Summer Harvest Starts in Earnest
Mid-August is always a very busy time for us. Many things become ripe almost simultaneously: pears, apples, honey figs, brown turkey figs, elderberries and grapes all come in at pretty much the same time. If it were not for the fact that the tomatoes and green beans temporarily stop their heavy fruiting due to midsummer heat, it we might lose some of our harvest.
Yesterday I picked/peeled/cored/sliced a bushel of apples. That was 6 hours of work. I also prepped enough fig jam for five half-pint jars; that had to sit overnight for the sugar to draw out the juice before I canned it today. The sliced apples were in a 5-gallon bucket of lemon water awaiting canning today, into quart jars, for pies. Right now they are simmering in the water bath canner on the front porch. (Note: we use an outdoor, propane-based turkey fryer cooker for canning. The instructions say the thing is "not for canning," but it's not for canning the way Q-tips are not supposed to go in your ears: everyone uses them. When we canned 27 pints of chicken broth in our pressure canner on it yesterday we just kept the flame low and watched the pressure gauge continuously. ) Later today I will pick and start on another bushel of apples.
Meanwhile the bushel of pears I picked two days ago is ripening indoors: we've learned to pick pears green and ripen them indoors, as it cuts down on spoilage. We're picking another bushel of pears later today, too. We've also learned to boil the pears, peel them (much easier then!) and can the slices.
The brown turkey figs come in a handful at a time and need to be processed as soon as I accumulate enough to make jam. The neighbor's honey figs–which they hate and we dry–come in all at once like the apples and need to be dehydrated en masse or we will lose them (checking those today). This August has been relatively wet and we will probably not be able to use the solar drying rack we made.
Elderberries are harvested for the year's tinctures and syrups.
The muscadine grapes come in daily, not as bunches but as individual grapes that you either pick or lose, and we've decided to use them to make vinegar. That's a new process to us, and I will keep you posted.
Meanwhile watering has been made easier with a traveling sprinkler for the flat areas and an oscillating one for the hilly spots. Weeding has been made easier with mulching. Bugs have been kept down by organic predators and healthy soil but we want to try diatomaceous earth as a deterrent for vine borers.
A harvest is work, and even on our small scale it's the sort of work that most people in developed nations are not familiar with. And, just like with growing things, stowing things for the coming year has a learning curve.
😀 Thanks for the harried-harvest humor, Wendy! And for the solemn recognition that stowing also requires time, energy, skill, practice.
Hi Wendy and All, I have been on my current 8 acre paradise in Northern NM now for my 3rd summer. Each year I intend to can and dehydrate and so far it's just not happening. I look at that pile of zuchinni or cherries and I just feel tired before even starting. I would like to know what are people's quickest and easiest preservation techniques?
I have one from past years that really works for me for tomatoes. I just wash them (only if needed), throw them in the blender at high speed and then freeze the resulting juice in freezer bags. Then all winter I use them in stews, chiles, and soups or even as just tomato juice. The flavor is great and I can just mix whatever I have available in there even tiny cherry tomatoes. The seeds and skin just disappear into the mix and you won't notice them. It substitutes for tomato sauce and tomato paste once you reduce it down some. They last one year that way before the flavor degrades.
Last night I made a big batch of pureed zucchini soup with potatoes (unpeeled), vegetables of all sorts, onions, garlic, olive oil and chicken broth with basil and oregano. Cooked then pureed in the blender. Delicious. And then after cooling into the freezer bags. I am hoping this will preserve the good flavor and avoid the yucky texture change that frozen squash undergoes. The texture shouldn't matter since it is pureed. So it made me wonder why not just puree the veggies and bag it then make the soups in the winter? I don't know if it would have to be cooked first, I know some people shred zucchini and freeze it uncooked. Would zucchini like that be useful in soups?
And my apples aren't ready yet but when they are I plan to bury them in the ground in a garbage can "root cellar". I am way too lazy to peel or process them. So if anyone has simple but effective ways of saving food that are easy – I would love to hear it. Thanks! Jan
I consider dehydrating easy, but it is not fast. You still have to wash and process. My understanding about freezing most veggies (other than peppers) is that they must be blanched to stop enzymatic activity and preserve flavor.
I also spend the majority of my time in summer (most evenings, all weekends), watering, picking, processing, preserving. The tyranny of summer produce has not been exaggerated if you grow much food.
My best suggestion for a no-work solution Jan, is just grow enough all year so that you can pick and eat as you go!
I would almost guess that the easiest preservation would be CO2. Get food-grade 5-gal buckets, put a scoop of dry ice in, and then pack in your dry grains. Close it up, leaving a crack, and let the dry ice evaporate. Tap once to burp, and then seal the bucket.
I strongly suspect that you should only do this with dry foods, lest you get botulin or other anaerobic toxic bacteria at work there. However, maybe I'm wrong: maybe the CO2 poisons everything.
So…. suppose you wanted to do it right, and with minimum tiredness.
I'd suggest an automatic slicer, followed by a rotisserie style solar dryer. Make one if you can't buy one. Slice the foods, dry the foods, and then pack in CO2.
To beat the tiredness? Munch the veggies as you work. Probably you should devote one day to one food item per stage, from morning on. Knock it out. For example, on Monday, you start by taking the dried tomatoes, and piling them into your CO2 buckets. Get them going, and then go over to the Zucchini, and slice it. Place the slices on the rotisserie solar dryer. Munch the slices as you go. Go back to the tomatoes, burp them, and seal them. Go back to carrots, and clean and sort them.
Next canning day (two days later, when the zucchini is dry), you pack the zucchini, slice and dry the carrots, and sort and clean potatoes.
I can't help but share the feelings that I get when I review what we have canned and realize I might have forgotten an ingredient. DAMN!
But then, too many ingredients can cause issues, too.
There is a very enthusiatic fermentation group on Facebook. Be warned, they will swamp you with content.
Fermenting was one of the ways of preserving food. Think beer, chocolate, cheese, kvas.
My muscadines are the only things that produced this year. Every four days I pick about three quarts and freeze them. One more picking and I'll have enough for a batch of jam. I found a recipe where you puree the hulls and include them in the jam. I'm down to my last pint from last year, time for more.
So are your muscadines the red? Or green? Are they bunched, like what is sold in stores (and which I suspect are really European grapes, not the American native)? Or are they the delicious solitary grape that grows all through the Great Dismal, rthe Rte 17 walking Park, and indeed all over the east coast?
You're right: any grapes in bunches are not muscadines. The individual grapes grow much larger than most bunched table grapes, though. Muscadine grapes and their green wild cousins, Scuppernogs, grow from Florida to Delaware so they were a new species to me when I moved to USDA zone 8 from zone 5. We have purple and bronze ones on a trellis on the slope by our driveway and bronze ones (and Concord grapes) on two fences in the back.
We have not been pruning the ones on the trellis yet, since they are fairly new. But you'll laugh: we prune the ones on the back fences with a chainsaw. They are so vigorous that seems to be the only way to tame them.
For those who've never tried this perennial food they have a lot going for them. Muscadines are, as I mentioned, vigorous. They can handle fairly deep cold (we had -5 F and they shrugged it off and 100+F summer temps. They seem to have no known diseases, too. They require a VERY sturdy trellis because the vines and fruit can get quite heavy. But they are just about as carefree a high-yield food as you can find. And they grow vertically, which is great for limited space!
But they are not like the grapes you get in the supermarket. They take some getting used to since the skins are kind tough and bitter; I've learned to discard the skins when juicing them. Most people squeeze the grape open, pop the pulp into their mouths, spit out the seeds (they are NOT seedless), and discard the skins. However, if you want to use the whole fruit here's a really good recipe for Grape Hull Pie.
Pastry for a double-crust pie
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups muscadine grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or cider vinegar or white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place bottom crust into a pie pan, with the edge of the piecrust hanging over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and stir with a fork to mix them well.
Holding it over a medium bowl, squeeze a grape with its stem end down, so that the pulp pops out and falls into the bowl. (If the pulp doesn’t pop right out with only a squeeze, cut the stem ends off the grapes and discard the ends. Then squeeze the grape and the pulp should pop right out.) Set the hulls aside in a bowl, and place the grape pulp and juices into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook until the pulp has soften and begun to break down, so that the seeds can be easily separated, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl let cool until you can handle them. Work through the bowl of pulp, extracting and discarding the large round seeds.
Add the grape hulls to the saucepan, and continue cooking to soften the hulls, for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture. Pour the grape filling into the piecrust . (Do not overfill it. Reserve any excess and make a small pie in a custard cup, or cook just the fruit as a simple pudding to eat with cream.) Scatter the bits of butter over the pie filling, and cover with the top crust. Press hard all around the pie to seal up the crust. Crimp the edges or press them with the tines of a fork to seal it well. Make slits in the top of the pie so that juices can bubble up and steam can escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, so that any juices have somewhere to go besides the bottom of the stove.
Bake the pie at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until the filling is thickened and bubbling hot, and the crust is nicely browned, 40 to 50 minutes. Set the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel, and let it cool completely.