Our Food Glut’s On The March
I’ve mentioned in a couple of posts that before the preserving season really gets going and swamps me with zucchini, some preparation, planning and strategies have to be put into action or things never go smoothly.
Having mentioned it, quite rightly you’ve asked how and what can be done in in advance to help in getting ready for the glut on the way.
There are four main ways of preserving fruit and vegetables that I use and they all need thinking about and re-stocking for.
Firstly the freezer needs to be looked at and anything left from last years tossed out. It used to be an awful job because no one had any idea what was in there, but since getting a memo board which we do actually keep updated, not so much goes to the bottom never to be seen again until it goes in the trash.
I do the same to keep the fridge organized, though we’re all a bit less reliable updating it, it still stops most things from getting lost like they used to, until they rotted and you had to go looking.
Because very little goes into the freezer unless it’s been vacuum sealed, the supply of special bags for the sealer machine needs to be replenished – much better to buy outside the preserving season if you can, I swear the price goes up and I know stock sells out, better to get in there first.
The food dehydrator comes into its own right now (and then some) so trays need washing and any broken ones should be replaced. Mostly I use zip bags to store the dehydrated produce in – again, though they are washable and reusable, another batch is never wasted. Want to know more about food dehydrators? Check out my essential food dehydrator buying guide for more info.
Absolutely pivotal to the entire operation are the peelers, slicers, choppers and spiral veggie contraption – seriously couldn’t cope with zucchini without spirals! For a big preserving session I use the Paderno, because using the smaller hand held vegetable spiralizer is tiring for a lot of carrots. Actually the last post is on the best spiral slicer, it took a while for me to feel safe using one – pinkies a bit near the blades. But for quick spirals of veg in a salad, unbeatable.
It used to be that every two or three years I’d have to replace the smooth blade on my meat slicer, but not anymore. I didn’t know you could get purpose made sharpeners for the blades and so inexpensive compared to the blades. It has so far extended the one I’ve got by last year and now this, so in total this blade has lasted four years which is a record.
The mandolin blades do get chipped and can get bent – best to replace the blades, or replace the mandoline at that point. An expensive Bron Mandolin slicer you can buy spare blades for, not cheap at about $45, they still work out a lot cheaper than replacing the whole slicer – click here to find out more.
Cheaper kitchen mandolins don’t always offer replacement blade, but if anywhere stocks them, Amazon does, so just key in the manufactures name and ‘blades’.
If like lot of people you are really worried about using a mandoline slicer – and the are wickedly sharp – then go have a read of my Using Kitchen Mandoline’s Safely post – I was real doubtful at first but if you take care and wear a safety glove, you’ll be safer than when using a knife.
I absolutely know there’s going to be a bumper harvest of apples and pears this year – the trees were drenched in blossom and now on the tress is the evidence, the pears are beginning to pull the branches down to the point we’ll be tying and propping shortly. We had quite a lot of the little fruits drop as is normal every year – the dog had to abandon lying in the shade in the end, every time the wind blew she was getting pelted!
A biggish percent of the cooking apples get peeled and cooked into a rough puree which is then vacuum packed into portion sized packets, and frozen down. Most of the rest either get sliced then dehydrated for use in cooking or are simply stored in the shed – the mice love them! Peeling used to be a hassle until I got this Starfrit apple peeler, one in truth I didn’t think would work because it looks like a child’s toy and feels like one too.
I was wrong it peels like gangbusters and is sensible child friendly – yes, I appreciate slave labor of your kids is frowned on, but you just try stopping them!
Jam jars and jam jar lids need a bit of thought, as do glass bottles for flavored oils and cordials – I’m a sucker for small elegant bottles that hold a limited amount of herb infused oil, nicer to make up a fresh batch every month than use old oil – it deteriorates in the light and heat of a kitchen anyway. Once herb infused oils are made I decant some into my Misto Oil Spritzer for when I want a lighter touch in cooking.
As far as it goes for jam jars, while a lot do get washed, sterilized and used again, inevitable after a few years of use they lose their shine or crack when you heat them, a box of twelve jam jars with lids is only a few dollars so I’d rather replace and have preserves which will keep for a year or more.
Jam is most easily made in a Maslin pan where a rolling boil without sticking or burning is far easier. Even with a Maslin pan I use a cooktop diffuser to evenly spread the heat – they also protect ceramic hobs and for the low cost are a good investment. Pots and pans for jam just need a good wash.
Fruit jelly’s and bottled fruit juices are easy with a fruit steamer, and again it just needs washing, the hoses and seals checking, and then when needed a drop of baby bottle sterilizer rinsed around and rinsed out, it’s good to go!
For all the above don’t forget labels if you buy rather than print your own, and any pectin supplies etc, depending on your preserving plans.
Finally, minor though it may seem. get out and rinse colanders and anything else you’re likely to use during a hot steamy session in the kitchen! Though I’m a great fan of the flat folding colanders for everyday use, for large amounts of fruit or veg you really need something which won’t collapse when you least want it to, so mine have to come out of garage storage and go through the dishwasher.
Because bacteria is the biggest enemy of preserves, it’s a good idea to use baby bottle sterilizer on anything you’ll use and then put them away until needed – at which point follow your usual sterilization routine when making the preserves.
Finally, making fruit or vegetable ‘leather’ shouldn’t be a messy business because of the low oven heat. However, I’d strongly advise giving the oven a quick steam clean and then making sure you use an oven liner below any fruit in the oven at any time! I use a silicone oven liner simply because I hate cleaning, and since getting one I haven’t had to get down and scrub. Actually its probably one of my best time saving – effort saving buys, ever.
The old saying hold good, failing to plan is planning to fail – so make sure you have everything ready and your winter bounty will dried, canned, frozen and in jars before you know it.