Planting a garden and harvesting its results is a wonderful ego boost. There is just something about nurturing a plant and enjoying its fruits that leads to a sense of accomplishment and self satisfaction. But I have been known to get a little carried away, and in the past have planted too much of one thing or another. Sometimes that’s ok, like if it’s a product that can be quickly frozen or something that can safely stay in the ground until I am ready to deal with it. But other times I have been unundated with waaaaaay too many crops, all ripe and ready to pick at the same time. There have been several hot summer days when my kitchen counters are filled to overflowing with canning jars, the sink is full of ripe tomatoes, there are buckets of ripe peaches on the deck waiting their turn, and I look like a frantic Medusa trying to get everything done at once. The way to avoid this rather unattractive state is to plan a preserving garden – fruits and vegetables that are planted with preserving in mind. And it’s a good idea to plan for a staggered harvest!
So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite plants and how I preserve their bounty:
Roma Tomatoes – I grow several of these meaty paste tomatoes (my current favorite is Amish Paste although I have had good luck with San Marzano too), puree them skins, seeds and all, cook them down a little, and either can in one quart jars or freeze. Later I use the puree for red sauce, soups, and chili.
Cherry Tomatoes – One thing I love about cherry tomatoes is that they ripen over weeks, so we have fresh tomatoes most of the summer. I eat them like candy, but the remainder get dried in my food dehydrator. The dried tomatoes are stored in zip top bags and then I keep them in the freezer, that way they are easier to crumble when adding to sauces and recipes later.
Pickling Cucumbers – If you want to make pickles, you will have to plant quite a few pickling cucumber seeds. I devote almost a whole 3 x 4 raised bed to pickling cukes and almost never have enough to can. Of course, I love eating the bitter little cucumbers, so that could be part of the problem. I do often make a batch of sweet relish with my pickling cukes though. It doesn’t take as many cucumbers and homemade relish is a much appreciated gift.
Leeks – Leeks may seem like an odd plant for a preserving garden. We mostly eat onions and their “relatives” fresh. But leeks can be dried and used all winter in soups, sauces, and casseroles. They are an easy plant to grow, order the plants, put them in the ground, and basically you don’t have to worry about them again. I wash, chop and dry them in the food dehydrator and then store them in zip top bags or jars. Another advantage is that growing and drying your own leeks is a huge cost savings over purchasing dried leeks.
Winter squash and pumpkin – I live in a place where it is difficult to purchase winter squash after Thanksgiving, so I like to grow my own. Winter squash can be kept in a cool place (I leave it in the garage) for 3 or 4 months. It is also good peeled, cut in chunks and frozen. Some people like to cook squash before freezing, but I prefer the quicker and more direct approach!
Herbs – Herbs are usually pretty easy to grow, and even easier to preserve. They can be spread on a paper towel and dried to use in tea, for cooking, or when making your own bath fizzies. Herb sprigs can also be added to white, cider, or balsamic vinegar to make flavored vinegar. Or, they can be chopped and frozen with water in ice cube trays to keep that fresh flavor. Basil is especially good preserved this way.
Fruit – If you are thinking long term, plant several fruiting trees and bushes. Many years ago I planted 4 raspberry bushes. Now they have spread and are practically taking over the backyard, and would succeed if we didn’t fight back with the lawn mower! But there’s nothing like fresh raspberries all summer. I also freeze them to serve over pancakes or pound cake during the off-season, and many many of them are turned into jam. I am also fortunate to live in an area where peaches thrive. My two peach trees (one is a mid-season and one a late-season) provide me with peach butter, peach preserves, and gallons and gallons of sliced, frozen peaches each year. More recently we planted two cherry trees (not as easy to take care of as peach trees). Last year I had enough to make cherry jam, black cherry balsamic vinegar, and was able to freeze 2 gallons of sweet black cherries. Choose fruit that grows well in your area, maybe strawberries or blueberries, apples or guavas.
Other plants that I have grown for preserving include zucchini (turned into pickles or dried for soups), corn (frozen on the cob or made into relish), and garden peas (frozen). What do you plant in your preserving garden?
See the other entries in our Theme Garden series: