Ferment, pickle and dehydrate your way through the cold season
It's officially time to start mourning the end of gardening season—but all is not lost. There are many ways to preserve your garden bounty throughout the winter while also spicing up your homemade comfort food dishes with a dash of freshness.
1. Preserve your herbs in oils
Photo by Calum Lewis on UnsplashOils are an easy and delicious way to maintain the powerful punch of fresh garden herbs and spices. My two favourites are chili oil and oregano oil—but you can also play with rosemary or thyme to drizzle on bread, or basil to sprinkle onto pasta.
Dry your chilis and get those seeds ready for this spicy condiment.
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 to 3 whole dried chilis
- Cook 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, then add chili flakes and whole chilis. You don’t want the chilis to brown or overcook, so just give them a little sizzle before adding in the rest of your oil.
- Once the mixture is warm (not hot), leave it out at room temperature, then store in an airtight bottle.
This one requires a bit more wait time, but it's worth it. Oregano oil can boost your immune system and help kick any bug that might try to get you down.
- 1 cup of oregano leaves, dried
- 1 cup of olive oil
- Cut the dried oregano leaves and place them in a jar. Fill the jar with olive oil and seal.
- Place the sealed jar into a pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. As the jar warms, the natural oils from the oregano leaves will be released.
- Store the jar in a dry area for 1 to 2 weeks and shake the jar once a day.
- After 1 to 2 weeks, strain the oil into another airtight container and use a couple of drops when you feel that first scratch in your throat.
2. Ferment and pickle foods
Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on UnsplashFermented foods aren’t just tasty, they’re known to improve digestive health, boost your immune system, and also for bringing good bacteria to your gut—making them the perfect addition to your winter diet.
Fermenting foods is easier than you think and you can practically pickle every vegetable that you’d like to save from your garden. My go-to fermented food is a beet, apple and onion mix, which works well as a side dish for any gathering. You can follow this simple recipe to start and then experiment with other veggies that you want to preserve.
Make sure to always sanitize your jars and lids, even if they’re new. You can throw them in the dishwasher or boil them alone for 10 minutes. Your jars have to seal properly or your mixtures could go to waste.
3. Get out those jars and start canning
Photo by Eniko Torneby on UnsplashIf you’re not a fan of fermented foods (which can have a strong vinegar taste), you can still save your veggies by canning them. The canning process (boiling the jars) will kill any harmful bacteria found in the food and force air out of the jar, which vacuum-seals the lid tightly in place; this helps to store the food until you’re ready to snack on it.
The most popular veggies to can are beets, green beans, carrots and corn. Once you open the jar, you’ll want to eat the goods within a week or so and keep the jar in the fridge. You can also save the juice from the veggies for your next broth- or sauce-making experiments.
There are a only few veggies that aren’t safe to can on their own, like celery, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower, but most of these can be pickled instead.
4. Dehydrate vegetables for stock
Photo by Markus Spiske on UnsplashOne of the simplest ways to keep your garden veggies through the winter is with a homemade vegetable stock powder. Most store-bought stocks are loaded with sodium and other preservatives, so creating your own gives you full control over the contents.
You can either dehydrate the veggies and store them separately, or pre-make the mixture. I love to mix all of the veggies I would normally make a fresh bullion from: carrots (including the greens), parsley, celery, onion, and leek.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven by setting it to 140 degrees or the lowest possible setting, and use the convection setting if available as it mimics a food dehydrator.
You’ll want to blanch (cook in boiling water) carrots and other root veggies, broccoli, cauliflower and winter squash first, then cut your veggies into bite-sized pieces for faster drying. Then just blend up the veggies into a powder and store in a cool, dry space.
All of these methods do take a bit of planning, but when you crack open that jar of fresh veggies in the middle of January, it’ll be worth it.