Use and save the summer harvest
At this time of year, our gardens and markets are overflowing with a long-awaited rush of fruits and vegetables. From soups to ferments, learn how best to capture the abundance of the season for enjoyment year-round.
’Tis the season of abundance— of overflowing backyard gardens and farmers’ market tables. This is what we yearn for through those long months of winter, yet the sudden rush of produce can be overwhelming as we scramble to make use of every last morsel while we have the chance. Perhaps greens from your own garden are sprouting faster than you can eat them, or market vendors are offering case lots of local fruits and vegetables you know you won’t see again for another year. When the fresh stuff comes, it seems to come all at once, and we need to know how to capture it (and quick!) before it goes to waste.
In contrast to kale and Swiss chard, fast-growing greens such as lettuce, spinach, and arugula mature quickly and, if left too long, will go to seed or become overly bitter. Inevitably at some point our salad bowls won’t be able to keep up with their swift growth, so rather than lose any to the compost heap, transform those greens.
Puréed or not, both spinach and arugula make delicious additions to soup, wilting down so substantially that you can use up large quantities. Lesser known is that lettuce can also be sipped hot from a bowl, the leaves traditionally blended with stock and sometimes fresh peas. Make soups now or simply blanch and purée the greens, freezing them in portions to add to soups all year.
Pesto is the greatest go-to for excess greens and so rewarding to pull out of your freezer in the winter. Its traditional basil can be supplemented or substituted entirely with any number of herbs and greens, including spinach and arugula. Freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then transfer cubes to freezer bags for longer storage.
Don’t write off your arugula patch once it flowers! Those blossoms share the plant’s signature peppery flavour along with a hint of sweetness and make a delicious garnish or addition to salad.
While lovely as tender fresh summer vegetables, these squash relatives can grow to mammoth proportions in a matter of days if we don’t keep up with them.
Either diced or sliced, zucchini dries well for later rehydration at home or in the backcountry.
Use up zucchini by the potful as the main ingredient in a silky puréed soup.
Perhaps the easiest way to handle a profusion of zucchini in the busy heat of summer is to shred or chop and freeze them. Then on cold winter days, shredded portions can be baked into loaves (see Tip box) or stirred into savoury dishes where the strands virtually disappear; chopped pieces can be tossed into soups, chilis, pasta sauces, or stir-fries.
The volume of shredded zucchini shrinks substantially after thawing, so if you need 1 cup (250 mL) for a recipe, freeze 2 cup (500 mL) portions. Thaw and drain in a sieve over a bowl, reserving the strained liquid for smoothies, soup, cooking liquid, or a few swallows of garden juice on the spot.
Another crop in the squash family, cucumbers can easily outgrow our ability to consume them fresh and young.
To go beyond pickles and turn fresh cucumber into a healthy year-round snack, try slicing and dehydrating with an optional light sprinkling of sea salt or seasoning.
A delicious and refreshing way to use up several cucumbers quickly is to blend them (skin and all) with a little yogurt or avocado and seasonings of choice.
Store dehydrated fruits and vegetables in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. If not repeatedly opened (letting moisture in each time) they will last from several months to a year—or more.
This late season Brassica is a natural candidate for fermentation, presenting the perfect opportunity to create our own probiotic-rich cultured vegetable.
Consult a good recipe or instructor to learn the method, but basic sauerkraut requires nothing more than cabbage, salt, and a jar or crock of some kind. And making kimchi can be as simple as altering the sauerkraut recipe to include other vegetables and seasonings.
For more detailed fermentation instructions and recipes, turn to a credible book, website, or instructor. It need not be intimidating, but it’s useful to learn a couple of basics such as a good salt-to-water ratio for brine.
Those with the canning equipment and know-how can fill their pantry with jars of salsa, pasta sauce, and tomatoes in their own juice. But we can easily preserve these emblematic summer fruit in other ways too.
Sliced and dried, tomatoes can then be softened in a little hot water to top pizza or pasta, or tossed straight into soups or sauces.
It doesn’t get easier than tossing them in the freezer whole to use later as you would canned tomatoes. Pour boiling water over frozen fruit to remove their skins. Smaller tomatoes can be halved; seasoned with herbs, garlic, and olive oil; and slow roasted in the oven before being frozen as a luscious winter ingredient.
A quick solution to a plethora of smaller tomatoes is to pack them under brine in a jar to ferment, using them as salty additions to sautéed greens or grain salads. A fresh salsa can be fermented too, extending its life for weeks.
Along with vegetables, we’re positively awash in box loads of our region’s sweetest, freshest fruits at this time of year.
Berries: They’re a cinch to put away for later enjoyment. From frozen, berries can go into muffins, fruit crisps, homemade jams, smoothies, porridge, or even savoury dishes (see Berry Good recipes here). Berries also make beautiful fruit leather, puréed with or without other fruit or sweetener and spread on dehydrator sheets.
Stone fruit: All those plump peaches, apricots, and plums can similarly be chopped and frozen for crisps, frozen blender treats, or smoothies, or dried with the berries into leather. They also lend themselves brilliantly to canning in a light syrup.
Cantaloupe: These sunny summer melons blend well with anything from curry to mint for a refreshing chilled soup, and make surprisingly tasty snacks when sliced and dehydrated.
With a little forethought, you can savour your region’s diverse and full-flavoured peppers well into the winter, when their shipped-in counterparts bear no comparison.
To enjoy in chili, roasted vegetables, or stir-fries, simply slice peppers to your desired shape and size, then freeze. For a more gourmet ingredient, peppers can be roasted using the barbecue or broiler, skin and seeds removed, then frozen sliced or whole.
To avoid fruits and veggies clumped into a solid mass, always freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet first, then transfer to freezer bags.
If all this “making hay while the sun shines” just isn’t for you, there remains the ultimate carefree way to handle your summer garden bounty. Give it away! Offer it to friends and family, connect with your local food bank, or set it out in your front yard with a sign urging neighbours and passersby to take and enjoy. It’s a gesture that matches the generosity of the season’s growth!
How can you avoid garden overload and produce a steadier, more manageable harvest?
Vegetables that are quick to mature, such as lettuce or radish, can be planted in smaller patches at a time, two or three weeks apart. Even a zucchini crop can be spread out by starting some seeds indoors and planting others directly in the garden later on.