Saying goodbye to my garden in the fall means having a freezer full of frozen goodies to use throughout the winter. Unfortunately, it also means hours spent picking, chopping and preparing the produce so it will last.
I haven’t done a very good job of this in the past. I always thought I would use it fresh but then got busy and ending up throwing away a lot of it. That’s why I give so much away, at least that way someone else can use it. And although I did give a lot away this year, I’ve also figured out how to store it for use this winter.
There’s something about a deadline and a list that really gets me motivated. And this year I had a deadline. October 2nd. That’s the day my first chemo treatment is scheduled. Might sound weird, but this “deadline” has been so extremely motivating. Since I don’t know how I’m going to feel after I get started, I’ve been extra motivated to get everything around the house done by October 2nd.
You know how it feels when you have family coming in town or a vacation planned? The to-do list explodes and you go into overdrive, right? I’ve been checking things off the list like a mad woman lately, and I have to admit, it feels pretty good.
First, I started with the tomatoes, deciding to dry as many as I could. I have a dehydrator, but it’s been easier using the oven. A few hours (like 6-8) at 200 degrees produces perfectly dried tomatoes. The chewy ones get put into jars with olive oil, the ones that get too dry (crispy) go into a jar in the fridge to use in dips and cream cheese spreads.
After the tomatoes, I started on the monster carrots. Monster because I left them in the ground until I had time to process them, which was about a month or two too long! They were giant! Carrots were easier; wash, peel, chop, blanch (boil for a few minutes), cool and bag. I did all of the big ones, I still have a few in the garden that were kind of small. I also found that if I clean, peel and chop the carrots I can store them in the refrigerator in water and they last longer.
I also saved the carrot tops for smoothies by taking the freshest leaves (they look and taste almost like parsley) and froze them in a large freezer bag.
Then I did the beets. They took longer and are a little more difficult to work with. First of all, if you’re going to work with beets, wear gloves! Unless you don’t mind purple fingers for a few days.
The beets were washed, then I removed the greens, leaving about an inch of stem and their root in tact (this keeps them from “bleeding” into the water and preserves more of their flavor) and place them in boiling water. They will take a while to cook, about 45+ minutes. Check them every 5 minutes or so after 40 minutes by piercing with a fork. They are done when you can get the fork in and out easily. Best if they aren’t too mushy.
While you’re cooking the beets, sort the greens into 3 piles. The first pile for compost (or trash) for the dried/icky ones. For the second pile, pick the youngest most tender looking ones and put them in a zip lock bag for smoothies. The third pile is for the larger ones that are hearty and firm. These are the ones you can make beet greens with. If you’re not into beet greens then you can store these for smoothies too. (See beet greens recipe below).
When the beets are finished cooking, remove them from the boiling water and immediately place them into a large pan or bowl of ice water. This will stop the cooking process and preserve their freshness. Once they are fully cooled chop them (remember to wear gloves during this part, they will stain your hands, counters, plastic, etc.) and place them in freezer storage bags.
Tomatoes – slice thick, seasoning optional, place on rack on cookie sheet, bake at 200 degrees till dry. Store pliable pieces in oil, crispy pieces in fridge.
Carrots – wash, peel, slice, blanch, ice water to cool, then bag and freeze.
Beets – wash, cut off greens leaving 1 inch of stem, boil, ice bath, chop & freeze in bags – remember to wear gloves when you chop them and keep them off of your granite – they could stain. Always store in glass or storage bags, they’ll stain plastic!
Beet greens – chop greens, onions and optional mushrooms. Sauté onions & mushrooms in a small amount of heated olive oil in a fry pan. Add greens, salt & pepper to taste. Cook until almost done, add 1 tablespoon of orange juice concentrate, cook through and serve warm.