National Awards and Saving the Harvest
You may have heard the Agriculture segments that Western Skies presented last year to the Colorado Springs Community. I happened to be a part of that effort and was delighted to get the news that it won a first prize for “News/Public Affairs” from Public Radio News Directors, Inc., a national organization of journalists who give the award “to honor the very best in local public radio.” If you want to listen to the whole broadcast, click here.
It’s always interesting to me to get to mid-summer and see just how much produce we have available to us in southern Colorado. This year I doubled the size of my garden, just to see if I could handle it. If I could, I intended to “put aside” a bunch. To put aside refers to canning, freezing, drying or otherwise saving your harvest for a later date because, let’s face it, there is actually a limit to just how many tomatoes you can stuff in your face in a season, once they start coming.
I have roughly the equivalent of two 15′x20′ plots in my personal garden. In taking on my neighbor’s garden, I doubled that. My neighbor helps from time to time and my ex-neighbor, who started the garden there, asked to come back and help in exchange for veggies since she and her husband were not going to be around enough of the summer to have their own garden.
This being the year of the weed, I’m so glad to have the help. It turns out that my personal garden is probably about all I can handle without quitting my day job. The good thing is that others are helping here and there and reaping the benefits.
Which brings me back to putting aside. I’ve already blanched and frozen the spinach and snap peas. I’m still harvesting kale, chard and broccoli in the garden, but just enough to use and not enough to freeze.
The root veggies are about big enough to start using. Carrots, parsnips, and many root vegetables will keep in the ground through the winter under a thick layer of mulch, so I will only pull those as needed. While beets could be treated the same way, they are so delicious roasted that I will roast and freeze them in their skins.
You can also freeze peas, beans, corn and anything else you see in the frozen section of the grocery store. Freezing vegetables preserves nutrients better and produce tastes fresher this way, so it’s my preferred method for putting aside food. However, if there’s ever a power outage, you could lose everything , so I am going to learn to can this year.
A quick nod to drying and pickling foods: Apples, plums, peaches and cherry tomatoes, are wonderful cut into 1/4″ thick slices and dried. Cucumbers, of course, are wonderful pickled. Check out this easy refrigerator pickle recipe from Organic Gardening
Organic Gardening, Aug/Sept 2010
Makes 2 quarts, approximately 18 servings
1 lb. medium cucumbers
3 cloves garlic
½ t. black peppercorns
½ t. whole mustard seed
1 t. fresh dill weed
1 whole dried bay leaf
2/3 c. brown sugar
6 ½ T. white distilled vinegar
6 ½ T. white-wine vinegar
¾ c. water
Cut the cucumbers into spears or slices and place in a 2-quart glass container or jar with a lid. Add the garlic, peppercorns, mustard seed, dill weed and bay leaf.
In a bowl, stir together the brown sugar, vinegars and water. Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers and shake the jar well to combine. Cover and chill. For fullest flavor, wait at least 24 hours before serving. These pickles will keep up to 3 months in the refrigerator.
Finally, there is canning. Canning is a little more labor intensive and requires special equipment to keep the food safe, but it’s worth it in the long run because you can really keep things for a long time without refrigeration. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great website with tons of information on safely preserving foods: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/. You can put aside tomatoes and tomato sauce, beans, and pureed winter squash very easily. Fruit is perfect to make into jam or put aside sliced and ready to eat.
Preserving food is a time-honored tradition. It’s so rewarding, in the middle of winter, to be able to pull out a slice of summer. Maybe this is your year to learn a new skill as well!