By Victoria Rolfe
Unbelievably enough, our final full month of summer is upon us. Although we have been picking and eating our produce since those first tender lettuce leaves and radishes in the spring, it seems that suddenly our gardens burst forth at this time of year, exploding with a generous bounty of fresh vegetables to harvest by the basketful. In August, it can actually be hard to keep up with all those zucchinis, summer squashes, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes, in addition to the ongoing lettuce, carrots, beets, kale, and other greens. Remember to continue to pick early and often for continued production.
At this point, as the bowls of produce begin to pile up in your kitchen, you may find yourself unable to keep up with eating your cornucopia of garden delights. You can, of course, share the bounty with appreciative neighbors and friends. But try not to burden them with too much of a good thing, especially that (sometimes dreaded) prolific zucchini — especially the ones that grew to the size of baseball bats before you got out there to pick them! If you have ever lived outside the city, you know that August is notorious in the country for door-and-dash (surprise!) secret deliveries of baskets of squash to unsuspecting neighbors.
But rather than devising ways to give away all of our excess produce, we want to think in terms of how we can make use of it. Waste not, want not, right? We should be making the most of what nature has given us and use it to the fullest.
One way to preserve the harvest and make it last into the future is to freeze your garden veggies. There are a great many homegrown vegetables that can be frozen for use during the rest of the year. These include carrots, beets, green beans, cabbage, tomatoes, and yes, even that zucchini and summer squash.
Most vegetables will not do well if frozen raw. They will require blanching (partial cooking) first. This process is very simple and only requires a few minutes of cooking time. Put a pot of water on to boil and then chop your veggies into the desired shape and size for freezing. Immerse them into the boiling water for just 2-3 minutes. Then remove them and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. Do not place them immediately into freezer bags and containers or they will stick together, but rather lay them out to dry on paper towels or newspapers for a little while. Then place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer in the freezer. Once frozen, put them in a Ziplock baggie or freezer container. This way they will freeze individually and it will be easy to take out just the amount you want for your future recipes. Don’t forget to label!
Your thawed vegetables will not be used as you would raw vegetables, but for cooking recipes instead. There are a few vegetables that allow you to forgo the blanching process when freezing, making it even more simple to preserve them. You can slice up tomatoes and place them raw directly onto the cookie sheets in the freezer or, even simpler, if they are small you can just freeze them whole. As they lose their raw consistency upon thawing, these too will be used only for cooking. You can also do this with cut peppers as well. And while sliced zucchini and yellow squash do require blanching, if you want to grate them, you can freeze them in this manner without it.
Another option that I often employ is to cook recipes and freeze the entire dish to enjoy a ready-made meal later in the year. This works well with things like eggplant parmesan, zucchini pie, stuffed peppers, homemade tomato sauce, lasagna, and other casseroles.
One more option is to can your produce. If you want to invest in some canning equipment, this is an excellent way to preserve much of your garden’s bounty. Keep your eye out for bargains on supplies. There are many people out there who are done with their gardening and canning years, so remember to ask around and check things like yard sales or Facebook Marketplace for some free stuff if you decide to give canning a try. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully for the safety of your canned products.
Well, this should prove to be a very busy month for you in the garden (and kitchen), but it is a delightful busy-ness as you savor all the aromas and rich flavors of your delicious bounty. Happy gardening and bon appétit!
Victoria Rolfe has had a love of gardening all her life, from the time she was a tiny child coveting the daffodils growing in her neighbor’s yard (and wondering why she couldn’t have them in her own), to her teenage years when she took her pot experimentation in a different direction by growing the seeds she extracted from the bag into a beautiful marijuana plant on her bedroom windowsill. She went on in her adult years to feed her family by growing a huge and bountiful vegetable garden, as well as beautifying her three-acre property with an array of ornamental trees, bushes and flowers in the magnificent Hudson Valley region of New York.
Victoria learned a great deal in the process of all this plant experimentation. She then added to that knowledge by taking courses with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to become a Master Gardener Volunteer. In her volunteer capacity, she helps to educate the public on gardening through classes and information booths, most notably at the Dutchess County N.Y. Fair each August. Throughout the summer months, Victoria is most likely to be found among the weeds, either in her own garden or those of others who actually pay her to play in their dirt and do the thing she loves best, delight in the magical world of gardening.
Victoria is not only a gardening aficionado; she is also passionate about helping people live a better life on less money. Visit her website and blog at brightfuture2budget4.weebly.com, or email her at email@example.com.