Storing Food For Winter

We are heading into harvest time. Here a few things from the Farmers’ Market my family stores for winter and how we use them.

Potatoes – Last winter, I buried russet potatoes in sand in a cooler in the backyard. At first my sand was too damp and I lost a few potatoes to rot. After I replaced it with bone dry sand, my potatoes lasted until they began to sprout in March.

Tea – Lemon balm and chocolate mint are our favorite local teas. I tie their stems into small clumps and hang them upside down under the eve on the south side of my house. After they are dry, I wear thick rubber gloves and strip the leaves off the stem into my food processor and I chop lightly, then pack loosely into sealed jars.

We bought a small glass teapot with a built-in loose leaf strainer and always have a pot of tea brewing. I change the leaves with each batch, but will often leave the residual tea in the pot for flavor.

Tomatoes – I preserve tomatoes for use in stews, chilies and pasta sauce. It is reasonably easy to “water bath” can tomatoes as they are a high-acid food.

I like to hot pack my tomatoes, which means I chop and heat them in a stock-pot before canning. This makes it easier to fill the jars, as they don’t pack as tightly when raw. I don’t bother with simmering the water off to make thicker sauce, as I can do that later and often am using tomatoes for soup anyway.

I can also add a mix of onions, peppers and herbs, but then I have to pressure can them to reduce the risk of botulism. Pressure canning is in some ways easier than the water bath method, but there is the initial cost of the pressure canner. It is important to use a pressure canner versus a pressure cooker as the canner provides a more reliable temperature: you will know the pressure canner by the adjustable weight or dial on the top.

Cherry tomatoes –  These are fantastic dried and stored in the fridge. We slice the tomatoes in half and sprinkle lightly with salt before drying in our dehydrator. Add them to your dish near the end of the cooking cycle for a tangy tomato treat. They are great in salads, or  can be rehydrated and run through the blender to make pizza sauce.

Garlic – I bulk buy my garlic and process it all at once. I peel it and chop it in the food processor, then pack it into small bags and freeze it. By keeping the packages thin and flat, I can break off pieces as I need them.

Spaghetti squash – I wipe each squash with a damp cloth with 10% bleach & water solution and store them in a dry place (under the guest bed). I have eaten one after a full year and was still delighted at the taste.

I like to serve spaghetti squash like its namesake: under a heap of tomato sauce. I’ve found if you add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the sauce while cooking, it accentuates the taste of the squash and compensates for its low carbohydrate content. Spaghetti squash is super high in fiber and is very nutritious.

I also enjoy butternut, acorn, and hubbard squash. They don’t last as long as spaghetti squash, but will keep well into winter. I occasionally bake them and will often boil and blend them to thicken soups and sauces.

Kale, collards, beet tops and greens – I chop and steam them until they turn color and soften. I then press them into a cake pan and cut it into cubes with a pizza cutter before freezing. Once frozen, I pop the resulting bricks into individual bags to store in the freezer for later addition to my soup or sauce.

Fava beans – Last year I froze over 30 pounds of fava beans. Like all vegetables destined for the freezer, they need to be blanched first. I shell the fava beans and use a collander to dip them into a pot of boiling water. I cover and leave for 3 minutes by the clock and then plunge them into a sink full of ice water to stop the cooking process. 4 litre milk jugs of frozen water help keep the sink cold. Blanching is meant to deactivate the enzymes and keep veggies fresh longer.

Green beans – also need to be blanched. I cut them into bite sized pieces first.

Corn – After I finish writing this article, I have several dozen ears of corn to process. We haven’t stored corn yet, so this is our first experiment. Tonight I am going to try canning it. Corn is a low acid food, so I will have to use the pressure canner for this one.

It’s true, preserving food for winter is a lot of effort. Before the industrial revolution separated us from our food production, it was an essential part of our lives—the whole family would get involved. My wife and I will spend a couple of evenings a week through the rest of the fall to save up enough for winter. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it.

Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.