Summertime brings plenty to look forward to for Western New Yorkers—dips in Lake Erie, strolls through Delaware Park, visits to Canalside, and of course, trips to every nearby farmers’ market and U-Pick farm. But because the season never lasts long, sadness sometimes creeps in with all that fresh-picked sweetness. This year, save at least the tastes of summer by drying, freezing, and canning to bring a bit of summer into the colder months.
Drying fruits, herbs, and vegetables is a clever way to keep your favorite flavors shelf-stable for several weeks. Dried fruit can be eaten as a healthy snack, added to trail mixes and cereal, and baked into desserts. Dried tomatoes and peppers are tasty in soups and stews and can be rehydrated for other dishes. And who doesn’t want to stock their own spice cabinet?
It’s not necessary to buy expensive food dehydrators to dry your summer produce; all you need is an oven. Cut tomatoes and large peppers into quarters or eighths; leave smaller vegetables whole. Bake them on parchment paper in an oven set to 200 degrees for four to five hours, turning them every so often and checking for dryness.
Herbs can be dried the same way or hung upside down. For the second method, pick or cut a handful of rosemary or thyme (or sage, parsley, or oregano), wrap the stems together with wire or twine, and hang the bouquet upside down in a cool, dry place. Keep out of direct sunlight. When the herbs are crispy to the touch, they’re ready. Take them down, crush or break them up, and store them in an air-tight container.
Tip: Reuse glass baby food jars for an eco-friendly option.
Freezing is wonderful for food preservation, if you’ve got the space. There’s no greater comfort than pulling out a container of homemade spaghetti sauce in the middle of December, heating it up, and reliving the magic of summer tomatoes. Freezing is also a safe way to save soups, sauces, and stews that contain meat.
No other food preservation method is easier. Put your fruit, jam, or sauce into a food-safe and air-tight container (no glass!), label it, and pop it in the freezer. To avoid freezer burn, make sure the food is wrapped or sealed tightly, without a lot of extra “air space” in the container.
Tip: Freeze multiple small quantities instead of a few huge containers. They are easier to use and share, and you’ll cut down on thawing time.
Save summer in a bottle by canning your own salsa, preserves, or pickles. Local produce (even from your own backyard) always tastes better than store-bought versions, and canned goods make perfect gifts, appropriate for any occasion. For an added personal touch, design your own labels. (“Peggy’s Pickles” will be a hit at Christmas, and “Sweet and Sassy Strawberry Jam” will be everyone’s favorite housewarming gift, guaranteed.)
When canning, it’s important to follow preparation guidelines, including temperatures, measurements, and cook times. Cutting corners can be dangerous; follow trusted recipes and do your research.
Tip: If you’re new to canning, cook one batch at a time, then check for proper seals, taste, set, and texture. That way, you can make any corrections necessary for a perfect second batch.
The warm weather won’t last long, but with a little planning, the harvest can. This winter, when your friends and family members are pining for fresh raspberries or vine-ripe tomatoes, pop open a jar of summer and pass it around.
Rebecca Cuthbert lives, writes, and gardens in Dunkirk. She is a longtime Forever Young contributor.