Harvest, according to Wikipedia, is “the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. The harvest marks the end of the growing season, or the growing cycle for a particular crop, and social importance of this event makes it the focus of seasonal celebrations such as a harvest festival, found in many religions. On smaller farms with minimal mechanization, harvesting is the most labor-intensive activity of the growing season.”
This is an accurate, though somewhat robotic, unemotional description of what harvest-time really means to me, and I imagine, to many other home gardeners. To us, it is a time of joyful climax, really – the height of the season’s bounty, combined with the culmination of work, time (also know as waiting), and delicious flavors. There is a great sense of satisfaction, excitement, and gratitude when gathering a giant amount of food and flowers that have been grown “with my own hands” – and the hands of nature. This joy, however, is also tempered with a sense of the impending colder temperatures; therefore it can be a bittersweet sensation. Though I do not truly have to gather my food to fend off hunger through the winter months, there is some part of my genetic makeup that induces that sort of sensation. Occasionally a notion of melancholy appears, watching leaves turn brown, die, and fall; watching and noticing vines and plants whither or rot – knowing that I can’t plant any more new seeds, and sharply watching the weather forecast in case of the overnight frost that can ruin the remainder of what is still out in the garden.
But let us not speak of such depressing times….just yet. After all, there will be time for that in future posts! Now is the time for harvest, and that begs the question, “What on earth am I going to DO with ALL this food???” Yes, it is a fortunate “problem” to have, however an important issue. As a gardener, part of the point of why I want to grow my own food in the first place is a sense of caring for myself and caring for the land. From this, emerges a great sense of obligation and commitment to what I grow. Additionally, I despise wastefulness in all forms, but in terms of food going to waste, there really is no reason for it to happen. So! In order to not let things go to waste, there are many methods for food storage. Imagine the gift of still eating home-grown food in the middle of January! Pretty awesome-sounding, right? Well, let’s get to it:
1.) Freezing – some foods can actually be frozen right after picking – this is the easiest method for storage. Be sure to use freezer bags (not just a regular ziplock) and press out (or use a straw to suction out) as much air as possible. Examples: all berries, jalepenos, peppers, shredded zucchini
Freezing – Part II – blanching and freezing. This is slightly more time-consuming, however still easy and less time than canning. Here is a link to a good article on blanching and freezing vegetables: http://allrecipes.com/howto/how-to-freeze-fruits-and-vegetables/ The purpose of blanching is to remove enzymes and bacteria that would break down the vegetables. My first year with green beans, I just threw them straight into the freezer without blanching – big mistake – they were discolored and mushy. So now I throw them into boiling water for about a minute, drain, dry, and freeze in bags. This works for: corn, Swiss Chard, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes (peel the tomato after blanching), peas, edamame, and more.
2.) Cook a delicious “something” and freeze extras for later. Soup freezes very well, and usually it is not as much fun to eat soup in the summer as it is in the winter – so on a cold winter day, all the work will have been done already, just thaw and eat. Marinara or pizza sauce is good to freeze, and if I have extra eggplant or bell peppers I add that into it. Pesto requires no cooking, just a good food processor, and is amazing on many things (not just pasta) – for example, spread on fish, chicken, or tofu prior to and after cooking, stir into rice or quinoa, put a dollop on eggs, or bread, or crackers (trust me it’s very tasty.) Zucchini bread is a staple freezer item (mainly because we end up with sooo many zucchini). Roasted eggplant is a nice addition for hummus, or you could make another dip with it.
3.) Canning – not for the timid. The first time I looked at instructions for canning, I saw that there are about twenty steps, and therefore, did not even attempt to do it. It took me a few years to wrap my head around it, and to purchase the equipment needed. I recommend having a partner – assembly line makes life a lot easier. Start with something fairly easy, and make sure you have a lot of time available – it’s not really a process you can walk away from if you have to race to an appointment or work. The makers of the Ball jars have many recipes and instructions online. My favorite things to can are : salsa, fruit preserves, applesauce, hot sauce (I am semi-addicted to extremely hot sauce so this actually saves me some cash), chutney (goes great with turkey or chicken, or makes a nice holiday gift).
Enjoy your home-grown or local farmer’s market bounty both right now – fresh – and in the future!