It’s a magical time of year at Camp Stevens, where dozens upon dozens of squash are coming in from the farm, but there are also still hundreds of pounds of tomatoes on the vines. Summer is certainly over, but these tomato plants don’t seem to know it: It even seems like some of these late bloomers are sweeter than their earlier brethren!
In the kitchen, we’ve reached a tipping point, where more garden produce is coming in than we can always use. I’d imagine this is mirrored in most gardeners’ lives at some point: A time where you step back, look at the harvest and think, “What have I gotten myself into?!”
For us, the solutions are multi-fold:
- Eat more: We’ve had very full weekends all fall long, and our guests are benefiting from the abundance of farm-fresh produce, with every meal featuring a soup and not one or two, but sometimes up to three vegetable side dishes. Maybe a dinner party is in order in your life?
- Use the root cellar: We’re lucky to have a solar-powered root cellar on-site, constructed over the last two years, that enables us to store hardy vegetables like carrots, onions, beets and potatoes for use all year-long. It’s one of the reasons I think of Camp Stevens as the ideal destination should the zombie apocalypse come. You probably don’t have a root cellar. But you might have a basement, or someplace that is dark and remains a consistent temperature, that you can store some of your heartier vegetables for at least a few extra weeks.
- Get creative: Our chefs aren’t beholden to strict recipes, and you don’t need to be either: Substitute the ingredients you have an insane amount of into your tried and true recipes (Like apples for berries in a favorite dessert, or broccoli for asparagus in a go-to casserole). Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite!
- Preserve, preserve, preserve! This past weekend we held a Canning Workshop at Camp Stevens, and got to work canning cherry tomatoes and barbeque sauce. Canning is a great way to preserve, but it can be a daunting process. Let’s start with some easier ways to preserve your hard work’s bounty:
- Put that freezer to work: Roma tomatoes can be frozen, just as they are, as can any fruit or vegetable with a decent water content. Think about the berries you buy frozen from the grocery store: Those were just picked, washed and frozen. Easy peasy. The best thing about simply freezing your harvest without adding or changing anything is that you then have just the ingredient to work with in the future, as opposed to, say, 10 jars of salsa, when all you want to do is make marinara sauce.
- Gourmet olive oils: This is a great trick for hearty herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano (as opposed to “soft” herbs like mint and basil). Wash the herbs and chop them up finely, then, using an ice cube tray, fill each cube 2/3 full with herbs, and then top with olive oil. Cover overnight in the freezer, then pop them out into a Ziploc bag. Ready to go herb-infused oils for all sorts of recipes! Or, put some fresh herbs or chiles into a pretty jar and top with olive oil for a beautiful gift.
- Put that freezer to work some more: Devote a day to making soups and casseroles, and your winter could be full of hearty, healthy lunches and dinners. Pureed (smooth) soups like this one freeze best, and make sure to store them well-sealed to avoid freezer burn. Make sure to clearly label and date anything you put in the freezer (Most soups and casseroles should be good for up to 6 months.).
- Dry them: If you’re short on freezer space, drying is another great option for preserving vegetables for 6-12 months, though it’s a bit more time-consuming. To dry vegetables, wash and then cut them into uniform, bite-sized pieces. Blanche the veggies, then line them onto a baking sheet and bake at 140 degrees for 6-24 minutes depending on the water content and heartiness of the vegetable. Keep a close eye on the vegetables in the oven! When they appear to be mostly dried, remove and let them cool, then place the cooled, dried vegetables in large plastic or glass containers to about two-thirds full. Cover lightly and store in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place for 4-10 days. Shake containers daily to separate pieces. Pack final product in small portions into jars or bags (the darker the better). One cup of dried vegetables reconstitutes to about 2 cups.
- Simple syrups: If you have an overabundance of herbs, consider making simple syrups. These are the simplest recipe in the world: 1 part water, 1 part sugar, simmer down until sugar is dissolved, then place a handful of any herb, and cover for up to three hours. Strain, then pour into jars, or freeze into ice cube trays. You can also do this with citrus, just do 1 part citrus juice, 1 part water, 2 parts sugar (I’d probably do less sugar if using orange, as opposed to lemon, lime or grapefruit). Since these recipes contain so much of that wonderful preserving factor, sugar, they can last for months, no freezing or canning necessary. Herb simple syrups are all the rage in craft cocktails these days and make wonderful gifts, but there are other ways to use it: Rosemary simple syrup is delicious with lemonade, as is basil simple syrup drizzled over a simple yellow, white or orange cake. I like a teaspoon of mint simple syrup in my tea.
These are just a few simple ideas for making your summer and fall bounty last as long as possible. Canning is another beast altogether, and we’ll get into that later!