Gourmet Gardener: Preserving the bounty
Our gourmet gardener Tara Kate Linnane takes us through how to make the most of your Summer bounty...
The bounty is coming in thick and fast and late-July is when thoughts turn to what can we do with it to make the most out of the harvest. I wanted to share with you some of the methods I have tried and tested and some new ones I will be putting to the test this year.
The harvest this year has been abundant, from piles of strawberries to mountains of yellow courgettes, among other things. In order to enjoy the feast for a prolonged period of time, one of the best ways is to use preserving techniques. Preserving produce can be adapted to suit your taste, from sweet jams and chutneys, to delicious savoury pickling recipes. Preserving, allows for delicious additions to your plates throughout the winter.
Pickling is a global culinary art. Pickling is not only an international food-preservation technique, it’s also an ancient one. For thousands of years, people explored ways to pickle foods, in order to secure surplus supplies for long winters, famine, and other times of need.
There are two basic categories of pickles. The first type includes pickles preserved in vinegar, a strong acid in which few bacteria can survive. Most of the bottled kosher cucumber pickles available in the supermarket are preserved in vinegar.
The other category includes pickles soaked in a salt brine to encourage fermentation. Fermentation, in simple terms, is the growth of ‘good’ bacteria that make a food less vulnerable to ‘bad’ spoilage-causing bacteria. Common examples of fermented pickles include kimchi and many cucumber dill pickles.
I have tried simple pickling recipes in the past and will be doing the same this year as I have a wonderful crop of yellow courgettes that I am almost sick of eating! All you need is a few courgettes or vegetables of your choice and shallots, along with 500ml of cider vinegar, 140g of caster sugar and a handful of herbs or seeds for flavour. I like to use dried chillies, mustard seeds and celery seeds. Sharp, fresh pickle to dress a burger or salad. Slice the shallots and courgettes and salt them to extract the excess moisture. Add the rest of the ingredients to a pot and dissolve the sugar, and when the mixture is warm, add the sliced vegetables. Use sterilised jars to keep the mixture, and store chilled. You can then enjoy this fresh, sharp pickle with any meal for the next few months.
Dehydrating food is a simple way to preserve and intensify the flavour of produce such as tomatoes. Dehydrated tomatoes are a nice treat during the winter months when things in the garden slow down. Since our climate is not quite ideal for sun dehydrating, electric dehydrators can be used as an alternative. Once you have the equipment and the harvest of tomatoes, simply slice them thinly and arrange them on the drying racks. Once they have completed the process of dehydrating, they can be stored in jars or turned into a tomato powder to be added to soups or sauces.
Freezing is basic but effective way of preserving fruits and vegetables from the summer harvests. Some vegetables are better suited to this method. Tomatoes and chillies work wonderfully as they can be frozen whole, they don’t take up too much room, and their flavour is still rich when added to stews or soups in the winter. Beans and peas are also suitable for freezing, although they have to be prepared beforehand.
In the highly unlikely situation of having a surplus of berries, they also make great candidates for the freezer. Among my favourite things to preserve this way are my wonderful edible flowers. Flowers such as borage and chamomile can be made into pretty floral ice-cubes. Simply fill an ice tray with the flowers and top up with water. It is a lovely way to get to preserve the vibrant colours of the flowers for a little bit longer, and they are always a delight when you add them to drinks for guests!
• Tara Kate Linnane is from Kilnaleck in County Cavan. She is a horticulturalist with a passion for growing vegetables at home. She has an Instagram page with her husband Barry @two peas in a polytunnel.