Monday, August 16, 2010

Preserve the Bounty Challenges

I have been holding onto this post for about a month now. A bit ridiculous, I know, but I've been reeeeeally busy with, well... preserving the bounty!

We have three locations of gardens that we planted earlier this summer: one planted in early June at my husband's grandmother's, another at his employer's, and one planted early July at our cabin when we arrived here. Our intention was to grow and preserve as much food as we could to help keep our food costs as low as possible this upcoming year.

So when I heard about Nourished Kitchen's Preserve the Bounty Challenge I jumped at the chance to learn some new methods for preserving food. Here were the five weeks of challenges:

Week 1: Fermenting
Week 2: Preserving in Oil
Week 3: Preserving in Vinegar
Week 4: Preserving in Booze
Week 5: Sun drying, Oven drying, or Dehydrating

I was already fermenting food before I received the first week's challenge, primarily pickles and sauerkraut in some crocks I discovered in my mom's and grandma's basements.

In this photo you see some fermented items in jars (beet sticks, snap peas, sauerkraut), and the lovely 1 gal. crock I bought my husband for father's day this year.

If you're interested in lacto-fermenting, there are loads of resources out there. I like the book "Wild Fermentation" by S. Katz. Plus, there are loads of blogs out there. Here are a few links for you:
Beets and latin american sauerkraut--
A larger batch of sauerkraut--
Nourishing Tradition's sauerkraut recipe--
I thought I'd try fermenting some kohlrabi with caraway seeds... it turned out great! Tastes just like sauerkraut, but in the stick form. Also, beet stalks... you know, the part of the beet plant between the root and the leaf? Beets are loaded with nutrients, and we wanted to see if they were worth saving... they actually taste not that bad after fermentation!

For weeks two and three, I'd never tried preserving in oil or vinegar, so I was a little hesitant to get started. But I finally did preserve some hot peppers in oil and raw apple cider vinegar, and some zucchini in some vinegar. It was so easy, I'm not sure why I put off the process so long! (Instructions via the Nourished Kitchen emails)

This is some oil preserving some spicy peppers!

To Preserve in Oil (Preferably Olive Oil):
  • Clean your vegetables and pack them in a quart-sized mason jar.
  • Add spices and herbs that suit you.
  • Add about 1/4 cup cider or wine vinegar, preferably raw.
  • Cover with oil.
  • Allow to marinate at room temperature for at least a month, shaking periodically to distribute the the vinegar.
  • After a month, you can open the jar, scoop out what you need, place the lid back on the jar and continue storing in a cool, dark place.
To Preserve in Fat (Preferably Butterfat):
  • Clean and mince your vegetables and herbs.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of fat in a skillet and gently fry 1/2 to 1 cup minced vegetables and herbs in the fat until fragrant and soft.
  • Allow the seasoned fat to cool.
  • Fold the vegetables and seasoned fat into softened butter.
  • Mold and chill in the refrigerator, well covered, for several months.
To Preserve in Vinegar:
  • Clean your vegetables, herbs or fruits thoroughly and pat them dry.
  • Pack the vegetables, fruits or herbs in a quart-sized jar.
  • Bring vinegar and spices of your choice to a boil, pour this mixture over vegetables or fruits (but not herbs), cap and store.
  • If preserving herbs, simply pack the clean herbs in a jar, cover with vinegar, cap and store.

For week four, I marched myself into the local liquor store and was immediately overwhelmed by all the liquor choices... I don't buy alcohol all that much! I finally found vodka to bring home to preserve some of the wild plums I've found in abundance behind our house! Another easy thing to do!

To Preserve in Alcohol:
  • Clean your fruits, and peel them if their skins are thick and slice them if they are large.
  • Pack a quart-sized mason jar loosely with the fruit.
  • Add the spices of your choice (vanilla bean is lovely).
  • Heat about 3 cups to 1 quart alcohol along with 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar and stir it until the sugar is disolved into the alcohol.
  • Pour the sweetened liquor over the fruit, cap and store until next summer, enjoying the fruit throughout the cold months.

For week five, I had already dehydrated some zucchini since my brother had brought me soooo much, and I didn't know quite what to do with it all. I really would like to sun-dry something, but you need to have a temperature of at least 85 degrees Farenheit, and for this time of year way up north like we are, that just is NOT going to happen. Thankfully I have a dehydrator! It's a cheap Ronco I found at a rummage sale, but it works for now.

To Sun dry foods:
  • Clean your foods and pat them dry.
  • Slice tomatoes and large fruits into 1/4-inch slices, but leave berries and grapes whole.
  • Rest the fruit on your trays or baking sheet or whatever contraption you figure'll work for you.
  • Make sure to cover the fruit with a cheesecloth or additional screen to prevent critters from stealing your goodies.
  • Leave the food out in the sunniest place in your greenhouse, porch, patio or yard (at least 80+ degrees), and let them dry until they're firm, but pliable.
  • Pull them in at night, or when it becomes cloudy, and put them back in the sun when you can.
  • This can take 2 days or longer depending on the temperature and humidity of your region.
To Oven dry foods:
  • Clean your foods and pat them dry.
  • Slice tomatoes and large fruits into 1/4-inch slices, but leave berries and grapes whole.
  • Rest the fruit on baking sheets.
  • Turn your oven on to its very lowest setting, and place the baking sheets in the oven.
  • Dry them in the oven for 6 to 12 hours, or until they become dry, but pliable like raisins.
To dry foods in a dehydrator:
If you're looking for a good dehydrator, I strongly recommend the Excalibur brand (see sources). They are expensive; however, if you intend to incorporate dehydrator or drying as a primary method of food preservation in future years, the expense is worth it and you can also use them to produce other foods (bread, yogurt, crackers etc.)
  • Clean your foods and pat them dry.
  • Slice tomatoes and large fruits into 1/4-inch slices, but leave berries and grapes whole.
  • Rest the fruits on the trays of your dehydrator and dehydrate at the temperature recommended by your dehydrator's manufacturer.
  • This will usually take between 10 and 14 hours.
Whew! Even though an early frost got most of my tomatoes, I'm still swimming in produce, since my parents just visited and brought some more squash and zucchini. But they also brought a freezer that we got off craigslist for$50! Woohoo! And it's nearly full with some meat we bought. So we shouldn't be going hungry this winter, needless to say.

I hope you can preserve some bounty too. It's fun and satisfying, in more ways than one!

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