Happy harvest season, everyone! It’s a season full of produce: sturdy squashes, apples and pears, and hearty greens. Unfortunately, as healthy as they are, some of these options can be a little harder to grab-and-go, or use to cook a fast dinner; then once winter sets in, it gets a little harder and more expensive to find fresh produce. Before you dive back into your pantries for the store-bought canned goods or the freezer aisle of the grocery store, consider some ways you can save some money, and flavor, while still having a wide array of healthy options ready to use right at your fingertips.
The freezer — and cans! — are not the enemy. But there are some fantastic ways to utilize the last days of those bountiful fresh herbs and produce to have delicious meals for the winter, and ways to make your dry goods more convenient. Here are some satisfying steps to delicious, healthy eats and some domestic self-satisfaction without wasting food or taking a big hit to your wallet. I’m good with freezing; I’ll defer to the experts for canning!
Freeze Your Herbs
WHAT, you say? You can do that? Yes, you totally can.
Take a plastic ice cube tray you don’t mind being a little stained (or one from a thrift store), chop your herbs and distribute amongst the cubes. Pour olive oil on top to cover. Freeze. When frozen, pop out of the tray and store in a freezer bag for a longer shelf life. Voila! This works great with hearty herbs that are so common this time of year like sage, rosemary and thyme. Softer herbs won’t be perfect, but they sure beat dried ones in a lot of cases.
Alternatively, if your herbs are up to it, you can freeze your herbs in water. I suggest experimenting with oil or water with your favorite fresh herbs to figure out which method works best for you and your desired consistency and flavor.
As a bonus, this one’s my personal favorite: you can also preserve ginger in vodka in the refrigerator indefinitely. Then, when you’ve used all your ginger, you have ginger vodka leftover! Genius.
Make Dry Beans In Advance and Freeze Them
Canned beans are pretty cheap, and make great, nutrient-dense, protein-packed additions to your winter cooking. But so many of the cheaper brands are laden with extra ingredients.
You know what’s cheaper, tastier and, in a lot of cases, healthier? Dry beans. You can usually find them in either the Latin foods or dry goods section of the grocery store in pre-packaged bags, or in the bulk section. When I started cooking with dry beans, it didn’t seem worth the effort to spend all that time cooking them, only to have to use them up in a few days. The secret to dry beans, though, is this: they freeze really, really well. Then, when thawed, I think they taste fresher and better than canned beans.
Freezing them is quick and simple: after draining and a little bit of drying out, put them in freezer-safe jars (standard bell jars work just fine) or tupperwares. Then put them in the freezer. It’s that easy. I like putting them in little half-cup tupperwares so I can easily make myself dinner without having to pick out a portion. If you find you’re eating a lot of canned beans, I have found that this is totally worth it. For the price of a can of cheap, store-brand beans, you end up with perhaps five times the quantity, and ten times the flavor and texture.
If you have never made dried beans before, it’s a pretty fast learning curve. This is my favorite article I have found on dry bean tips, and includes a chart on how long each kind of dry bean should simmer on the stove after a soak, and pro-tips like how to avoid flatulence! It may seem daunting to look at, but the time commitment is actually relatively low with all the down-time, and if you make a ton in advance you don’t even have to cook them that often. The main thing to remember when you’re first learning is to not salt them until after they’re cooked — everything else is fixable.
Freeze Your Peak-Season Vegetables
Ever buy a whole bunch of really good-looking broccoli or carrots at the store or farmer’s market only to realize that you’re not possibly going to be able to use all of it before it goes bad? Well, you can freeze your own vegetables. You just need to know how to blanch.
You probably already know how to blanch in that you know how to boil water: put a pot of water onto boil, about a gallon per pound of vegetables. Boil your veggies for one to two minutes, then drain with a colander or slotted spoon and immediately transfer to a bed of ice. Make sure your vegetables are well-drained, then put them in the freezer-safe container of your choice. No more mushy vegetable mixes! No more variety packs with that one vegetable you hate! Only your favorite, delicious veggies.
Learn How to Can
This is especially effective if you keep a garden and need to preserve the last of your crops before winter. Canning is a little more hands-on, but fortunately we have some great events to help you out with this time-honored tradition of food preservation.
Saturday, September 29 | Preserving the Bounty! | Jamaica Plain, MA
You have planned and grown an amazing garden! You are enjoying the fruits of your labor but feel a bit overwhelmed by the bounty – its time to learn how to put some of it up for later! Come on by and play with the Northeast Organic Farming Association and learn the basics of boiling water bath canning and pressure canning. You’ll will prepare some recipes for each type of food preservation using fresh organic fruits and vegetables.
UPDATE! This event has been cancelled! If you are interested in having this producer offer more of these classes in the future, please contact Drew Love at: email@example.com
Sunday, September 30 | Capturing the Cusp: Seasonal Preserving for the Practical Cook | San Francisco, CA
In the second part of 18 Reasons’ two-part series, Shakirah Simley (founder of Slow Jams and Bi-Rite’s Community Coordinator) will teach participants practical applications for capturing fruits in flux. On September 30, “Fall into Fall” with this course featuring apples, pears, figs and persimmons. She’ll tackle all the tricks to thicker fruit butter, seasonal seasonings and deliciously boozy fruits.
Friday, November 16 | Tom Douglas for The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle | Bellingham, WA
Village Books is excited to host Seattle chef-author, James Beard award-winner and restaurateur, Tom Douglas, as he talks about his latest book, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle at Bellingham Technical College’s new state-of-the-art Settlemyer Family Hall. Students from the Culinary Arts Program at BTC will prepare a few dessert samples from Tom’s new book for guests to try. The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook contains 125 delectable recipes, including not just jams, but pickled vegetables, gravlax, and more. Featuring informative sidebars, technique tips, difficulty ratings, and equipment advice, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook is sure to please fans and newcomers alike.
While they have nothing coming up right now, check back with Seattle Tilth often — they’re full of useful tips and often do preserving workshops.