Friday, July 23, 2010

Early Summer Preserves

One of the best parts of growing your own veggies is preserving them so they can be enjoyed all year round. In the past I've primarily focussed on vinegar based preserves. This year we'll be doing many different preservation methods using sugar, alcohol, drying, and lactic fermentation. With so many fruits and vegetables ripening early this year, I've already begun preserving many foods whose seasons have come to an end.

My first preserve of this year was one of the first vegetables to appear in spring, Rhubarb. The rhubarb came from Leland's farm whose mothers garden produced far more rhubarb than any one family could consume. I joined the queue of people waiting to receive a box full of fantastically fresh rhubarb. First I attempted to make a jam which resulted in a far to tart and gooey mush that I didn't want to put anywhere near my toast. After this failure my second attempt at rhubarb preserves was a jelly. The jelly turned out nicely, with a more appropriate balance of sweet and tart and a beautiful peach colour.

Toronto's fruit tree picking project, Not Far From the Tree, has provided us with a bounty of sweet and sour cherries. Going on picks with Not Far From the Tree is a great way to get free tree fruit. Not Far From the Tree visits a household that has fruit trees the homeowner wishes to be picked and the fruit is then divided between the homeowner, the Stop Community Food Centre, and the gleaners. With a cherry tree producing as much as 80 pounds of fruit, a gleaner who attends several picks can end up with loads of free produce. We did attempt to eat as much fresh cherries by cooking and baking it in to every dish imaginable, but were still unable to make much of a dent in the 40 pounds of cherries that overburdened our fridge. So we pitted and jarred the cherries doing the sweet ones in a simple sugar syrup and the sour in a rum and sugar mixture.

After having great success with cucumbers last year we decided to devote a large portion of the garden to filling our pickle jars. Last year we did all vinegar pickles. While vinegar pickles are nice, being lifelong fans of Strubs has convinced us to try our hands at fermented pickles. This involves sitting cucumbers in a salt brine with pickling spice and leaving at room temperature for a week or more. After the pickles have been in the brine for long enough to develop a salty-sour taste the pickles are jarred with the brine and refrigerated. If we can master this preserving method I'll be very happy as I've been known to put down a jar of Strubs in one sitting.

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