Our house is in the midst of putting summer in jars. All winter we’ll recall the sights and scents of summer as we open jars of home-canned fruits and vegetables. “Putting food by” is much more than just filling the larders for winter consumption—it is an elixir for the soul. Not only is the food good for us, but one of the best prescriptions available for keeping the winter doldrums at bay is homemade strawberry jam on warm toast or crisp garlic pickles alongside a hearty sandwich.
Pickling is such an easy way to preserve extra produce from the garden, and there is nothing quite like pulling a fresh jar of dilly beans to enjoy with summer potato salad, a jar of pickled beets to enjoy with Thanksgiving turkey, or freshly opened chowchow (garden relish to those not from the south) to serve on cooked pinto beans or a bratwurst. Pickling has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years as a way to use acid to preserve food.
All it takes to make pickles is some fresh vegetables, vinegar, salt and sugar if you choose to use it. Although pickled cucumbers are the gold standard, just about anything can be pickled – green beans, beets, cucumbers, hot peppers, cauliflower, onions, carrots, zucchini and okra. And this doesn’t begin to mention the relishes, salsas and chutneys that can be pickled as well. Don’t be afraid to combine vegetables like corn, onions and sweet red peppers for a beautiful confetti of taste. Experiment!
Pickled vegetables are preserved by the vinegar and salt used to pickle them. They do not need to be pressure processed but can be simply put in a boiling water bath for a specified amount of time. Or you can simply pickle in the refrigerator.
Basic salty brine:
2 cups water
1 cup white or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons canning or kosher salt (common table salt may discolor some vegetables).
Combine and bring to a simmer. Taste the brine as it heats and add more salt if necessary – not too sour, too sweet or too salty.
For a sweet brine:
add 2 Tablespoons sugar
Add whatever spices and herbs sound good –
Wasabi powder (use a sweet brine), Basil leaves, Peeled ginger, Chile pepper, Mustard seed, Celery seed, Oregano, Thyme, Sweet pepper strips, Fresh rosemary sprigs, Strips of lemon peel, Dill seed or flower head.
Pickled Dilly Beans
Fill pint jars with fresh young green beans, topped but not tailed. Add to each jar:
1 clove garlic
¼ t. black mustard seeds
½ t. black and white peppercorns
1 head dill
¼ t. dried hot pepper or a small whole pepper
Cover with hot brine, leaving ½” headspace. Seal and process in boiling water bath ten minutes.
Salsas are similar to pickles but they are preserved with only a little bit of vinegar instead of being submerged in brine. Again, feel free to change the ingredients around, but make sure not to leave out the vinegar as this is what preserves the salsa.
1 chili with seeds
3-4 tomatoes, chopped finely
1 small onion minced
1 clove garlic chopped
1 T. vinegar
1 t. salt
Combine and heat gently. Fill pints leaving 1/4 inch headroom. Process in boiling water bath 15 minutes.Makes about 3 cups.
Fresh hot scones or biscuits slathered with spicy apple or plum butter? It’s absolutely to die for! Fruit butters are simple to make and just take a little time to cook down. But if you do this in a slow cooker, you can walk away from it and let the cooker do its job.
All butters begin by making sauce. Any time you have extra fruit, slice or quarter them and toss them into a pot with a bit of water or cider to cook down. Run them through a mill (will separate the seeds, peels and cores) and you have delicious sauce, ready to turn into butter (or drizzle over ice cream if you can’t wait). Most fruits have their own sweetness, especially when cooked down. Sugar is not usually necessary but you can add any type of sweetener if desired (sugar, honey, agave syrup).
You can make butter in the oven or in the slow cooker. Put in your sauce, season according to your taste (ginger, mace, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon), set the cooker on low for several hours, stirring occasionally. If using the oven, put in heavy roaster and set the oven at 225 degrees. Check periodically, stirring and when it’s the thickness you desire, remove from the oven.
Either refrigerate for immediate use or put in clean, hot canning jars, seal with fresh lids and process in a boiling water bath.
Basic Apple Butter
¼ bushel apples
4 c. cider
Make applesauce with cider. Add 2 T. cinnamon, 2 t. cloves and add more cider as necessary to prevent drying out. Check flavor and process.
Crock-Pot Plum Butter
4 cups plum sauce
2 t. cinnamon
½ t. powdered ginger
Cook all day on low. Adjust seasonings and process.
When tomatoes are coming in like crazy, it’s nice to put up a few for winter. Canning tomatoes is a science, and it can be done but must be done exactly according to the directions or you risk problems with the final product. Check Putting Food By or The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving for details on exactly how to do this correctly.
To circumvent any problems, my favorite way to preserve is to keep a bucket in the freezer and simply wash whole tomatoes and toss them into the bucket. When I want to make sauce, salsa or anything else with tomatoes, I take some out, rinse them under warm water which makes the skins slip. Once they are thawed, they can be chopped and used like canned tomatoes. Except that they taste fresher!
Cherry Tomato Sugar Bombs
Cut cherry tomatoes in half and place on a well-oiled cookie sheet. Drizzle the tops with more oil (olive oil is delicious but you can use any high-quality oil). Put them in a 275 oven and bake for 2-4 hours. Check every half hour or so and give the pan a shake to loosen them. No need to turn over. When they are leathery, remove from the oven and refrigerate (if you don’t eat them all first!)
Homemade “sun-dried” tomatoes
If you have the luxury of a dehydrator, simply slice cherry tomatoes in half or large tomatoes in slices. Remove as much of the pulp and seeds as you can. Dehydrate for six to eight hours. When fully dry and crisp, you can simply put them in a jar in the cupboard. Rehydrate by simmering in a very small amount of water. Use on pizza, in pasta, on sandwiches.
Author: Kate Jerome
I am an avid home gardener and cook, free-lance writer, cooking and gardening blogger and teacher. I love sharing ideas and techniques of simplicity in the garden and kitchen. I have a formal background (M.S. degree) in ornamental trees and shrubs, but my true love is vegetable and herb gardening with a few perennials thrown in for good measure. I have spent my career as the director of an urban farm and horticulture instructor at a technical college, a garden columnist for several newspapers and gardening magazines, a book author, and guest horticulturist on public radio call-in shows. https://katesgardenkitchen.com/