Even the 90-degree weather didn’t deter my family from piling into the car last Saturday and heading to our favorite blueberry farm. It’s an annual tradition dating back to when my eldest, now 9, was so tiny that she had to do her picking from her daddy’s shoulders. Each year my kids become more and more adept at picking, and this year we got our biggest haul yet: 10 pounds of plump, flavorful berries! Best of all, it only cost us around $18.
You might wonder what the heck we intend to do with such a glut of berries. The truth is, I’m already wondering if we can go back again for more! Blueberries are so easy to freeze, and with luck, we’ll be enjoying them all winter long, trying to make them last until berry season comes gain next year.
All across the country, fruits and vegetables are at their peak. And while it’s fun to eat your fill while they taste so fresh, it’s also a great idea to preserve them so you’ll be able to enjoy a taste of summer when there’s not much to choose from in your garden or at the farmer’s market. Ma Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame knew that she needed to “put up” produce from her garden if her family was to survive the winter. These days, we have the luxury of getting produce all year round from warmer climates, but preserving produce when it’s in season is still a smart idea. You will save money buying fruit when it’s at its peak (I paid less than $2 for a pound of the berries I picked, where a pint of them will be $4 at my local supermarket in January), you will minimize packaging waste buy preserving them yourself in glass jars or reusable plastic storage containers, and buying (or picking!) food locally is a good way to conserve resources since the food isn’t traveling from miles away. What’s more, preserving food while it’s in good shape is a great way to prevent food waste.
So whether you’re harvesting your garden, visiting you-pick farms, or shopping a farmer’s market, you can make a big impact. Here are my favorite ways to preserve the fruits and veggies that are currently at their peak — I know that I’ll be thanking myself for thinking ahead when I’m enjoying blueberry pancakes in January!
1. Blueberries: Blueberries are among the easiest, and most successful, fruits to freeze. I do it by simply arranging my berries in a single layer on a baking sheet, then freezing them until they’re hard (I don’t wash them first). Once they’re frozen solid, I transfer the berries to a gallon-sized zip-top bag and put them back in the freezer. If you’re a pie fan, you might be interested in Alton Brown’s Frozen Blueberry Pie recipe — he contends that freezing the filling actually makes for an even better pie than using fresh berries, as the ice crystals will contribute to the pie’s juicy filling.
2. Tomatoes: There’s nothing better than a ripe tomato in July, unless it’s a jar of homemade tomato sauce or salsa in February. I love the idea of stocking up on tomatoes and spending an afternoon turning them into delicious sauce (The Kitchn has a great recipe). Farmer’s market vendors might be willing to sell their tomatoes in bulk, and you can also use bruised tomatoes, which are usually discounted and will often go to waste otherwise.
3. Corn: I refuse to eat corn on the cob any other time than the summer — it’s just not the same. You can freeze corn right on the cob, but I prefer to strip the kernels off first so it takes up less space. Frozen corn is a great staple to have on hand: It’s great on its own or with a little butter and salt, or you can add it to grain salads, stir into chili, or fold a handful of kernels into cornbread.
4. Herbs: While my garden hasn’t done great this year, the one thing that has thrived is my fresh herbs. I’ll be freezing batches of pesto, which is delicious tossed on pasta or spread onto bread. As for the rest of my herbs, this year I am going to try this method for freezing them in olive oil — it’ll definitely beat spending $2 for a little package of sad, wilted herbs any time I need a tablespoon in a recipe!
5. Zucchini: Summer squash and zucchini are dirt-cheap this time of year. While I don’t like the mushy texture that they get when they’re frozen, I’ll be buying extras of these to bake into breads and muffins, which do freeze beautifully and will make an excellent quick breakfast during the school year. One of my favorites is Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread from King Arthur Flour.
6. Peaches and Apricots: I like to slice up these stone fruits and freeze them for smoothies or desserts. But you can also use your oven or a food dehydrator to make them into delicious dried fruits, which you can eat out of hand or add to your favorite granola or granola bar recipe.
7. Green beans: When I belonged to a CSA, I remember being a bit overwhelmed with the huge bag of green beans that was in my box week after week. There’s only so much you can do with green beans, after all! Luckily, they can be trimmed, blanched, and frozen on baking sheets the same way as blueberries. And once they’re in the freezer, they’re great for adding to soups or casseroles, or for serving as a side dish, drizzled with sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds.