Learning to preserve the harvest
Along with utilizing fresh and abundant produce from our gardens and farmers markets, the art of home preservation—via canning, fermentation and pickling—is building in popularity. While every trend can be cyclic, preserving the harvest is a return to tradition; remembering what has been lost for many of us.
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as popping open a can of homemade tomato sauce that was carefully and lovingly preserved by you. It can transport you back to a summer garden on the coldest days in January. Here are some tips for the novice on preserving your garden’s bounty.
Canning: The Basics
Whatever scary, intimidating thoughts about canning might creep up, simply let them go. There are many little things you must learn and consider before beginning the process, such as choosing a method, a recipe, how you’ll go about sterilizing, and obtaining a few indispensable gadgets such as a magnetic canning-lid wand, which will magically protect both your hands and your sanity later. Preparatory work is necessary, and your time spent learning about the canning process is a gift that will give back to you (and your taste buds) tenfold, to carry along in your self-reliance pocket.
The water bath, pressure canner and canning steamer are different methods to get everything to the right temperature for the right amount of time and, ultimately, to seal the lid, allowing you to store canned goods at room temperature for months to come. When preparing acidic foods such as tomatoes, you’ll need to carefully follow directions to keep potentially “bad” bacteria from turning the entire batch get-very-sick bad. Be sure to include a big roll of paper towels for wiping messy rims just prior to placing hot lids onto jars, and keeping drips and spills under control.
Before the frost hits in mid-October, tomatoes should still be abundant in most garden spaces. Blanching them in boiling water to loosen the skins—the messiest part of this experience—takes place before placing the tomatoes in a table-mounted food strainer, available at kitchen supply and IFA stores. The resulting purée becomes the perfect base for so many things. You can follow any number of recipes for tomato-based pasta sauces, but don’t limit yourself. The tomato base can make a super tasty tomato-basil soup in a flash, or a batch of salsa, ketchup or barbeque sauce. The tomato jam recipe to the right is just “grown-up” ketchup that can be added to your chili beans in a slow-cooker, used as a marinade or, best of all, as a dipping sauce with crisp, pan-fried potatoes.
Ferment & Pickle
Once you understand the scope and variety of harvestable items you can ferment or pickle, the question “what can?” becomes what can’t be preserved this way? “Have you ever tried pickling garlic?” barista Johnny Cooney asks at Caffe Expresso in Sugar House. He goes on, “My Grandma and I used to make this together, it takes time to peel all the garlic cloves, but it’s so worth it.”
Along with pickling garlic, beets, cukes, radishes, peppers and carrots can be as simple as preparing a brine and letting them marinate in the fridge. Fresh sauerkraut is essentially shredded and salted cabbage, which after being packed into a fermentation crock, is ready to eat in 5-14 days.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
Feeling a little overwhelmed with all the preservation possibilities? To get started, peruse the cooking section in a bookstore or library, search online for tutorial videos, find a neighbor or friend who cans, or call your grandma. Many of your options might depend on what is seasonally available, and you’ll never learn until you do it. Create a new food-saving tradition this season, and you might never purchase another jar of store-bought tomato sauce again.
Suggested Food Preservation Resources:
Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike Bubel and Nancy Bubel
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest: 150 Recipes for Freezing, Canning, Drying and Pickling Fruits and Vegetables by Carol W. Costenbader
A Simple Jar of Jam: 180+ recipes and variations for jam using low sugar pectin by Robin J. Edmundson.
Salt Lake County Extension Office: Food Safety and Preservation: 385-468-4837
Taking fermentation to the next level, chef David Barboza, co-owner of Table X restaurant, explains his method of making kimchi, a traditional Korean side dish using salted and fermented vegetables.
How long have you been creating kimchi, and what is the most challenging part about making it?
I’ve been making kimchi for almost three years and developed a recipe that is vegan but can be easily manipulated to include fish sauce or beef jus. The most challenging part of developing my recipe has been finding the right amount of time to ferment the kimchi. Too short, and the sour flavor doesn’t punch through like it should. Too long, and the vegetables become too soft and too sour. The lactic acid flavor takes over and the balance of the batch is compromised.
What are the key ingredients? What brings the heat to your kimchi?
Napa cabbage, Korean daikon (lobok) and coarse Korean sea salt. I make a flavored broth using konbu and dried mushrooms to bring complexity to the kimchi. For the heat, I use gochuharu, which is dried Korean chili flakes.
What complements kimchi and how is it served at Table X?
Kimchi is spicy and acidic, so fatty and rich preparations complement it very well. Even smoky flavors work well with the sharpness of the kimchi. It’s finely chopped and presented as a salsa. We make rice chips with squid ink, which end up being jet black. The chips are garnished with sesame egg yolk gel, chipotle konbu dust and salted, dried beef tips that are grated over the chips.