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Every garden, great and small, starts with a plot of ground and willing hands to accomplish numerous tasks from situating the garden to harvesting its bounty.

~author unknown~

From the GTG Garden and Greenhouse

The leg brace is off! I have been able to -slowly and carefully- walk abound the garden.
Mother Nature has turned up the furnace in eastern Tennessee, the grass is dry and the plants are hanging their heads. The green house is near empty and is scheduled for a good cleaning. It won't be much longer before the fall plugs will arrive at our doorstep. We're looking forward to new Hellebore from Marietta o'Byrne's collection ('Amethyst Gem' and 'Harlequin Gem' ) and a few new intersectional peony varieties ('Copper Kettle' and 'Morning Lilac').

Green Thumbs Galore LLC


To Blanch or Not To Blanch

by Dava Stewart

Searching “easy preserving” on Google retrieves somewhere in the neighborhood of 27,000 results and those results do not provide consistent advice, either. If you are new to the idea of preserving, you probably have lots of questions related to safety, convenience, equipment and processes involved.

Before you even begin reading through all those Google results, there are a couple of important points to keep in mind:

When in doubt, throw it out. If you open something you have preserved and it smells funny or looks funny or you have any reason to suspect it might not be good to eat, toss it. There’s just no sense in risking food poisoning.

Preserving your food is not inherently dangerous. At one time, it was perfectly normal - expected, even - for most people to both grow and preserve at least some of their own food. In the last few decades, it has become a process fraught with fear.

A strong dose of common sense is necessary for just about any kind of food preparation, and that is exactly what preservation is. You want to keep cleanliness in mind, obviously, and you should consider your own preferences and habits. For instance, do you bring home more frozen or canned vegetables from the grocery store?

There are basically three ways to preserve food: canning, freezing and drying. Canning is much too large a topic to address here. If you want to learn more about canning a really good place to start is with your local University Agriculture Extension. Many of them even offer classes at low or no cost.

Freezing and drying are simpler methods, although there is still quite a bit of confusion over what is safe and what is not.

Here are a few tips and thoughts that might be useful:

To blanch or not to blanch? That is the question. Some sources say that blanching is absolutely necessary to safely preserve frozen food. These “pro-blanchers” say that the vegetables contain enzymes that continue working and thereby degrading the food unless they are stopped with boiling water. Lots of sites give you information about how long different foods should be left in the boiling water.

My own experiences say “Blanch what?” I have frozen (and eaten) unblanched tomatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, okra, squash, and a wide variety of fruits and berries. My grandmother always washed, chopped and breaded - but didn’t blanch - her squash and okra before freezing it so that cooking was quick and easy. Some foods, like strawberries, even the “pro-blanchers” say should simply be frozen, whole, without further preparation. Food science research even suggests that blanching does not improve quality of frozen produce; rather, the longer one blanches, the more vitamins (especially Vitamin C) are lost.
To me, frequently it comes down to taking a chance or letting the produce turn to compost. I am just not into all that preparation and processing. More often than not, I have been pleasantly surprised by the fresh taste my experiments have added to my winter recipes. Give it a try and skip the blanching: wash your vegetables; cut into shape if you like and freeze. Label the bags!

If you do decide to blanch before freezing, here are a few tips that might make the process easier:

  1. Use a timer.
  2. Set up your pot of boiling water, ice bath, containers and so on before you start.
  3. Cut veggies to the size and shape you will want for cooking.
  4. Mark your freezer bag with the date.

Lots of people preserve certain herbs by freezing them in ice trays. It’s a simple method that makes using the herbs later super easy. Harvest and wash the herbs, then stuff the leaves into an ice tray. Fill the tray with water and freeze. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store in the container of your choice in the freezer. When you are ready to use it, you can just add the entire cube to your recipe.

Whether you use a dehydrator, an oven or the sun to dry your produce, it is a good way to preserve a bit of summertime flavor. Sun dried tomatoes in January have to be one of summer’s greatest gifts, and why pay outrageous grocery store prices for spices when there are many herbs you can grow and dry yourself?

Herbs are usually bundled and tied together, then hung upside down to dry. Hanging them from a clothes-drying rack makes it easy to move them to a sheltered area to avoid the evening dew and then back into the sunshine the next day.

If you dry other produce on racks or trays outside, you will want to drape a sheet or other cloth over them to protect them from the dew. Humidity plays a big roll in how long it will take for your harvest to dry completely. Using the sun is the oldest method of drying and preserving food.

Using the oven to dehydrate is fast and easy. Use cookie sheets to spread everything out in one, flat layer and use the lowest setting on the oven. You will have to depend in part on common sense to decide when your produce is dehydrated, as there is no set length of time and humidity, temperature and even the type of pan you use all make a difference. Dehydrated produce will be crisp and light in weight.

No matter how you choose to go about it, preserving some of your summer harvest will save you money, stretch the fruits of you gardening efforts and give you a sweet, delicious taste of summer when it’s cold outside. Although this article doesn’t address canning, here is one of our favorite, easy recipes for making jam:

Easy Peach Jam

3 cups peaches, washed and chopped unpeeled
3 cups sugar
1/3 cup water

Stir fruit and sugar together in pot, add water and bring to a simmer on low heat.  Stir frequently and let thicken until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 30-45 minutes.

Fill in prepared canning jars, screw lids on tight and set upside down for 10 to 15 minutes.  Flip, let cool and label.  Store in a cool and dark location.
Serve with biscuits, toast, yogurt or spoon over pork.


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