The heat is on, and our gardens are bursting with delightful treats. If you are like many people in the valley, you are looking at your upcoming vegetable harvest and wondering what you are going to do with it all.
Many people give their excess fruits and vegetables to friends and neighbors and do not think about preserving them for later use. In the past, my approach can be summed up as, “I hope you like salad, because that’s all we’re eating this month.” Not very exciting.
As I’ve learned, preserving fruits and vegetables is not difficult. The basic canning process is mostly a matter of properly cleaning, heating and sealing your containers to be sure the preserves stay safe. If you are into gadgets, this is the hobby for you. Although all you really need are jars, a large pot, and some jar tongs, there are many tools and appliances designed to improve the efficiency and ease of preserving.
You can preserve just about anything in a jar, and the results are definitely worth the effort. There is nothing quite like eating home-grown strawberries as a harsh winter gale blows against your window.
Possibly the most familiar preserves are the ones made with berries and tomatoes. While jam and pasta sauce are easily in my top 10 favorite foods, I can’t get overly excited about making them. However, I am particularly interested in “ready-to-eat” preserves that you can use directly from the jar, no further cooking required. My chef/sommelier wife, Andreya, had some recommendations.
“I particularly like summer squash conserva,” she said. “You can eat it with burrata, sea salt, olive oil and a little basil. It’s a tasty snack on bread or crackers as well.”
To make summer squash conserva, cut the squash into bite-sized pieces, then cover it with a hot herb-infused mixture of one part red wine vinegar to two parts olive oil. The slightly softened, but still crunchy, squash can be tossed into a green or grain salad, or combined with fresh cucumbers and peppers from your garden to enjoy with hummus and grilled pita.
A second option for summer squash is to roast it with wine, garlic and olive oil until soft, then puree it and jar it. When reheated, it makes a nice alternative to tomato sauce for your pasta or pizza.
Another enticing suggestion my wife offered was for cherries pickled with hibiscus, red wine vinegar, sugar, tarragon and star anise. This idea threw me off at first, as cherries did not seem compatible with the flavors I associate with pickling. I have since discovered that they add a delicious tart sweetness to a dish like salmon with ginger forbidden rice. Pickled cherries are also a nice accompaniment to your favorite cheeses and particularly delicious with grilled halloumi, honey and fresh mint.
If you are growing eggplants, save some for baba ganoush, the Middle Eastern appetizer made with roasted eggplant, olive oil and tahini.
Finally, don’t disregard your herbs. Instead of composting them at the end of the season, cut and dry them for later use. You can do this with a dehydrator, or just hang them in bundles upside-down in a dry location. Once dried, they can be stored separately or blended into personalized seasonings. A package of your personal herb blend is a gift that anyone would be happy to receive.
Some flowers, like calendula, also lend themselves to drying. Use dried calendula blossoms to add a vibrant yellow-orange color to a fall or winter dish.
There are many other ways to preserve your hard-earned summer bounty and some great resources online. If you are feeling tired of a favorite vegetable, it’s time to experiment. You may discover that preserving it reinvigorates your interest.
Free Talk: Join UC Master Gardeners of Napa County on Thursday, July 6, from 7-8 p.m., for a presentation about some of the most common garden insects, both beneficial and pests. Learn how to attract more good guys to help control the bad guys. No RSVP required. Napa County Library, 580 Coombs St., Napa.
Free Tree Walk: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a guided tree walk of Fuller Park, 560 Jefferson, in Napa, on Monday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to noon. Enjoy a fun, informational stroll through the park, learning about its history and 41 different trees on site. Wear comfortable shoes. Restrooms are available and handicap accessible. The book Trees to Know in Napa Valley will be available for $15 each (cash or check only).
To register, call 707-253-4221. Walk-ins are welcome, but you are guaranteed to receive a complimentary map and additional information if you register at least 48 hours in advance.