For all those who feel as lacking in time as I do these days, here are a few super simple ways that you can preserve some of summer's bounty!
Despite my complete and utter lack of attention, my garden continues to produce (it's so forgiving, isn't it?). The other day, I noticed that though my spinach had been doing really well, some of it was beginning to bolt due to the late summer heat (I planted my fall spinach crop earlier than I really should have, to get it in before baby arrived so I knew this was a possibility). Not wanting to miss out on it, but knowing that we realistically wouldn't get to eating it fresh, I decided to just harvest and freeze it all at once.
Here it is, roots and all. I used my kitchen scissors to cut all of the good leaves off and tossed them in the salad spinner. I did a couple of batches, and with each one I simply gave it a quick wash while in the spinner and then spun it dry. When it was all cut, washed and dry, I set to chopping it all into smaller pieces.
With my large bowlful of chopped spinach, I got out a measuring cup and filled up small ziploc freezer bags with 2 heaping cupfuls of spinach.
I pressed all of the air out of the bags, sealed them shut, labelled them, and voila. Done. Easy as pie!
Next on my list of garden and fruit preserving to-do's (which is pretty much endless, these days!) was another big bowlful of cherry tomatoes I had picked that afternoon.
(Yes, there are some greenies in there. My 2 year old hasn't quite grasped the concept of ripe and not-ripe yet, but he loves to be my little helper!)
Based upon how well my cherry tomatoes did last year, I knew that I would have literally hundreds upon hundreds of them this summer. Far more than we can just eat, since only my husband and I enjoy them. It's not practical to can them, since I only get bowlfuls at a time. I opted this year for the much quicker and easier task of dehydrating them. Each time I get a nice little amount (about every 2-4 days), I take a few minutes to deal with them and this has by far been the easiest of my summer preserving tasks!
After a rinse in the sink, I pull off the green stems, and then grab a steak knife (my knife of choice for cutting any type of tomatoes). All I do is slice them in half, any old direction.
I lay them all out on dehydrating trays, with the cut side up at first (to prevent tomato juice from leaking inside the dehydrator). Then I dehydrate them for about a day, at a temperature somewhere around 105-115 F (I'm not precise, I just turn it on quickly and walk away).
About 6-12 hours in, I will take a few minutes to pull out the trays and flip them all over to the other side, then I stick them back in to finish dehydrating. I consider them done when they are no longer squishy feeling, but still a bit pliable (sort of like a raisin). It's important to make sure that the moisture is really gone, to ensure a good shelf life.
My little beauties, sealed up in a ziploc bag. I could also just keep them in a canning jar, but for whatever reason, I used a bag. This is from my first batch, not including the nice big batch you see in the pictures (or the one that I'm about to go out and pick!). Throughout the winter, when I want to use these I will just let them soak in a bit of olive oil for several hours, or even quickly re-hydrate them in hot water in a pinch. They will be perfect to add on top of pizza or in pasta dishes. Yum!
This was my last preserving task of the evening, blanching a couple cups of chopped green beans. Check out this post for detailed directions on blanching vegetables.
I think it's worth mentioning how long it took me to do all of the work shown in this post: just under 1 hour. Honestly! I chopped the cherry tomatoes and put them on trays while sitting at the kitchen table, nursing my newborn on a nursing pillow. The spinach was probably the most work intensive, taking about 30 minutes to cut, wash, chop and bag 6 packed cups of spinach. The green beans were a piece of cake, and I did them while I cleaned up the kitchen before bed.
Preserving food doesn't have to be an all-day ordeal. If you're determined enough, you can fit it in to daily life, even when life is hectic! Anyone can do stuff like this, and I probably don't have to tell you just how nice it is to have these sorts of conveniece foods stocked away in the pantry and freezer for us to eat this winter!
What types of quick and easy preserving do you like to do? Is anyone else up to their eyeballs in ripe veggies and fruits needing to be put away for the winter?