Keeping the Harvest

John Keats famously called Autumn the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and I couldn’t agree with him more. Just when the summer seems like it will last forever, the turn of the seasons begins to make itself known in a subtle change of light, the delicious tang of dew on the air early in the morning (this year, at Ecology Action, mixed with the far less pleasant tang of wildfire smoke from the gigantic Mendocino Fire complex), a slight cooling breeze at night, and of course the main event: Harvest Time!! After a whole season of patient waiting, tending, sampling less-than-ripe fruit and vegetables “just to see if it’s ready yet” we have the gardener’s reward: the simultaneous ripening of EVERYTHING! RIGHT! NOW!  And so, the race begins to put up the harvest, storing the treasure trove of jewel-colored fruits and vegetables and pungent herbs to enjoy through the winter.

French Prune Plums, Photo Credit: Cynthia Raiser Jeavons
French Prune Plums, Photo Credit: Cynthia Raiser Jeavons

One of my personal favorites for preserving is the D’Agen French Prune Plum, harvested at peak of maturity, split in half, seed removed and then dried. Already a sweet and delicious snack or dessert, once dried it’s even more exquisite. According to Trees of Antiquity these plums were traditionally “…dried and kept over a long period of time when refrigerators did not exist and winter meant months with few fruits or vegetables. Prunes were almost as precious as salt and were used to bargain wages during the 15th century. The French Prune was introduced to the states by Pierre and Louis Pellier, brothers who went to California for the Gold Rush, and started a nursery business near San Jose in 1856 with plum cuttings they brought from France. Today they are sought by connoisseurs around the world. The French prune has a very sweet, rich flavor with tender, fine-textured flesh. Medium-sized prune plum of red to violet purple skin over amber flesh. Delicious for eating fresh, baking, chutneys, and drying. Long-lived and self-fertile.” Ours are almost ready, and I’m looking forward to enjoying them now, and when the winter winds are howling.

615km7TESXL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_Everyone has their go-to recipes for storing food. Many that I like appear in one of my favorite books: Keeping the Harvest: Discover the Homegrown Goodness of Putting Up Your Own Fruits, Vegetables & Herbs (2002, Storey Books) by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead.

If you’re looking for new or different ways to preserve the harvest, I highly recommend you try this excellent guide. “…for fresh-off-the-vine flavor and a full payload of vitamins, you can’t beat the fruits, vegetables, and herbs preserved from your own garden…complete, easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions …completely updated so you can take advantage of the latest techniques and most up-to-date equipment…”

But don’t take my word for it:

There seems in fact to be no aspect of home preservation they have not sensibly considered” – Horticulture

“One of the most up-to-date, helpful books on home food preservation to be published… excellent for the beginner as well as the more experienced food preserver.” – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Some of the clever tricks it details is the use of salt and vinegar to preserve vivid colors of canned fruits, and “…important technical details—for example, how much headroom is required when freezing fruits and vegetables, or how to keep liquid from boiling out of the jars…” Interesting recipes include jams and jellies, pickles and relishes, and condiments like homemade ketchup and chili sauce, as well as instructions for canning, freezing, drying, curing and cold storage.

Be sure to read the chapter titled Planning Ahead which provides a wealth of information, including a guide for the optimal time to pick produce, how to set up the most efficient “flow” in your preserving process, and how to keep an inventory to avoid waste. And check out Our Favorite Methods for Preserving Fruits and Vegetables on p. 11 for special insights.

Keeping the Harvest provides a pathway through harvest season using proven methods, so you can enjoy your abundant produce all year long! Exciting!

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