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GREENFILE: Preserve your bounty

Apples will keep well if stored in a cold cellar, especially if wrapped in newspaper and kept in a box or crate with adequate ventilation, or a refrigerator.
Apples will keep well if stored in a cold cellar, especially if wrapped in newspaper and kept in a box or crate with adequate ventilation, or a refrigerator.

There is a good chance you grew a vegetable garden this year.

Gardening professionals tell us, this season, Canadians are growing more home-grown vegetables than since the victory garden days of the Second World War.

Given this trend, it is safe to assume that right now, we are looking at record backyard harvests. Something to celebrate. As part of this celebration, we know that much of this bounty comes all at once.

How to preserve the spoils to bask in the joy of a homegrown harvest? Here are our suggestions:

Basic storage

These are the crops that we specifically grow as they keep well on their own.

• Apples and pears will keep well in a cold cellar, especially if wrapped in newspaper and kept in a box or crate with adequate ventilation. A refrigerator works great also.

• Root vegetables such as beets, potatoes and carrots store well without wrapping. Carrots and beets store best with their leafy tops intact. They are more nutritious too. Store in a ventilated crate or cardboard box and mound sand over them to preserve moisture. Potatoes can be kept in paper bags to wick excess moisture away and prevent rotting. Keep potatoes somewhere dark to avoid them turning green and to reduce sprouting.

• Onions and garlic should be dried thoroughly before storage. Ben likes to air his out on the front porch for a couple weeks after harvest – there is enough sunlight without baking them, and a breeze to dry the skins gently. Store in a dry place.

• Pumpkins and squash, with their naturally tough skin, are made for storage – place in a cool, dry place. Note that pumpkins will only keep until mid-winter, so use them first. Butternut and spaghetti squash can be kept until early spring.

Note that with any of these crops, “one bad apple” can spoil everything as mould spores spread easily. Inspect weekly for rotten fruit.

Dry winter

Drying herbs is an often-overlooked option for home gardeners, especially this time of year.

As we have written before dried herbs are one of the most common categories at the grocery store for food fraud. That is, you are not always buying what it says on the package.

So why not dry your own?

Green herbs such as oregano, parsley and dill can be dried easily using a dehumidifier or using a baking sheet on your oven’s lowest temperature setting. Be patient, this could take a few hours. When they break apart easily, crush fresh herbs and transfer to an air-tight container to add fresh flavour to your winter stews.

Warm cider for cooler temps

Ever wonder why fruit juice is relatively cheap compared to fresh fruit, despite the fact it takes more than 2kg of apples for a litre of juice? Juice is a great way to use up “ugly” produce that could not otherwise be sold. If you happen to be an organic grower, there is no doubt that you have some ugly bushels of apples on your hands. Waste not – throw whatever apples you have into a slow cooker with some cinnamon and cloves (to taste), cover with water and cook for six to seven hours on low heat until soft. Mash when soft, simmer for another hour, and strain through a fine sieve. Some people add granulated sugar with the cinnamon and cloves, but Ben did without and went with two cinnamon sticks and a teaspoon of cloves per 10 or so apples. Fabulous.

Frozen veggies for even colder temps

Freezing produce is one of the easiest ways to preserve it, and, if it is done right, it will maintain the firmness of beans and the crunchiness of corn.

The trick is to go from boiling water straight into an ice bath to halt the cooking process and prevent soggy veggies. A good rule of thumb is blanche in boiling water for one third of the usual cooking time, then into the icy water. Pat dry and freeze.

With a freezer, pantry and cellar stocked from your own bounty, let this winter be your most inspired cooking season yet.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.

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