Family Treasure - Preserving the Harvest
Updated: Sep 26, 2018
Chronicles & Confessions of the Veggie Patch
An unfolding adventure tale of amateur vegetable gardening, peasant style.
-With detailed steps for establishing your own organic vegetable garden.
Series Post 10
“I’ll show you what Gramma and Great-Gramma taught me.”
Mom’s words felt like heaven had opened and angels were cheering. Nothing that I could learn from Google would compare to information passed down from my own family! I had wanted to learn how to can my own vegetables, sure, but to be able to have Mom teach me was beyond ideal.
Strangely, I didn’t even think to ask her until recently. I knew my parents used to have a large garden when I was a kid. I planted seeds in rows and snapped green beans. We picked our own pumpkins and husked corn. Dad rototilled, and Mom canned. But it was so long ago. No knowledge stuck with me to be used for my own garden now, and (Confession #15-) I even forgot that Mom and Dad could be perfect resources on the subject! It kept surprising me when either would have a casual solution for my gardening woes until I finally stopped to think about it.
“When did you stop gardening?” I asked Mom.
“When I went back to work.” (I would have been around six or seven, I think.) “I wanted to, but when I would come home, I had to do things with you guys, and you were all still little. I guess I could have, but I was just tired. Gardening and preserving food takes a lot of work, and it all comes on at once, usually right when school is starting. When you do canning, you really need to be able to give whole days to it,” she explained.
Learning this bit of my history was wonderfully enlightening. Here I was on fire for becoming self-sustaining with my gardening one day and I find out that Mom had once been way more like me than I ever realized. She had wanted the same things for her family. She put her all into it and only stopped when priorities needed changed. Now I listened to her recollection with awe, and I learned.
I, too, knew all to well how difficult it was to manage life’s demands. Choices are made every day. As nice as it would be to eat mostly food grown on your own land, how blessed we are as a nation that this is an option and not the only choice. How thrilled people must have been when frozen foods and pre-packaged meats first became available. Feeding your family today can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, and certain seasons of life call for different choices.
Nevertheless, I am determined to not let the "old ways" be forgotten as time marched on. I aim to resurrect as much of the peasant lifestyle for myself as possible because I believe it was a humble, responsible, enriching way of life that never took the blessings of God for granted. In the busyness of these days, I think we all wish we could tap into that, even just a little.
So, I made necessary investments for the food-preservation tasks at hand. I bought a mandolin vegetable slicer, canning jars and tools, and a dehydrator. (Confession #16- I never knew mandolins existed until a few weeks ago, but I feel like I would have invented them out of desperation had they not.)
“Do you want to come up and pick blueberries with me tomorrow?” Mom asked.
“Yes, and we can preserve my cucumbers and tomatoes!”
I had already learned a lot about preserving food from experimenting with my groceries this summer, but without being able to can, I had opted for freezing since I did have a medium-sized chest freezer. I had already prepped and frozen stocks, soups, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, celery, peppers, summer squash, onions, crushed garlic, refrigerator pickles, and lemon juice and zest. From the processes, I’d learned that most vegetables require blanching or par-cooking prior to freezing since they continue to break down if frozen raw, making you sick later. A few things don’t require this though. Cut onions and peppers can be flash-frozen on a cookie sheet and put into containers or baggies. I also quickly learned to package items in 1 cup measurements, so I only thaw what my recipe requires. Alternatively, diced onions or lemon zest, for examples, can also be frozen flat in a freezer bag so that chunks can simply be broken off a little at a time as needed.
(Confession #17 - This is the first time in my adult life I bothered to look up what “blanching” meant. I had heard of it, but the name sounded gross, and like something only a housewife in the 1950's might do. Confession #18 - I also had no idea other steps were necessary before freezing raw vegetables.)
As it turns out, Google said my tomatoes could have been frozen without any pre-cooking, but I wanted to learn whatever process Mom would show me, so I presented my little basket of red fruits after our blueberry excursion the next afternoon.
“There’s not enough here to can,” she said. I could tell, but we could at least do the pre-canning process and freeze them instead.
She showed me how popping the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute and then moving them with a slotted spoon to an ice bath is an easy way to remove the skins. It just slides right off! Apparently, my Great Grandmother would mash the tomatoes with her hands
to prep them for canning.
In the end, Mom and I had enough tomatoes to pre-package two baggies of diced fruit. That was two cans in my book, and I use a ton of canned diced tomatoes for recipes. Meanwhile, I still had plenty more green tomatoes on the vine that would be ripening soon enough.
“Great-Gramma would say, ‘Put these in your garden,’” Mom said, gathering the shed tomato skins from the cutting board. I smiled thinking of Great-Gramma and this new tidbit I learned about her. It also felt like every time I turned around I was learning something new about how to “peasantly” use resources down to the last drop. Recycling food back into the earth to provide nutrients for other food made me tingle thinking about it. God was so cool.
In the meantime, Mom and I let my cucumber slices dry out in the dehydrator to become closer to cucumber chips, which will supposedly keep in an airtight container.
But no matter how excited I was to preserve what little yield had come from my own garden this summer, Mom’s garden still looks immaculate compared to mine, and it seems effortless for her. This is the first garden I remember my parents planting from the time I was young, and yet every time I’ve gone to their house this season, it looks like they are bonafide farmers. It seems extra silly to me now that I didn’t think to consult them more all along, but now that I have woken up, it’s time to do things the true peasant way… learn skills from my parents and grandparents.
After all, that’s the true treasure worth preserving.
*See below for instructions on how to freeze and cure your harvest. (Confession #19- I learned all of the freezing tips the hard way.)
Meg Grimm is a writer, dreamer, church secretary and member of her church council. She often spends her days uncovering secrets of the historic past and writing fairy tale fiction. Meg is committed to living a healthy lifestyle according to what she understands from God’s Word.
Organic Veggie Patch
Step 6: Harvesting
Step 7: Preserving
I’ve been simply typing into Google, “how to harvest ____”, watching a few videos, taking my basket and kitchen shears, and the fun begins! These sources will also reveal how to tell when produce is ready to be picked (onion leaves flop over, turn brown and wilted, banana peppers should be about 6-7 inches long, etc.).
Freezing Your Harvest
Most garden produce can be frozen, but the process is different for each kind of vegetable. Research the necessary steps. If the process requires blanching, here are some tips:
1) Have an abundance of ice for ice baths. It melts quickly after you have soaked one batch of steaming hot, blanched veggies. You’ll need to re-ice your water between nearly every batch.
2) Sometimes a slotted spoon can’t get everything out of the pot at once, and some veggies end up more “done” than others. Use colanders or strainers to make the process easier. You can even put the veggies into the colander in the pot, so you can lift them all out at once.
3) Paper-towel dry before packaging. It’s the water that sticks everything together after freezing.
Here are general freezing tips:
1) Air is what causes freezer burn. If using freezer bags, use a straw to suck the air from the bag. It’s a makeshift vacuum seal. You can also dunk the bag into a bowl of water to create the vacuum, but then you have a wet bag, which isn’t always ideal before popping into the freezer.
2) Lay bags flat in the freezer so they freeze in an easily stack-able way and not take up too much space. How they freeze is the shape you’re stuck with.
3) Be sure to label and date. It’s advisable to use most frozen produce within six months or less.
4) Package in increments you will likely be using for recipes, so you don’t have to thaw out more than is needed at one time.
Note: I am unable to cure my onions as I’ve already found out the hard way that neither my garage nor basement have the necessary conditions to keep produce fresh very long, but here is a run-down for curing onions, potatoes and garlic based on Randy Shore’s advice.
Curing Your Potatoes
1) Stop watering potatoes mid-summer and watch for the vines to wither.
2) Select an upcoming period of at least three sunny, dry days.
3) Dig potatoes gently to avoid nicks.
4) Do not wash or brush soil away. Dirt will fall off. You don’t want to injure your crop.
5) Use a shady part of yard for curing. Spread your potatoes out on a table (or plywood) in that area so they are not touching.
6) Cover potatoes loosely with tarp to keep out sunlight. (Sunlight can turn them green. Do not eat green potatoes.)
7) After three to seven days of dry weather, place potatoes in burlap sacks or well-ventilated cardboard boxes.
8) Store in very dark, dry, cool places (but not below 40 degrees).
9) Check potatoes for signs of rot and remove those. Potatoes that are in contact with bad ones should be washed and eaten right away.
Curing Your Onions
1) When tops of onions wither, topple and yellow, they are ready to store.
2) Check the weather. You’ll need a week of dry weather.
3) Carefully loosen the soil under and around the bulbs to harvest.
4) Lay onions on top of the ground in the sun. (Don’t clean them.)
5) After 2-3 days, tops will be withered. Cut tops off with sharp clippers.
6) Onions with thick, juicy tops are unlikely to cure. Enjoy them now.
7) Take the rest to a tarp in a sunny spot in the yard (not over concrete, which is rough.)
8) Position onions on half of the tarp not touching. Leave them uncovered through the days, and fold the tarp over them in the evenings to keep them dry.
9) Remove onions that show rot or mildew.
10) Store onions in a cool, dry place in cardboard boxes, mesh bags or brown paper bags, stacking onions no more than three deep.
Harvesting Your Garlic
1) Harvest garlic bulbs during several days of warm, dry weather.
2) Stop watering them in mid-summer to encourage the top to wither and die back.
3) When tops are yellow and dry, remove bulbs by digging underneath and pulling the entire plant from the ground by the top.
4) Brush them off gently and let them dry in the sun for three days.
5) Trim off the tops and roots.
6) Move to a dry shed for three weeks.
7) Peel off a single layer of papery outer skin.
8) Store garlic bulbs in a cool, dry place.
Note: Even if I don’t have enough vegetables to can this year, Mom probably will, so I’ll save that adventure for another post!