Managing Your First Harvest
As we progress towards the official start of summer, crops should be growing nicely and almost set to provide us with our first harvests. The first harvest of the year is always my favorite, the first tomatoes usually end up on the kitchen counter sliced and eaten raw. Then we do BLTs, salads of all sorts, tomatoes in our omelets, on toast, and we still have a ridiculous amount to store for later. Our basil is usually on the same trajectory. Over the years storing the food and learning different ways to do so has become a hobby itself. Canning, dehydrating, freezing however you choose proper storage allows you to extend the life of your harvest well into the next growing season.
When it comes to storing tomatoes, we are usually a huge fan of the easiest way possible. Toss them right into a freezer bag and freeze them. Pull them out in the winter, run them under hot water, peel the skins, slice them in half, scoop the seeds out with a spoon and toss them into the chili or sauce. But if you do not have freezer space you might want to try dehydrating them. Sun dried tomatoes are wonderful. If you have extra time this season find a method, you like and dry them out. Try stringing together some chili peppers like in the southwest. Dehydrating herbs and vegetables is much easier with an actual dehydrator. Slice or prepare your harvest, set it on a tray, load the oven, hit a few buttons, and wait. This year, we are going to try our hands at making sauce. Ultimately, we will just boil down tomatoes and add a bit of salt, making actual sauce or Ragu can wait. A few years back, there was a Ragu in San Francisco and we’ve have been trying to replicate it since. Pickling is something we will get into as well. Quick pickle chips paired with a bit of crumbled black pepper feta have carried many hot August lunches. Pickled peppers, beets, and radishes amongst others can be pulled out of the pantry well into the winter.
Herbs tend to reach surplus levels quickly; with a good plan you can look like a Martha Stewart to family and friends. Gather some plain glass jars that seal well and dry your herbs. Either bunch them and hang in the breeze to dry or pop them in the oven until the moisture is gone. You should be able to tell when they are dry. A well-placed spice rack filled with your home-grown herbs shows your culinary depth. The most common herb that people are looking to preserve for winter is basil. My personal favorite is to place the leaves in the blender with a little olive oil and pulse in the blender until a desired consistency is reached. Then we just spoon them into little baggies and freeze them. Toss into cooked pasta or finish as pesto for a quick dinner. Harvesting seed is another great way to manage your herbs, seeds from Cilantro are also known as Coriander. Dill seed is used in many recipes as well.
Another way of managing your herb harvest is to use them. Adding bunches of herbs to pickled veggies gives them a unique flavor. Toasting your herbs in the rendered fat from meat can add incredible flavor to chilis, pasta sauces, and stews. In the fall we stuff pumpkins with melty cheese and shallots, before the lid goes back on, we will add a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Also, in the fall I like to make Provencal breadcrumbs, adding lots of parsley along with thyme and garlic to breadcrumbs and pouring them over a squash and Arborio rice casserole to cook. The parsley turns the breadcrumbs green and suddenly you have an elegant dish as opposed to squash casserole.
Sharing is probably the best way to store your harvest with little to no extra work required. At home, we love gathering a large bowl of herbs and vegetables and walking them to the neighbors. Share them with the neighborhood and you will not need any space or effort, and nothing goes to waste. You might also find that they have some cool stuff to share as well.
Publisher, Lakewood Observer, Inc.