Summer is the best time of year for those who love fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything from melons and cherries to cucumbers and beans can be found at local farmers markets, roadside stands, and grocery store produce sections.
Unfortunately, a large portion of those delicious, fresh summer eats are taken off the menu as summer winds down. But they don’t have to be! Here are five ways to preserve summer fruits and vegetables to help you enjoy them all year long — straight from your own kitchen.
1. Preserve Your Food by Drying or Dehydrating
Drying fruits and vegetables means removing the water from the produce. Bacteria needs water to survive, so the drying process helps prevent the food from going bad. When the water is removed, the food will become smaller and lighter in weight. You can eat dried foods directly, or you can add water and watch the food return to its original shape.
The drying process can be done most efficiently in two ways — with a dehydrator or with an oven. A dehydrator is your most dependable option because all you have to do is load the machine with your food, select the appropriate setting, and wait for your finished product. You can even get solar dehydrators if you want to add an even greener touch to the drying process.
An oven can also serve as a dehydrator when used right, but it takes about twice as long as a dedicated dehydrator. Simply preheat your oven to 140 degrees, slice your fruit or vegetables thinly, and soak them in a solution of equal parts lemon juice and water. After 10 minutes, line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the slices onto it. Place the pan in the oven for between six and ten hours — you’ll know it’s done when the slices are pliable and have a leathery texture.
2. Preserve Your Favorite Fruits and Vegetables by Canning Them
When you can something, foods are placed in jars or cans and heated to a temperature that kills microorganisms and breaks down enzymes. The heating and cooling process also forms a vacuum seal.
To can your fruits and vegetables at home, sterilize the equipment in simmering water for a few minutes before filling them with things like jams, fruits, and sauces. After filling, place the lid on and lower the jars into a pot full of water. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil for at least 10 minutes. When the time is up, carefully remove the jars to cool. Once the jars cool, the lids should seal and become concave. You’ll start hearing the lids pop as they hit just the right temperature and seal.
Canned foods should be eaten within about a year of canning.
3. Salting Your Vegetables Can Preserve Them
Salting is similar to drying, except salt is used to draw out the moisture in foods. The hypertonic properties of salt make it very difficult for bacteria to survive. By keeping microorganisms at bay, salting preserves the vegetables and gives them their characteristic flavor. Salting can be done with solid granules or a saltwater mixture (called a brine).
To use the brining method, place your vegetables in a large baking pan and submerge them in water. Then add the salt to the water until it starts to deposit on your vegetables. This is a sign that the saturation point has been reached. Next, stick the pan in the fridge for about a week. The process is finished when you drain the brine, cover the vegetables with granulated salt, and store in a cool, dry place until dried.
4. Pickling Your Vegetables Can Impart Unique Flavors
Two main things are required for pickling vegetables: salt and acid. Pickling kills harmful bacteria and may even encourage the growth of helpful probiotics. Long-term pickling requires fermentation and a host of other steps, but you can also make so-called “quick pickles” that you store in the refrigerator.
Quick-pickling fresh vegetables starts with a basic brine of equal parts vinegar and water that you bring to a boil. For each cup of the brine you are making, add a half tablespoon of salt.
While that’s heating, slice your fresh veggies and divide them among canning jars. You can also assemble a unique mix of spices, herbs, garlic, and other flavorings that can then be added to each jar. For example, dill, rosemary, and thyme are popular pickling additives. Mix your personal blend and then put a little bit in each jar along with your veggies. You can add a couple teaspoons of your spice mixture per jar.
Next, fill the jars with the brine leaving at least a half inch open at the top of the jar. Cover and refrigerate your treats for a minimum of 48 hours before you start to enjoy them so they’ll absorb all those delicious flavors. Quick-pickled vegetables can generally be stored in your fridge for two months. Once you’ve found a recipe you really love, though, you might consider the additional step of canning your pickled veggies so you can store them for longer periods and at room temperature.
5. Freezing Is an Easy Way to Preserve Your Healthy Fruits and Vegetables
The easiest way to ensure your fruits and veggies last is to freeze them. Freezing works best with fruits and vegetables that are picked at the peak of their ripeness and freshness. Keep in mind that freezing doesn’t kill bacteria; instead, it inhibits their growth. Freezing can also change the texture of certain fruits and vegetables, but the process itself is quite simple.
For vegetables, make sure to blanch them in boiling water and then douse them quickly in cold water to help prevent them from degrading. You can then dry them thoroughly and pack them into heavy-duty airtight containers. For some vegetables, especially leafy ones, it might make more sense to place them on a metal tray after drying and then put them in the freezer. Once they are frozen solid, you can transfer them to sterile, airtight freezer bags. This will give them a bit of space and ensure they don’t all freeze in a giant clump.
For fruits, make sure to wash them thoroughly before packing them into containers. Again, freezing a single layer of fruit solid before packing can be helpful to prevent fruits from being crushed or sticking together during the freezing process, especially with more delicate fruits like raspberries or with small fruits like blueberries.
One of the best ways to use frozen fruits and vegetables is in smoothies. Since they are already frozen, they will help get the perfect consistency for your drink — and you can make delicious, flavorful smoothies even when your favorite fruits are no longer in season.
Make sure to label each container with the date you froze its contents. Fruits generally last up to a year, and vegetables last about 18 months.