It's that time of year, when your neighbour comes knocking with baseball-bat-sized zucchini they are desperately giving away to good homes; where your herbs are growing wildly out of control despite your best intentions to use them up during the BBQ season. It's also the perfect time to saunter on down to the Farmers' Market and load up on local foods in big quantities: the price is right (especially when you are buying in bigger quantities), the nutrients are dense, and you have a few lazy days ahead of you which means perfect timing for a preserving frenzy in your near future.
For the entire month of August, we (the royal we) here at good food + you will be posting a daily quick tip on how best to make the most of this bountiful time, by preserving the harvest. My self-imposed rules: these posts will occur on weekdays only; they will be things that I am actually doing whilst I'm working; the photos will be all mine and documenting the process; they will be short and sweet. No fancy dancy pretend-photo-ops, these will be the real deal.
Why preserve the harvest, you ask? I know what you're thinking: but Luka, there's always fresh stuff at the grocery store, year-round! I thought it was best to eat fresh in order to get the best nutrients! Well for one, the stuff I'm going to be preserving is goodies grown either in my back yard or close to home. My reason for this is that these veggies and fruit, when grown close to home, means they only have to be picked just as they are ripe; there is no need to pick them two weeks before ripened in order to do that job on the truck on the way to being shipped to me in Calgary. By picking at the ripest point on the vine, this ensures that all nutrients can develop right there on the vine as Mother Nature intended. Did you know that Vitamin C is one of the last nutrients to develop in a tomato on the vine? Why not pick at peak times then! And actually eat from my own back yard. And support a local farmer. I'd rather keep my dollars in my community than send it to someone who runs a big multi-corporation in another country, thanks very much. That way, those community dollars may also stay in my community, making it a better place to be. And really keeping the local local, if you're picking up what I'm putting down. (So many influences my parents have had on my life! So very grateful!)
I'll be talking about dehydrating (with and without a dehydrator), freezing, saucing, preserving, fermenting, drying, maybe even smoking things as a way to keep that summer bounty going strong in the winter months. I'd love to hear how you are going about this yourself, there are so many tricks to learn as we navigate how best to feed our families. I'm all about health, to be sure, but I'm also about making this a do-able task. I invite you to try at least five of the methods I'll be presenting over the course of the month, and let me know how you make out!
For the first post of the month, I am doing one of my perennially favourite tasks come August, bagging little roma tomatoes for our winter stash. My dad was the one who told me he was preparing his yearly tomato haul this way, and I thought how brilliant is that! I prefer to freeze my own tomatoes because of the nutrient density, but also because I am so lucky to be able to spend a bit of time at my in-laws' cabin out in the Shuswap every year, where deals and sales on big boxes of food are to be had every summer. When I was there last week driving through, the prices were still a bit high as the harvest of tomatoes was just beginning, but I expect they will drop as the harvest goes on. You can get 20 pounds of tomatoes for 15$ sometimes! Mind you, these are not organic, but they are picked at harvest peak from just down the road, still dusty and wafting of sun-ripened goodness when you crack the box to inspect. I have yet to see big boxes of organic tomatoes along the way, and truth be told, I fear when they do they may be out of my price range. So local is good in this case, and they are grown by small farms too, not a monoculture kinda place.
My rules: shop around for the best price. Inspect your boxes before purchasing; if you're not happy with the ones in the box, don't be shy in asking if they can pack for you a new box, especially if you're new to this. You don't want them to be so ripe that in 2 days' time you will have to throw away half of your treasures because you couldn't quite get to it all in time! I buy about 120 pounds of tomatoes a year (I know, but it's what we like at our house) with the intention of processing them in many ways. By far, this method is the most popular one and the one I do the most. My favourite reason? PLASTIC BAGS ARE FREE OF BPAs! When you purchase canned tomatoes, the lining has BPA in it, and studies indicate the acidity in the tomatoes leaches out the dangerous toxins. What is BPA and why is it bad? Lookee here. Why not store your stash in plastic bags, if you have the freezer space? (Yes, we now have two big chest freezers. Don't judge.)
THE HOW-TO: Make sure to wash your hands first. Always a good idea when you are preserving something, or working around food for that matter. Next, wash your tomatoes in small batches, making sure they can drain off excess water. I buy new freezer plastic bags to do this every year, and I find I can stash about 6-8 little romas in one medium sized bag, and this will give me the same amount of tomatoes when my recipe calls for a can of tomatoes. I make sure they're flat in the bag, and put them on a tray or cookie sheet, and stash them as-is in the freezer so that once frozen, they'll be easy to stack one on top of the other. So stinkin easy I can't even tell you. And so much less expensive than buying cans during the winter months.
When it comes time when I'll be pulling a batch of tomatoes out for a chili or a soup, I'll plan to pull it out the morning of and let it defrost on a tray (in order to contain any juices that may leak out) and will blitz it in a big bowl with my hand blender, in order to obliterate the skins. My dad, now he's a smarty pants: he just slips the skin off of the tomato once it defrosts, meaning if you prefer to leave the skins off, you don't have to do it before you freeze, you just have to do it the day you're using the tomatoes in your recipe! I'm just that lazy, I blitz the skin in with my tomatoes. You can do it either way.
That's it kids. Look for more ideas as the month rolls along, and make your way out to the Farmers' Markets! Stop at those stands along the highway on your way home from a saunter into other parts of the country. Say yes to your neighbour who comes pleading you to help them eat their bounty. And load up on the plastic freezer bags, they'll be coming in handy for a few more posts this month.
GO PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD. Please and thank you.