Putting Away the Garden’s Bounty for Winter

Vintage Ball Canning Guides, undated

Having extra food on hand whether it is home canned or dried, or purchased from a store seems prudent and responsible.  Aside from that, preserving your own food can be a fun project!  In the summer when we’re inundated with tomatoes, peppers, peaches, and apples it can seem as though there’s no end to them.  At times like these it’s a satisfying feeling to remind ourselves that nothing is wasted. Everything is put away and ready to bring back those memories of working in the sunny garden, especially when the ground is cold and resting during the winter.

There’s no one who so cheerfully puts away the garden’s bounties in such quantities as our neighbor George, who never met a tomato he didn’t like – red, yellow, orange, green “scratch and dents” as he calls them.  We’re grateful to sample many of his delicious garden and kitchen recipes and they’ve helped inspire our own.

This year Rebecca bought four habanero pepper plants and four cayenne pepper plants from a neighbor at the Crozet farmer’s market. They produced an abundance of beautiful orange and red peppers. We dried so many of them in the dehydrator that I don’t think we’ll have to plant those varieties again for a long time.  They’re still out in the garden even now, producing slower, but still producing into November!

The habanero plant.  Photo: aidanbrooksspices.blogspot.com

We found out the hard way to wear plastic gloves while cutting up the habaneros.  Once the juice from these spicy peppers gets on the skin, it burns and burns.  I used disposable gloves, but accidently touched the glove with my bare skin.  It burned so badly that I couldn’t get to sleep that night, hours later, after using regular hand soap over and over.  Rachel found that using a strong dishwashing soap, such as Ajax, cut through the pepper oils that sink into the skin.  Whew – I got to sleep that night after all!

Our dehydrator is an Excalibur Dehydrator.  We recommend slitting peppers lengthwise before drying.  The habaneros were deseeded and cut into slices.  I found it best to plug the dehydrator in outside on the deck – its very strong smelling when it first heats up. Alternatively, our neighbor Kevin strung the peppers together and hung them to dry in his barn, where there is good air circulation.

Once dried, try coarsely grinding the cayenne peppers (seeds and all) in a mini food processor by Cuisinart.  The habaneros were placed in a jar directly from the dehydrator.  The dried habaneros are great in soups and stews.  They add a smokey spiciness, but use them sparingly!

We kept the dehydrator going for weeks on end with all kinds and colors of tomatoes, peppers, onions, peaches, and now apples. George gave us some pineapple he dried in his dehydrator and it’s really delicious.

We also had a lot of catnip growing in the garden this year.  It’s good at keeping more noxious weeds under control and it attracts beneficial insects.  The girls dried some of that into a lavendar/catnip tea leaf mixture.  It’s great for inducing a sleepy state right before bedtime!

Rachel and Rebecca canned a lot of tomatoes, green beans, beets, carrots, wax beans, grape juice, tomato juice, salsa, golden applesauce, red pepper sauce, peaches, and onions.  We made our white peaches and serviceberries into preserves, as well as some plums from George’s garden. They all look too pretty to eat, but eat them we will!  Especially if we have a winter like last year when we were snowed in a lot.

Some of our canned goods against the backdrop of our garden & vineyard

As for pickling, we’ve made pickled carrots, beets, asparagus, green beans, cucumbers, onions, and purslane.  Most are pickled in vinegar, but some are fermented.  Cabbage is great fermented into a sauerkraut or kimchi. Fermented products contain great probiotics.

One of my favorite recipes is for pickled purslane.  It was given to me about 10 years ago when I took a wild edible class for the first time. Purslane is usually an unwelcome garden weed, but at the time I searched high and low for it in the suburbs of DC, elated when I’d find the succulent plant growing somewhere!  This year we had plenty of purslane in the garden.  Rachel and Rebecca picked some and pickled it.  It’s soooo good. George gave us a big bunch of fat purslane from his garden; unfortunately it came at a time when we were busy weeding the grape vines in the heat, so we made a lot less than we wanted to.  Next year . . . More pickled purslane!

The purslane plant.  Photo: www.msuturfweeds.net

Pickled Purslane

Ingredients:

purslane stems with the leaves pulled off

2 garlic cloves

4 fresh dill sprigs

2 cayenne peppers (dried or fresh)

1 cup white vinegar

2 cups cold water

¼ cup salt

½ teaspoon alum (optional, adds crispness)

Instructions:

This is enough to fill two pint jars.  In the bottom of each sterilized jar place a dill sprig (or flower of dill), a clove of garlic, and a small cayenne pepper – all fresh of course.  Pack the jars tightly with clean purslane stems, the fatter the better!  You can use the leaves in salads, sandwiches, or omelets.  Put another sprig of dill on top of the stems.  Stir together the vinegar, water, salt, and alum (optional).  Fill the jars with this mixture and seal.  Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Store in a dark place for at least a month before opening.

-Martha

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