Your experiences and advice on preserving the harvest

This page is for a discussion on what are the best (and ideally least energy intensive) ways to preserve our garden produce beyond the growing season. There is plenty of advice on the internet (for example the links below) but there is nothing better than learning from personal experience. Ideally, we can avoid repeating each other's mistakes! So please, let us know what works for you, and what does not.

Please send your comments to nicola by email. (We will not publish your name or email address unless you wish us to.)

Advice elsewhere on the internet:

Nicola again (30th Dec)

I have got a book on preserves for Christmas (River Cottage Handbook 2) and it has a recipe for fruit leather which is a sort of sheet of dried fruit puree. I have never heard of this before. Has anyone else tried it?

I have done some calculations to try to work out which method is most efficient for storing fruit and how bad freezing is. It did not work out too bad at all by my calculations - see the food discussion forum for more details.

Tim (27th Dec)

I think these days the most practical method of storing produce past the growing season is to freeze them. Just cut into small pieces, blanch briefly in boiling water and freeze in bags or plastic. This may not be the least energy intensive method but it enables a wide range of summer vegies to be kept. Other than the chutneys mentioned earlier, many fruits and vegies can be bottled. One that I have tried is apples and pears. Lightly cook fruit in water and a bit of sugar and bottle, covering fruit with syrup. Place in a boiling water bath until liquid in jars is piping hot and seal. The internet is the place for detailed instructions if you don't have a good book.

I think it is important to remember that in times past during winter, people had to make do with a vastly simplified diet because there are limited ways of keeping produce. Sauerkraut is a good old fashioned standby from Germany and is easy to make and tastes great in winter with a pork roast.

To make Sauerkraut

  • Slice cabbage thinly
  • Layer in a strong pot with salt sprinkled between each layer.
  • Squash each layer until the juice comes out.
    • When the pot or jar is full, there should be enough juice expressed to cover the cabbage.
  • Seal jar airtight and leave for 3-4 weeks in a cool place.

There are more detailed recipes on the net of course. I always seemed to have a cabbage \"crisis\" in autumn and this was one way I could use up the huge heads.

Nic Jones (3 Nov)

This is what I have done in the past:

  • Red tomatoes:
    • Wash and cut in half and pack into a tupperware or freezer bag and pop in the freezer. They can then be used in cooking.
    • Alternately make excess tomatoes into a basic sauce and freeze that in portion sized tupperware
  • Green tomatoes
    • Make green tomato chutney, fab for the store cupboard and easy to make
  • Apples
    • stew or freeze windfalls and blemished apples or make chutney.
    • unblemished ones I wrap in news paper and keep in a box in the shed. It is best to heck them regularly in case one has gone bad

I am a great fan of chutney it's really easy and relatively cheep, all you need is malt vinegar, sugar and a mix of veg. If you sterilise the jars well it'll last for ages. Same for jams and marmalade. There is no need to buy expensive pectin sugar, just add the juice of one lemon per pound of fruit.

Also freezing food in several small portions is more sensible than one huge tub, I've learn that the hard way!

I'd love to know what people have done with an excess of courgettes, we had stacks this year!

Nicola Terry (editor this page)

Making chutneys is dead easy (and there are loads of recipes on the internet) but it takes several hours to make each batch (typically 4-6 jars), uses a lot of sugar and the product, while extremely tasty, has specialist use.

I have tried storing apples in boxes in my garage, individually wrapped in newspaper, and as well as a high proportion of rotting I find even the ones that survive go soft and soapy. Perhaps it is the type of apple.

The vegetable expert page talks about storing root veg in layers between damp sand. How practical is this? How damp is damp? Do they have to be not touching? Also it talks about leaving beets, carrots and so on in the ground but covered with 30-60cm of mulch. With this amount of stuff on top, how are you supposed to find them when you want them?

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