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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    Dog · Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Recipes

    House sitting for the Cottage Garden Trio

    So this week we have been away on holiday in Ruda (watch out for a future post about my week and recommendations for things to do in North Devon) with some of our extended family and whilst we were away my mum had kindly volunteered to stay at ours and keep an eye on things. I asked her for a midweek update that I could share about what’s been going on at the cottage so far and what she’s found the biggest challenges and successes which I’ve included below. It sounds like she’s been having a good time (I hope) and she’s used to having a dog and doing bits of preserving so she’s well placed to keep an eye on things. 

    Ok………so here I am, left in charge of chickens and a ten week old puppy. The chickens are a doddle and have reliably given me six eggs a day. The puppy, lively at times but manageable and great fun (her rash has cleared up nicely but I’m still finishing her course of antibiotics). The problems are actually with the inanimate objects around here…..namely fruit and veg! Apples and plums just keep needing to be harvested and used as I hate waste, but before I did anything major with them ( apart from eat them or give bags of them to J’s Dad ) I thought that I would do an easy job with with some beetroot that Laura harvested before she abandoned me……sorry, went on holiday.


    There are many different options out there when it comes to pickling beetroot but sometimes the simplest can be the best. I’ve used some Kilner jars which were pre-washed and sterilised. Simply cook the washed beetroot in salted water for about forty minutes until they are soft when pierced with a knife. Then drain and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Try and find some plastic gloves so that you can peel them without your hands looking like you have just committed murder (disposable gloves like the kind that dentists and doctors are ideal), then slice them, pack them into warm sterilised jars and cover with pickling or white wine vinegar and seal (a clear coloured vinegar is best to allow the colour of the beetroot to shine through). It needs to mature for about a  month……can’t wait! Next job plum and apple chutney.

    Raised beds · Vegetable growing

    Baby corn harvest

    This year we were very late in getting our raised beds built and filled, so we ended up being too late in the Spring to plant some of the seeds we’d originally hoped for. So on one of our frequent weekend trips to the garden centre we picked up some seedlings  that they had leftover. We went for mini pop sweetcorn. It is a baby corn variety, designed to be picked and consumed when the cobs are about 10-15cm long. Sweetcorn is a big favourite with C although she does tend to prefer the ‘normal sized’ variety. However, babycorn holds a special place in J’s heart. J lost his mum when he was very young to cancer and one of his memories of her is when he visited her in hospital and she gave him her babycorn from her dinner plate. He’d never seen babycorn before and it always reminds him of his mum now. So growing our own babycorn is something quite special for us. 

    Now whilst normal corn is fairly easy to determine when to harvest (the tassels turn brown) for babycorn it seems to be a little bit more vague.  

    These are the male parts of the plant, which some seem to suggest aren’t needed for mini pop but others imply are still necessary. 


    And these are the tassels and indicate where each cob is.

    Now all my research has said that if the tassels turn brown then they will be too far gone and will taste bad. So you have to harvest them when the tassel are still pale and you are aiming for the corn to be about 10-15cm long. Which is all very well and good, but how on earth are you supposed to know when they are that length without harvesting some? Well we decided to test one out today. We slowly peeled back the leaves (well it wasn’t really a peeling but a tearing) to reveal this.



    My daughter was so excited to discover it, that is what has really made growing our own vegetables enjoyable giving her these wonderful childhood experiences. So tomorrows job is to harvest some more and then blanch and freeze them as they are best enjoyed when picked fresh on the day. I’ll be interested to see how many we get, as one doesn’t really give a meal!


    Lazy beds · Vegetable growing

    Potato storage and preserving

    Now because of timings in creating our lazy beds we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time. We had six varieties: red duke of York (first earlies), Charlotte (second earlies), Maris Peer (second earlies), Maris Piper (early maincrop), Purple Majesty (maincrop) and King Edward (large maincrop). Now the theory is that they should be ready in sequence, which they haven’t all been, and even if they do spread themselves out a bit more, we had 1kg of seed potatoes of each variety so we’re going to end up with a lot of potatoes. An awful lot. We started pulling them up the other week but to be honest we didn’t really think it through and just started pulling up those where the foliage was dying back. We did stop but not before we had a vast haul. My wonderful husband then proceeded to help out (as good husband always do) and started cleaning them ready for use. 


    It wasn’t until later when I did a bit of reading about homegrown potatoes that I realised we probably hadn’t done the right thing with our harvest if we were wanting a good storage period. The best thing to do is to pull up the plant and harvest any potatoes that are attached. 


    Then ensure any potatoes still in the ground are still well covered with soil and leave for a couple of weeks for the skins to set. This will make them firmer and better able to withstand storage. Instead, some people, will harvest and let them dry out in the sun. I’ve opted to leave them in the ground. 


    Now you can, in theory, harvest just what is needed when it’s needed. Or, if you are concerned about possible pest damage, then harvest and store in a dark, cool place. Most people opt for brown paper bags or hessian sacks for this purpose. Then only wash when you are ready to use. 

    When it comes to preserving potatoes then the freezer is your best friend. Potatoes can’t be frozen raw so they need to be processed in some way first. I’m a big fan of my freezer and tend to do lots of batch cooking for my freezer. So far with our first harvest of potatoes I have done some roast potatoes: parboiled and tossed in flour and lard, then open frozen before bagging, they can then be popped straight into the oven from frozen to crisp up. They make delicious roasties and it’s easy to just take out the number you need. 


    We’ve also tried doing a potato bake: sliced potato and onion in layers in a dish, then covered in stock (I prefer chicken stock for the taste), season (I use salt, pepper and a little thyme from the garden) then bake until the potatoes are cooked (about 40 minutes). We used purple majesty potatoes for this and have frozen in the dish and covered with foil. When we’re going to use it we will take it out the day before use (or on the day, but then it will take longer to cook) and cover with a sprinkling of cheese and bake for 15 mins. It doesn’t look particularly appetising now, but I promise it is delicious and fairly healthy (without the cheese). 


    I also love to do a few baked potatoes in the oven when I have space then they can be frozen in foil and either defrosted in the microwave (remove the foil) or the oven relatively quickly for a proper baked potato taste in a rush. What does anyone else do to use up potatoes? I need some more inspiring ideas. 

    Fruit growing

    Raspberries

    So, this is the second year of our raspberries in pots and their first year fruiting. Now I couldn’t remember the variety and whether they were Autumn or Summer fruiting so wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to prune them if at all. As we’d had a house move and they had been somewhat neglected then I was surprised when the dead looking twigs that were left started to sprout leaves and then produced a good number of flowers and fruit. 


    What’s been quite nice about the raspberries is that they don’t all ripen at once so we have been able to enjoy (and still have more to enjoy) fruit for a good number of weeks. Not that I’ve been able to eat or preserve many as I would have liked too as C is a big fan of the pick and eat immediately strategy. She does let myself or J have the odd one but finishes all the rest straight away. 

    Our netting system has worked brilliantly and so far we haven’t lost any of our crop to birds. We have some arched canes in each pot tied together at the top and then have just draped the netting over them (see below).

    Then when we want to pick we simply lift up the netting, pick and replace. Simple yet effective as a system as shown below. 


    So to ensure that I could actually have a chance to keep and use some of our crop this year I snuck out and picked some yesterday evening and have hidden them in the fridge.


    Whilst I was there I noticed the new growth on our plants. So the current years stems have brown woody bases and then green growth out the top as pictured below.


    Then we also now have the new growing stems appearing as shown below. It is these which will end up looking like twigs during winter and it is from these that our next years fruit will grow.