Storing your Harvest
You might have time over this stormy Easter weekend, to do some work in the kitchen to preserve your harvest. It’s great to grow a good supply of vegetables, and at this time of the year it is also good to have lots of ways to preserve your surplus as we head into autumn and winter. Some methods are easy and obvious and some are more obscure and might appeal to you if you like to learn new skills. We thought that this week we could run through some ideas of different methods you could use when storing vegetables.
Vegetables that Store themselves:
Top of the list of how to store veges is being appreciative of the vegetables that can stand in place waiting for harvest. A lot of our root vegetable crops, like parsnips and carrots and beetroot can stay in the garden into the winter months, for harvesting as needed.
Using Cold as a Preservation Method
An extension of this is clamping, which is a traditional method of storing harvested root vegetables outside in mounds of earth, keeping them cool and fresh during the winter months. The vegetables need to be kept cold but at a temperature above freeing point. Clamping also aims to keep out oxygen, frost, excess moisture and light. If you are keen to try this preservation method, choose root vegetables that are in perfect condition and remove all stalks and leave (these would rot). Do not wash the vegetables. Choose an area of dry ground and prepare it by digging a shallow trench about 15cm deep almost all the way around it (leave a little bridge area for access). Lay down a layer of dry straw, and mound up the root vegetables on top of the hay. Cover with a thick layer of straw and top with a layer of soil (you can use the soil you dug from the trench). In these more modern times, some people then also add a layer of plastic on top to aid in keeping everything dry. If you decide to do this, don’t make it into a completely airtight cover or you will have condensation inside the clamp, which will make your vegetables rot.
Clamping may seem risky to those of us unused to storing our food outside! A similar storage solution is to have a root cellar. Again, the storage principle is the same as with clamping – you can used the cool underground conditions to store your root vegetables. You will need an underground or under-the-building place with a dirt floor to make a root cellar.
If this all seems too difficult, you could store your root vegetables in cool sand in tubs or boxes in a cool location indoors.
Cover them with clean sand and ensure each vegetable is not touching any other. It is good practice to leave your harvested veges in a dry place to allow their skins to dry and toughen up a little before storing them this way.
You can of course use your freezer to store your vegetables as well. This requires a different sort of input from you – no need to build a clamp or root cellar. Instead, you just need to pay the electricity bill, and do some preparation after you have harvested your veges – they will need to be cleaned, sliced, blanched, cooled and dried before being labelled and placed in the freezer. To be honest, I am often too lazy to do this – I often bung everything into a big pot and make it into soup, then freeze the finished soup. Great for a quick lunch when guests turn up – just heat and eat! We just stored our entire parsnip harvest this way – parsnip and lentil soup! Delicious! The freezer is also a good way to store pasta sauce, salsas and pestos and saves you the bother of sterilising, sealing and labelling lots of jars. This is good if you have enough freezer space – we don’t, so soups go in the freezer and sauces into jars. Which leads on to…….
Using Heat as a Preservation Method
Cooking your vegetables kills any bacteria and bottling hot and sealing well keeps the bacteria out and allows preservation. I have found a wonderfully lazy way to use up any oversupply of tomatoes!
Simple rinse clean, cut them up roughly and dump them into a large oven tray. I usually also scatter in a few garlic cloves, maybe a couple of quartered onions and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a splash of olive oil, but none of that is essential. Put the tray into an oven at around 180 degrees and roast until everything is cooked through and soft. Allowing some liquid to boil away is good as well.
Once it is all soft, put the mixture through an old-fashioned mouli – this pulps everything and removes all the tomato skins and seeds. Then you can add your magic touch to the tomato mixture you have made – I add some vinegar, soy or Worcester sauce, a little sugar, chillies, herbs and spices, chopped onions, grated or chopped veges, - make it taste great and then spoon while hot into hot sterilised jars, seal, cool and label. Easy and delicious for later. Making sauces and passatas is a great way to preserve your vegetables.
Using Vinegar as a Preservation Method
Using vinegar to help preserve your vegetables includes methods such as make vinegar pickled beetroot through to making chutneys and piccalillis to put in the pantry. Making your own chutneys is a great way to use up a harvest glut and the vinegar (and sugar) levels in the recipe, as well as bottling while hot, are what helps to preserve the ingredients. There is nothing better than a home-made jar of chutney.
My favourite book of recipes has been around for ever and is by New Zealander Digby Law – his recipes for Maharaja Chutney and Feijoa Chutney are so good!
Using Drying as a Preservation Method
A dehydrator can be a great tool in the kitchen to preserve your vegetables – clean and slice them, spread them to dry and check the required temperature and drying time. The dried veges do need to be completely dried out if you are intending to store them for a period of time after drying, and another important tip is to make sure everything has also cooled completely before putting it into storage, so that there is no condensation to re-introduce moisture and cause decay.
You can even make your own instant soups by drying a home-made soup and afterwards blitzing it into a powder in the food processor or blender. You could make stock flavourings the same way – powdered tomato flavourings for adding to stews, powdered onion flavouring to add to everything! (Just as an aside…..you could even make your own instant hummus by dehydrating hummus and blitzing to a powder – great for tramping! Just add water and stir!)
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven – low and slow is the key. Keep the temperature low and be prepared to leave the oven on for an extended period to allow your produce to dry out. You could use this method to semi-dry cherry tomatoes and then preserve them in flavoured oil! Delicious but keep them in the fridge and start eating them straight away. They won’t store for long periods like commercially prepared sundried tomatoes. This leads on to another preservation method….
Storing under Oil (or butter) as a Preservation Method
Making spice pastes and pestos and storing them under oil is another option for preservation. You can also make flavoured oils and butters. This method is probably more commonly used to preserve herbs than vegetables, but making chilli paste is a good method for preserving your chilli harvest!
Using Fermentation as a Preservation Method
Fermentation has been increasingly popular in recent times as a preservation method. The process of fermentation involves enzymes action and in some cases increases the nutrition value of the produce as well as making it easier to digest and allowing food to be preserved and eaten at a later date. The process has moved from being mysterious and unknown to being far more common – you can find great books on fermenting vegetables in most bookstores and libraries now. An example of fermentation preservation is making sauerkraut. Here is a link to a previous tutorial post I wrote about how to make sauerkraut. This simple process actually increases the vitamin C content of the cabbage and moves it from the mundane to the sublime. Once you have mastered the knack of adding flavourings (think celery seed, chilli flakes, grated ginger, caraway, grated carrot or beetroot added, lemon juice – so many lovely flavours!) , having jars of sauerkraut may become your absolute favourite way of storing your wonderful home-grown cabbage. Fermentation will also help you make your own kimchi, pickled cucumbers and lacto-fermented vegetables. There is a wealth of how-to info in books and online – a great fun skill to learn!
Using Sugar as a Preservation Method
More commonly used to preserve fruit, don’t forget jam-making as a preservation method – choose a recipe for a savoury jam (such as Onion Jam – delicious!) and go for it!
What methods do you use to store your vegetable harvest? Share your shortcuts and great ideas and even your best recipes by using the comments – we would love to hear your tips and tricks!
Mary says ...
Im afraid this is a question, not a comment. If storing carrots by leaving them in the ground over winter, should I cut off the tops before I cover them with a layer of straw & fleece?
Home gardener, Hanmer Springs.
Gerard says ...
Hi Mary, I would leave the carrots whole with their tops on if you're storing them in the ground. By cutting the tops off , you're opening them up to potential infection. Best to lift them well before spring as the roots can get quite woody and grow new side shoots when they start to sprout and loose their fine eating texture.