The next few months mark the beginning of food hedonism. Once the gloomy rain of spring subsides and the billowing heat of summer drips sweat at our temples, we know a fruit and vegetable bounty is near. There is something wholeheartedly satisfying about gorging ourselves on berries and melon so sweet it’s almost shameful to eat them, countertops of tomatoes, and more zucchini than doorsteps on which to abandon them. The devil on our shoulder says to eat and indulge with recklessness, but the angel is there to remind us that winter is never far away. While summer is the time to savor, it’s also time to save.
The seasonal eater will grow and purchase food over the next few months. The notion of preserving the harvest makes most of us think of canning, which isn’t just for grandma anymore. The Food Channel identified canning as one of the top food trends for 2011; and nearly half of all canners are estimated to be under the age of 45. Books, YouTube videos and articles are available about canning, but evaluating the source is extremely important. Improper canning techniques can lead to the growth of harmful microorganisms, which can cause serious illness or even death.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for those whose canning education wasn’t passed down from our mothers. If you want to take a class and get some hands on experience the Douglas County Extension Office will offer canning classes on August 3, 9 and 11. The first class is an introduction to canning and the remaning two classes are hands-on and will cover pressure canning and waterbath canning. If the risk-taker in you isn’t comfortable with canning, then preserving food by freezing is a safe, affordable and easy way to have a taste of summer during winter’s dark and dreary days. Fruit and vegetables will keep in a freezer for 8 to 12 months. Now is the time to stock up on everything in season,
Strawberries are easy to freeze by using a technique called sugar packing. Clean, cut and remove the hulls of your berries. Place them in a glass or plastic bowl and mix-in ¾ cup of sugar. Let the mixture rest on your counter top for about 15 minutes, until the juices release. Pour berries and juice into a freezer-safe container, leaving room for expansion. Label and freeze. Use as needed to top ice cream, angel food cake or mix into oatmeal for a quick and healthful winter breakfast.
Tomatoes are freezer friendly. Many sources will recommend blanching the fruit and peeling the skin, I never have. I typically use diced tomatoes throughout the winter in tomato sauces and soups. The skin doesn’t bother me or impact the texture and appearance of the food for my purposes. If, however, you want to use your frozen tomatoes for dishes that are more sophisticated and less rustic, blanching and peeling is a step you might want to consider.
When freezing diced tomatoes it is imperative to freeze them on a cookie sheet. Once the juice has frozen (about 20 min.) break up the frozen tomato bits and place them into a Ziploc bag. If you do not freeze them on a cookie sheet first, you get a Ziploc-sized tomato ice cube. Freezing diced tomatoes on the sheet provides an opportunity to portion exactly the amount of tomato needed for the recipe.
Quick breads are my favorite comfort food during cooler months, so I spend a weekend every summer shredding and freezing portioned bags of zucchini. My favorite zucchini bread recipe calls for 2 cups of the prolific vegetable, so I use my food processor to shred the zucchini before packaging two cups (liquid and all) per Ziploc bag and freezing them. Portioning the zucchini in advance lets me grab a bag and bake the bread, without the extra prep time.
By preserving summer’s harvest we hope to reconnect once more with the sun shining on our faces, bare feet in green grass and the smell of a well-worked grill on a late Sunday afternoon. Granted, freezing shredded zucchini for bread isn’t going to evoke the same sensation as grilling it over an open fire, but it will connect you to the people and places you love.
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