Saturday, August 17, 2013

Preserving vegetables, freezing produce

It’s the time of year, when gardeners are harvesting more than they can consume. One solution is to take those big zucchinis to work and place them in unlocked cars in the parking lot. Another solution, is to sell the over-abundance at a vegetable stand. Or, growers can be smart squirrels and store their harvest to enjoy in winter. With a small amount of work, gardeners can preserve their garden treasures for later.
Whether to can, freeze or dry the produce, depends on what vegetable and how much effort and time a person wants to devote. Freezing vegetables is the fastest. Canning takes longer, but is better for maintaining vegetable texture. Canning is definitely best for salsa and pickles. Drying might be the easiest, but it has limited use, such as for herbs, mushrooms and fruit.

Easy freezing
It’s easy to freeze vegetables and fruits. Some don't require cooking or blanching. For celery and rhubarb, just wash, chop, bag in serving sizes and freeze. To freeze zucchini for making bread: shred or grate and freeze without blanching. For peppers, just cut out the seeds, wash and let dry, then freeze in bags.The quality and texture is reduced after freezing, but they still have that garden fresh taste when used in cooking.

Blueberries can be put in the freezer with very little preparation. Remove stems and bad berries, wash in cold water, drain, pack in freezer bags. Label and freeze.

For apples wash, peel and core apples. Slice, cut into chunks or quarter. As you prepare apples, dip the cut pieces in a solution of 1 tablespoon each salt and vineqar to 2 quarts of water, to prevent darkening. Drain well, rinse and drain again. Then you can either pack plain, with sugar or with syrup. Leave a ½ inch headspace for pint containers and 1 inch for quarts. When using liquid, place a piece of crumpled paper or plastic wrap on top to keep fruit under the liquid. For syrup, mix 1/14 cup sugar and 5-1/2 cup water top yield cups. Thaw fruit in refrigerator or bowl of cool water. If cooking, thaw only enough to separate.

Most other vegetables and fruits require blanching, which is pretty easy. To blanch vegetables, you need a large porcelain or stainless steel pan with basket strainer and lid, 2/3 full of water, a large bowl in the sink filled with ice water and a colander. Also need bags or plastic containers and a permanent marker.
Bring the water in the saucepan to boiling. Meanwhile, wash and trim the veggies. Place the veggies in boiling water, close lid and time. See chart below. Then remove from the pan and drain quickly. Next, place in ice water for the same amount of time as boiled. When the time is up, remove and drain well in a colander. To remove more moisture, place clean towels on the counter and lay the veggies out for a few minutes before bagging in labeled freezer bags and placing in the freezer. Here are blanching and cooling times for vegetables:

Vegetable blanching times - equal time in boiling water, then ice water, (Except for corn on the cob, most vegetables should be blanced 2 to 3 minutes).

Broccoli, 3 minutes
Cabbage, 3 minutes (cut into wedges)
Corn on the cob, 6 to 10 minutes
Green beans, 3 minutes
Peas, 1 to 2 minutes
Swiss chard and other tender greens, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes (avoid matting leaves)
Zucchini slice, blanch 3 minutes

Tomatoes taste better when sliced in half, and baked or roasted on a cookie sheet, (350 degrees for 30 minutes for large tomatoes).

Do not freeze too much at one time in your freezer. It could raise the interior temperature. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely until frozen.

Can if you can
Canning takes some time. It’s more fun when you can with friends or family, plus it’s less work. You will have the sweet, or sour rewards all winter long, so much better than store-bought. You will thank yourself and your canning buddies. Hot water bath canning is good for high acid foods, like tomatoes, pickles and relishes. It’s also good for sugary spreads, jams and jellies. You need to buy jars, lids and a big stockpot with wire canning rack. The pan needs to be 3-5 inches deeper than your canning jars. For other foods, like green beans, a pressure canner is needed.
For further information, get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration. It is a very good, easy-to-reference guide, and it under $10. It is available at Meijer in the home canning section and online at

For a good salsa recipe, see my recipe page on the right or click here,

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Harvesting vegetables

For most vegetables, the best time of day to pick is in late morning. This is especially true for lettuce, herbs and greens. A pair of scissors comes in handy for clipping herbs, spinach and lettuce and cutting broccoli heads off, (the broccoli will grow again).
The best way to pick parsley, and many herbs and leafy vegetables, is to snip the whole leaf and stem from the stock. Sometimes you can twist the leaf off near the ground, especially when you pick parsley, Swiss chard and rhubarb.
Basil's a little different. You should cut the stock or branch, just above leaves, well below the leaves you want to harvest.
Cabbage requires a knife, cut at base, you might as well remove the roots too, because it won't grow back. For green beans, pull pods from plants carefully to avoid knocking flowers off of the plant.
Carrots will pop up a bit out of the ground, showing their orange crown, then they are ready to be pulled. Corn is ready when the tassles are brownish. Break off at the base of the ear and then grab firmly at the top of tassels and pull down to shuck, like a banana.
 For green onions, hoe around them to loosen soil, then pull the entire plant up. For regular onions, push leaves flat to the ground when the top turns yellow. Then harvest when the top turns brown.
For potatoes, when the plant tops die, dig up 8-10 inches from plant to avoid injuring the potatoes below. Dig deep and lift plant to pull potatoes off roots.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

When the garden's bare, head to the farmers market

This has been the wettest summer that I have ever seen. It's been nice not having to water, but my garden is looking barren. It's a great year for birds and insects.
I talked to Arlene Spratt of Spratt Farms, Saturday morning, and she said many people have said their gardens aren't doing well. She and her husband Steve, set up their stand in downtown Ortonville parking lot, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, now through September.
Visiting their stand was much more productive than going to my garden. I brought home a cantaloupe, 4 large tomatoes, a bunch  of new potatoes, 2 zucchini and a pint of fresh honey, all for $19.50.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Vegan food truck rolling out sliders

A vegan food truck is hitting the streets to serve up vegan sliders, shakes and fries.
Shimmy Shack’s official launch will be Aug. 3 at the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market.
While other food trucks in the area offer vegetarian options, this truck offers a 100-percent vegan menu. Also, everything on the menu is gluten-free or has a gluten-free option.
Shimmy Shack’s menu includes three cooked sliders – black bean and rice burger with guacamole, a falafel burger with garlic sauce and a classic American cheese (lentil) burger – as well as a raw vegan Rueben, a delicious walnut burger on onion bread with thousand island dressing and sauerkraut. The truck also will serve up regular and sweet potato fries with special sauces and three types of vegan shakes – chocolate, strawberry and the Shimmy Original.
The eye-catching truck and the menu aren’t the only “green” things about Shimmy Shack. The truck also can be run on biodiesel fuel created from the used fryer oil. For more information, find Shimmy Shack on Facebook at or visit  321-EATVEG-0 (321-328-8340).
The Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 9. The market is usually located in George F. Riley Park, at Grand River Avenue at Grove Street but due to construction, the market has been relocated to a temporary location on Orchard St. at Farmington Road, behind Fitness 19. Enter off Farmington Road.