If you keep a garden of any size, it can be hard to keep up with a harvest that’s coming in at various points during the growing season. It can be a bit of a juggling act to eat what’s fresh and preserve the extra for winter eating. It’s not always easy to decide either what should be eaten fresh and what should be saved. Let’s face it – it’s all tasty!
No one wants to let all that homegrown (and earned through hard work) produce go to waste. In order to get the most out of a garden’s produce, you need to make a concerted effort to include eating and the preserving it all in your weekly meal and to-do list planning.
Here are my tips for maximizing garden produce.
What to Eat Fresh
Use up the small bits. When there are just small handfuls of various things – a few lonely peas, handfuls of greens, a radish or two – it’s probably not worth the effort to preserve them. Use these small bits up in green salads, pasta salads, stir fries, and smoothies. There’s no reason why the small fresh bits can’t be included in every meal.
For breakfast, eat toast topped with thinly sliced radishes topped and a fried egg. For a mid-day snack, toss a few berries with yogurt and maybe some greens into a blender for a smoothies. For lunch, a pasta salad with that handful of fresh peas, chopped baby carrot, and few stray cherry tomatoes is pretty darn heavenly. For dinner, all those little bits with some rice and meat (if so desired) make a tasty, filling, and frugal meal.
Is it better fresh? Some things are just better fresh than preserved and this is somewhat of a personal preference too. Rutabagas, for instance, aren’t great canned. Unless you have a root cellar, these should be eaten fresh. On the other hand, beets are pretty tasty either pressure canned or pickled. They can be preserved for later whilst eating up the rutabaga or turnip harvest.
Zucchini freezes and dries well, but might be preferred fresh, sautéed with some onions and garlic as an immediate side dish, instead of storing tons grated in the freezer for bread later on.
What to Preserve for Later
The windfalls. When something comes in like gangbusters or a neighbor gives you 20 pounds of sweet cherries, this is the time to put in some preservation effort. When there’s too much to eat fresh before spoilage happens, pull out the canner, bags for freezing, or dehydrator, and get to work.
These are the green beans that fill many winter soups and casseroles, the frozen zucchini for Christmas loaves of bread, and the dehydrated apricots that go into morning oatmeal.
The good preservers. Like above, if your family likes canned carrots, can those while eating the peas or asparagus fresh. Tomatoes tend to come ripe in giant batches. This is the time for salsa or sauce making, rather than trying to eat them all before they rot. All those bushy, over-productive herbs, they’re easily dried and oh-so-good in winter meals and teas.
The small bits that become overwhelming. Maybe you’re eating fresh zucchini with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and having salads and snacking on radishes and still have a handful or two of various vegetables that you’re having trouble using up.
This is the time to cook up some mixed veggie soups or meat and veggie soups to save for winter. You can preserve these soups in a pressure-canner or freeze for later use and are great ways to use up odds and ends for quick, frugal meals later on. This is also a good time to stretch those jam-making skills and get creative with small batches .
In the end, everyone needs to make decisions based on their family’s preferences. There’s no point in making 18 pints of rhubarb chutney if no one likes to actually eat rhubarb chutney. Maximizing garden produce should be all about how a family will eat that produce, not only fresh but also preserved for the leaner months of winter.