce are not a thing that I despise.
All of this is work. You may be sure of that.
But the rewards are manifold. It would require a book--maybe several of
them--to treat this subject definitively, but however simple my methods
may be, they work. As I have noted on many occasions, recipes are merely
a starting point . . . at best. Any recipe could be improved . . . my rationale
for calling them procedures.
Much of my efforts at preserving foods -- even
fish and game--are frozen now. Butjellies, jams and butters (apple, peach,
plum etc.) are canned in smaller quantities.
Mushrooms are processed as partially fried or
dried and I do not have the slightest notion that they can match freshly
picked. Some, as a matter of fact (especially shaggymanes) do not preserve
well. Incidentally, my lengthy experiments (keeping them refrigerated and
void of air immersed in water) keeps them edible for a longer time. Air,
it seems, sends them over the hill. However, long exposure to water tends
to make them mushy.
Nuts should be hulled and dried, but not necessarily
in sunshine. Black walnuts, very prevalent in these parts, can be dried
in sun, but this treatment will cause hickory nuts to check and crack.
Both, of course, must be protected while drying from food storing squirrels.
I once found and hulled about a peck of real prize
black walnuts and placed them on the roof (under a screen) to dry. However,
as they dried, piney (red) squirrels had pilfered all of them.
This scenario ends well, however, because they
were cached in my gutters. A late fall cleaning allowed me to reclaim my
As noted above, there are so many ways to freeze
produce that I dare not try to explain them here. However, I do find some
of them so simple and good that I will share them.
TOMATOES -- Notwithstanding the fact that I find
canned tomatoes nothing short of delightful in many dishes, I simply skin
them by blanching, cook them with onion and zucchini, and freeze them in
two-cup lots. This holds them very well through winter, and I merely thaw
and add other ingredients for chili and other dishes. They can be dried.
Cores are removed, but I find them tasty.
CORN -- Over the years I have seen many ways to
preserve sweet corn but most are complicated and work. I met a farmer last
year that simplifies this chore by removing shucks and silks and blanching
the ears with grains on the cob. The entire ear then is frozen in meal-size
bags. The thawed ears are then microwaved hot enough to melt butter. Corn
prepared thusly can be cut from cob for frying or adapted in other dishes.
Fried in bacon fryings mixed with butter, cracker crumbs and onion, it
PEPPERS -- Quartered fresh (seeds in) they may
be frozen in sandwich bags. Months later they are delicious chopped and
place in garnishes or on sandwiches with onion, raw or fried.
Produce I freeze ordinarily is wrapped tightly
in newspaper and taped to ward off freezer burn.
A TIP OR TWO --
If jars and other containers are scarce, put produce in Ziplock sandwich
bags, or other plastic bags, closed tightly with “twistems.” Until runny
things are frozen, keep tops up in freezer.
Meats, contrary to popular misconceptions, should
be started baking when still a bit frozen. This keeps liquids in the meat
until it is seared on the outside. Start in a skillet, then bake. A dry
wine is good for basting occasionally. Onion and bacon slices help and
become tasty tidbits.
WANTED: DEAD --
This is velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), alias a common look alike
to the tall version of okra. Don’t be fooled by this one. Like the tall
version of okra, it grows waist high, has yellow flowers an inch wide,
and they develop into one-inch burry seed pods three-fourths an inch deep,
not long like edible okra pods (see picture). Leaves are heart-shaped.
Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.