Returning to Our Roots | Preserving the Garden

Tis the season to can! We've spent the past couple of months canning up a storm. In fact, I believe I canned over 40 collective jars of tomatoes from our garden. Yes! That's a lot of tomatoes. I could have had more, too, but I left a basket collected for too long that went rotten. Oops! The thing that stinks about canning is you need it to be hot, but that means... it's hot! I usually put on my grubbiest clothes and just sweat for about five hours. It's such a simple and beautiful process... HAHA. The end result however is actually really pretty, and I just feel like a champion looking at all of the jars. We canned peaches, pickles, tomatoes, marinara, salsa, and some jam this year. It was fun! I hope to can some pumpkin and butternut squash puree as well before they go bad. Today, I want to share some ways that you can preserve your garden before everything is finished growing along with my favorite resources for said preservation! I am not an expert in canning, so I'll leave that job of teaching you to someone else. Maybe in a few years I'll feel more comfortable writing my own recipes! 

Canning

Canning is such a fun and excellent way to preserve almost anything you grow in the garden! Like I said above, we canned sliced pickles with our own cucumbers and a bunch of different tomato combos with our own tomatoes. The marinara sauce is AH-MA-ZING, and we've already cracked open 5 jars of it. I guess we aren't really preserving the summer!! 

My favorite book by far for canning help is Food In Jars by Marisa McClellan. What a lady! Her books are so helpful; they make you feel like you can do this job easy and not kill yourself. The scary thing with canning your own food is obviously botulism, which is a scary type of food poisoning that can happen if your can's lid doesn't properly seal and the food inside goes bad. Yuck! Some people die from it, and well, you definitely don't want that to happen! Which is why I don't yet feel comfortable experimenting with canning recipes, BUT, McClellan knows what she's talking about. She makes it really easy for you to learn how to can without feeling dumb and it's a lot less terrifying than it seems. It's just time consuming! She also has a great website where you can find free recipes and info. That's always nice if you don't want a new book, but I highly recommend the print version! I used all of the my recipes from that including our peaches (canned in bourbon - YUM), pickles, chopped tomatoes, marinara, and salsa. The salsa is really yummy, too!

A few things I learned canning the first time:

  1. Put a few tablespoons of white vinegar into your hot water baths (lids and jars)! This will help with any cloudiness that happens in and around your jars and lids. If you do not add the vinegar, the minerals from your tap water can cause the jars to become foggy and not so pretty! It also disinfects - yay!
  2. You can't use lids that you've already canned with. I didn't realize this, and I am glad that I read all of the little details in Marisa's book! I would have just kept reusing the same old lids, which would have led to false seals and probably... BOTULISM. 
  3. Can on a cool day with the windows open. You will feel much less like you'll die of heat stroke.
  4. Try making something new! I should have canned our zucchinis into pickles, but I wasn't fast enough!! I have some plans to try some more interesting things next year with new vegetables. 

Drying + Dehydrating

There are so many things that you can dry and/or dehydrate in the garden. Fruit usually comes to mind instantly for me when it comes to dehydrating. We didn't get a lot of berries this year, our plants are still young, but I hope in years to come that we'll be able to dehydrate some fruit to keep. These will be tasty in hot cereals, granola bars, and sprinkled on ice cream! Tad devours fruit in any form, so I love being able to create more options for him. 

I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago on drying herbs! There are so many different ways to do this successfully, but I seem to have the best time just hanging them from my peg rack out of indirect sunlight. It takes a little longer than baking or dehydrating, but I find the results are better. That's just my opinion. If you'd like more info on drying herbs, click HERE.

Here are some ideas for using dried herbs:

  • Make some herb infused oils - similar to essential oils, but a lot less concentrated and safe to use on small children!
  • This herbal healing salve is so easy to make and can be used topically on minor burns, cuts, and scrapes.
  • Flu season is approaching, and I always seem to be making more herbal tea to help with symptoms this time of year.
  • Try making some herbal bath teas! They're so easy - just fill up a jar with some dried herbs and enjoy them in the bath. Works like a charm!

Pressing

Even though I didn't grow a lot of flowers this year, the ones I did have bloom are something that I wish I could save all year long! It's nice knowing that I can in some way by pressing them. I decided to save a few of my favorite blooms by placing them between two sheets of wax paper and pressing them in the bottom of a heavy book. Cookbooks work great for this! They're always so thick and heavy. I don't have a fancy flower press or anything like that, so I'll just stack a ton of books on top of the one with flowers inside and wait. Pressing flowers this way can take up to six months, so be patient, but the results are so lovely. I actually have flowers pressed from Tad's father that I hope to give him one day when he's older. They hold a lot of sentimental value!

Looking for a more creative way to put pressed flowers to use? Try making these herbal beeswax air fresheners!

Freezing

I didn't even realize how many things that we could freeze from the garden! I believe I ended up planting something around 12 kale plants this spring... oh boy. That was WAY too many. If you're a family of four with only so much space to plant, one kale plant is enough. It will just keep producing all growing season long! Maybe two if you want to play it safe, you know, in case one dies. Now, I have only four kale plants living. The others didn't die - I tore them out. We just had too much! And we discovered that we aren't huge fans of fresh kale. It's cool, you know, it's a super food. It just tastes bad. We do, however, love putting it in smoothies, and our friend told us that she freezes her kale! What! That didn't even dawn on us. So every harvest, I grab a few handfuls of kale and freeze it. We put a handful in our smoothies almost every day. It's the bee's knees! You can also freeze grated zucchini, chunked winter squash, spinach, fruits, peas, beans, and corn. We have so much frozen corn (locally purchased) and zucchini. Lots of zucchini bread in the works! I also have been making vegetable stock with leftover scraps and peelings and freezing that in mason jars. Just make sure that you freeze in wide mouth jars (those are the safest to prevent glass cracking/breaking) or leave at least an inch of head space for other jars. I've had stock break in the fridge, and it stinks!

And that is that! Looking back, there are so many fun recipes that I tried this past summer that I really wish I would have shared here on the blog. Honestly, this entire gardening season was SO fun, rewarding, and I learned so much. I feel almost guilty not capturing and sharing it all with you here, like recipes and harvests and tips, but I was too busy actually living it all. I am really excited for next year because I'll have moments to breathe and revisit some areas of the summer garden, you know? It won't be super new to me, so I can share more. Maybe I'll even discover some fun canning recipes, share a zucchini bread, and more harvest meals for lunch and dinner. I hope you enjoyed this post! Do you have any special ways you preserve the harvest? Let me know in the comments!

xoxo Kayla