Preserving The Harvest

Eric and Crystal Stevens

By Crystal Stevens, Author, Teacher, Artist, Farmer

This is the most bountiful time at farmers markets throughout the region. The fall harvest is abundant, as the farmers have been working for months planting seeds, building soil, cultivating rows, and harvesting crops. Autumn is a perfect time to preserve vegetables for the winter. Imagine a freezer and pantry full of nutritious locally grown meals ready to heat up in a crock pot on a cold winter day. Food preservation is easy. Batch freezing, pickling, making pestos, and lactofermentation are my favorite methods.

With batch freezing, I simply make double batches of soups and stews this time of year and freeze half of the batch in large freezer bags labeled with the contents and the date. I also chop several fresh veggies such as peppers, scallions, carrots, corn, and squash and freeze them in freezer bags.

One of my favorite simple soups is Autumn Stew.
Autumn Stew
2 gallons of water
1/4 cup hard cider or white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of pumpkin pie spice
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of cumin (optional)
3 large sweet potatoes, sliced or cubed
3 large tomatoes, sliced and cut in half
4 medium peppers, sliced
3 medium eggplant
3 cups of vegetables of your choice (chopped into small pieces)
Boil water, cider and seasonings in a large saucepan. Add sweet potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and cook on low for 45 minutes.

Fire Roasting and Freezing
Using a campfire to grill veggies is one of our favorite methods to use up produce with blemishes. I love to grill a large quantity of veggies, cut into strips and freeze in labeled freezer bags to have the taste of summer any time of the year.
Veggies can be roasted and frozen for later use as well.
Fire-roasted on the wood-fired grill (4 minutes on each side)
Fire-roasted on the charcoal grill (4 minutes on each side)
Roasted in the oven (toss in extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt
and bake at 425°F for 20 minutes)

Chow Chow is an easy way to use a lot of vegetables all at once and can be made in large batches. Chow chow can act as a condiment similar to salsa in that it is a delicious addition to eggs, roasted veggies, tacos, meat, and fish.
Spicy Chow Chow with Fire-roasted Hot Peppers
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green cabbage, cut in half lengthwise and grilled
3 small summer squash, cut in half lengthwise and grilled
3 fire-roasted poblano peppers, diced
5 fire-roasted jalapeño peppers, diced
2 fire-roasted bell peppers, diced
1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar (I prefer coconut sugar)

In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic in oil for 2 minutes. Chop grilled cabbage and squash and add to the pot. Cook on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add diced fire-roasted hot and bell peppers, salt, pepper and sugar. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until all ingredients are tender. Chow chow will keep in the refrigerated for 1 week in a tightly sealed jar. It freezes well in freezer-safe bags.

Fermentation is a wonderful way to preserve vegetables.
Lacto-fermentation is the process of fermenting veggies in lactic acid-forming bacteria that are beneficial to the body and help build the immune system.

Lactofermented Veggies in Brine Sterilize Mason jars.
Chop veggies and herbs of your choice and add to jars.
Dissolve 1 1/2 tablespoons of Celtic sea salt in 2 cups of purified water.
Pour the brine over your chopped veggies in the jars.
Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top. Put a cabbage leaf on top to help
with the fermentation process.
Cover with a plastic lid.
Leave on the counter for 1 week.
Remove cabbage leaf and refrigerate for up to 2 months. Be sure to label.

Quick Pickles
3 cups of water
1 cup of Apple Cider Vinegar
3 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoons of sugar (I use coconut sugar)
6 cups of cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and veggie stems such as kale, chard, or collards
2 tablespoons of whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of dried dill or 3 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tablespoon of toasted cumin seeds
In a medium pot combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and dried spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool.
In sterile jars, pack sliced veggies, leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top.
Pour the brine into the jars. Label lid with date and contents. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Preserving Herbs
Basic Pesto
Basil pesto is a favorite! I also love making pesto with cilantro, parsley,
or dill as well.
6 cups fresh herbs (leaves only)
1 cup nuts (pine nuts are standard, but use any nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice, to preserve freshness
Combine ingredients in a food processor until desired consistency. Adjust to your personal taste and desired texture. Adding more oil and lemon juice, for instance, will make the pesto runnier. Using less will make a more spreadable pesto for sandwiches or bagels. Freeze excess pesto in labeled freezer bags or ice cube trays. Place the frozen cubes in a labeled freezer bag. Thaw and use as needed.

Freezing Herbs
One of the easiest ways to capture their essence is to simply cut fresh herbs with a pair of scissors and freeze them in ice cube trays. Cut the leaves from stems. Fill ice cube trays with water, and then firmly place herbs (roughly 1 teaspoon) into each cube. Freeze overnight. Place frozen herb ice cubes in labeled freezer bags. These work well added to soups, stews or sauces.

Crystal Stevens is a regular contributor to The Healthy Planet magazine. She and her husband Eric own & operate Flourish, a farm and plant nursery in Illinois. For more information about Crystal, Eric and Flourish, please visit www.growcreateinspire.com.