Preserving the summer harvest

With the sunny season coming to a rapid end its time to fill your pantry shelves and freezer with food to last you though to the next growing season. Those gardening off the smell of an oily rag will have barrow loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. But even those who have yet to discover the joys of an oily rag garden should be making the most of the season’s harvest by buying cheap or better still receiving free fruit and vegetables from neighbours, friends and relatives.

Preserving is a matter of dollars and sense for the frugal family because fruit and vegetables are cheapest when they are abundant – and serious savers will be making the most of the opportunity.  Here are some different ways to preserve your abundance.

A decent sized freezer is essential for those feasting off the smell of an oily rag. Most things can be frozen. Those that don’t freeze well include cream (though whipped cream can be frozen), cream cheese, custard pies, cream puddings and fillings, mayonnaise, boiled potatoes (mashed potato can be frozen), salad greens, and the whites of hard-boiled eggs. If vegetables are to be frozen, most need blanching in boiling water to retain maximum flavour and colour.

Drying food is perhaps the easiest and most natural method of preserving food. The whole process of drying foods is to remove moisture. This can be done naturally (in the sun), or in an oven or dehydrator.

To sun-dry foods you have to have very dependable weather; desert-like conditions are ideal – hot days with low humidity. If the conditions are right then your produce should dry within two to three days. Fruits are the best foods to sun-dry. All that is needed is a tray (preferably lined with cheesecloth or curtain net) but almost anything clean and flat can be used. A covering of curtain net is advisable to keep away pesky flies, and so is a rooftop or somewhere high enough to allow foods to dry away from predators (hungry youngsters!). If your weather is unpredictable or time is a factor, then use an oven – or borrowing a food dehydrator is probably the best way to go! Or how about leaving them in the car on a hot day! We can see it now, car parks full of cars acting like food dehydrators!  Figs don’t last long fresh but they dry well and are great for school lunches or as snack treats.

Preserving food by smoking is like drying, in that moisture is removed, and the greater the weight loss the better the keeping qualities. The smoke deposits and the salt used in curing also halt the growth of bacteria.

Bottling is all about killing off the ripening enzymes that exist in all fruit and vegetables, and avoiding any air contact by placing the produce in a brine, vinegar or syrup solution. By preventing the enzymes from reacting, any further ripening is prevented – hence preserving.

Figs and Feijoa are in season at the moment, and as many people are happy to give them away, here are a couple of easy recipes to make the most of the free food.

Annette from the Marlborough Sounds writes, “In the reserve nearby we collect lots of figs. I pickle them. They can be served as a dessert with whipped cream or with cold meat, or with cheeses, which is my favourite as I make my own cheese. To pickle figs you need: 3 cups red wine vinegar, 1 kg brown or raw sugar, 2 tablespoons cloves, 1 tablespoon crushed ginger, 4 kg figs (firm). Bring all ingredients to the boil. Gently place the whole figs in bottling jars and top up with the liquid. When ready to serve, I cut the figs I need into pieces and put them in a small shallow pan. I then slosh the pieces with red wine or elderberry juice (I make my own) and add 2 tablespoons brown sugar, then bring to the boil until thick and sticky. Cool and serve with blue cheese and crackers or sourdough bread. Yum!”

A reader has sent in this feijoa loaf recipe which they found on – but it should be good with figs too. You will need: 1 cup of peeled and chopped feijoas, a cup boiling water, a cup sugar, 50g butter, 1 egg, a teaspoon of baking soda and 2 cups self-raising flour. Place the feijoas, boiling water, sugar and butter into a pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool a little, then mix in the egg, flour, and baking soda. Pour the mix into a greased loaf tin and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees. In about 45 minutes you will have a delicious loaf.