Fruit growing · Raised beds · Recipes · Vegetable growing

Preserving our produce

So I’ve previously mentioned that for some of our homegrown fruit and vegetables we have had a bit of a glut. Whilst we love all of our homegrown produce I can’t really stomach eating strawberries every meal or everyday for a week. There are some products that can be stored for prolonged periods of time in the right conditions but others need to be preserved in some other way. The main ways in which I preserve produce are either by freezing or by making jams and chutneys. I know that in the USA in particular caning is also a popular method but I don’t yet have the proper equipment for that. Today I thought I would go through a couple of the different ways I’ve preserved our produce this year. All the ingredients that were homegrown I’ve put in bold.

Tomatoes

Our tomatoes haven’t quite finished yet for the year so there will no doubt be more preserving to be done but so far this is what I’ve done.

  • Roasted vegetable pasta sauce; roast tomatoes, courgettes, onions and peppers in olive oil, then blend about half so the sauce still have some substance and season well. Then freeze as required.
  • Roasted tomato pesto: roast tomatoes in olive oil then add to basil, pine nuts, a couple of gloves of garlic, Parmesan and black pepper and blend in a food processor until fine. Add more olive oil until you achieve the desired consistency. Quantity-wise I tend to go for the same basil, pine nuts and Parmesan when I’m doing pesto with tomatoes, if not including tomatoes I’d have double the amount of basil to the other ingredients. Pesto is all about personal taste so just keep testing to find what you like best. You can also toast the pine nuts to emphasise the nutty flavour. Or change them up for a different type of nuts. Or switch the basil for spinach, or rocket leaves. Then portion up and freeze (it will store in the fridge for up to two weeks just make sure it’s covered with a film of oil to keep it fresh).
  • Freeze cherry tomatoes whole to defrost and cook fresh at a later date.
  • Strawberries
    • Strawberry jam: strawberry jam is notoriously hard to achieve a good set due to the low pectin level in strawberries. In order to achieve a good set you need to either mix it with another high pectin fruit or add pectin to it. I’ve gone with adding pectin as I wanted to keep the lovey freshness of the fruit. I’ve made a couple of different batches now using two different recipes, one of which was much more complicated and I couldn’t really see or taste much between them.
      Strawberry and yogurt lollies. A nice simple recipe, blend strawberries and Greek yogurt add to ice lolly mould and freeze. You can add a bit of honey if you want but I found our strawberries were sweet enough.
      Freeze whole: remove the stalks and wash then open freeze before bagging once frozen (this will prevent them from sticking together). I prefer to weigh before freezing and label the bag so I know how much to defrost.
      I also plan to use them in smoothies from frozen and make strawberry ice cream in the future too.
  • Potatoes
    • Potatoes store well in the ground but all gardeners have the dilemma of deciding when to pull them to avoid pest damage or damp ground. Once harvested brush off any loose soil and ideally leave the skins to dry for a few days. Then store in hessian sacks in a cool dry place. Check them periodically for damage and remove any damaged potatoes straight away.
      Potatoes cannot be frozen without being cooked first or their consistency changes too much. My favourite thing to do is to freeze potatoes as roasties. Par boil and then roast for about 20-30 minutes. Then cool and open freeze before bagging. They can then be taken out as required and put straight in the oven and will just need 20-30 minutes roasting. It certainly reduces some of the stress of a roast dinner.

    We still have lots to harvest and I’ve only looked at three different products here so I’ll do another post (or two) soon about some different ways to preserve homegrown produce.

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    Fruit growing

    Green tomatoes

    So my hanging baskets have been looking pretty sorry for themselves for a while. I tried reviving them but now the weather has started cooling (how can it possibly be Autumn already?) there is not as much of the heat and sunlight that they require to ripen well. So I decided to cut my losses and pick the remaining tomatoes. The hanging baskets were starting to look rather unattractive and so they are better off down and out the way emptied and ready to use next year. 

    As you can see we still have a significant number of unripened tomatoes. So what do you do with them? Well I have removed them and brought them inside to sit on a warm sunny windowsill. Here we should get some more of them ripening and reaching that lovely deep red colour that indicates a lovely sweetness. In fact most of the tomatoes I’ve picked this year I’ve put on the windowsill for a day or so to get that last bit of ripening. 


    Any that remain green can become a green tomato chutney, which is a winter favourite of mine with cheese. 

    Fruit growing

    Hanging basket tomatoes

    As we don’t have a greenhouse yet, we grew our tomatoes in hanging baskets again this year. They are one of C’s favourite snacks. So far we had loads of flowers and then loads of green (unripened) fruit but they have been remarkably slow to ripen. Then after I was away for a week up north and there was a deluge of bad weather they seemed a little, well, how should I put this, a little dead. Actually scrap that. They seemed a lot dead. Well some of them do. Now for tomatoes there are a couple of possibilities when they start to look like this. It could be a lack of nutrients of some kind (magnesium apparently is the norm), the solution for this is to give them a feed of Epsom salts. It could be die back, possibly caused by overcrowding as the foliage is quite dense. It also could be blight. Blight is the worry of vegetable gardeners (or one of the worries) as it can decimate potato and tomato crops (they are the same family). It is a type of fungus (I think) which is encouraged in wet weather, so in our particularly damp summer it has been an ever present concern. 

    I’ve given my tomatoes a quick feed of Epsom salts and have cut off some of the foliage and am keeping watch. We’ve had a good enough supply of fruit from it so far and the fruit are staying healthy, so I think for us it was a combination of everything (apart from blight). Hopefully we still have plenty more fruit to come. 

    Fruit growing

    Hanging basket tomatoes

    Now this year I had planned on growing a selection of tomatoes in a greenhouse. Now we didn’t manage to get a greenhouse in time to do that but I did still want to grow some tomatoes as both C and I really like them (J doesn’t mind them in things but wouldn’t ever choose to eat them whole). So about a month or so ago we picked up some tumbling tomato hanging baskets from the local garden centre. We had tomatoes in hanging baskets last year by the kitchen door and every time we walked either into or out of the house C would ask for a “mato”. So not many managed to be kept for use other than random snacks but I did have some left over unripened at the end of the season to use for green tomato chutney. This year I’ve been more diligent about feeding them and so I’m quite excited about a new crop. They’re not quite ripe yet but there seem to be a good number of fruits there and they seem to be a good size. I think they’ve struggled with the hot weather through the past few weeks despite my efforts to keep them hydrated and the leaves look very weak.