Lighten Up: Preserving Summer’s Bounty

Food that’s ready to eat is awfully convenient, but conventionally processed food is often astonishingly unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for the environment in terms of the energy and other resources used to produce, process and package it. It’s also often unhealthy for those of us who eat it, in part because of unnecessary and often highly processed ingredients, from high-fructose corn syrup to excess sodium.

Jamjar.
My solution to wanting convenience but also wanting to lighten the carbon footprint of what I eat–and  to take advantage of the flavors and health benefits of fresh, local, seasonally available food is to preserve some of this bounty for later consumption. (That’s a jar of my strawberry freezer jam above.)

If you’ve never preserved summer fruits and vegetables in quantity, it may seem intimidating. I go for simple techniques. I choose freezing instead of canning, for instance, because heating my house in the summer by using the stove to cook and can seems like a waste of energy (in terms of the energy used by the stove and the energy we devote to cool the house down after cooking). Here are two simple, healthy and delicious recipes to get you started on making your own convenience food, and preserving summer’s bounty for later enjoyment. (Both recipes are easy to do with kids if you have some around who are ready to
learn how to cook!)

Here’s a very simple recipe for putting up summer fruit.


Apricots
Apricots for the freezer

At least two pounds of ripe apricots, preferably organic (the more the better, because in freezing, there are economies of scale–I processed almost 20 pounds last weekend, and that’s it for the summer)
Fruit Fresh or a similar type of powdered Vitamin C or ascorbic acid preservative (get the kind without added sugar)
Sugar (one half-cup per 4 quarts of sliced apricots)
a quart (4 cup) measuring cup
a large mixing bowl
quart-size freezer bags or containers

Wash the apricots, sorting out any that are soft or overripe. (Those can be stewed or cooked into preserves later, but they won’t freeze well.) Slice the ‘cots in half, take out the pit, cut out any brown or moldy spots, and then slice each half into four pieces. Put the pieces in the quart measuring cup, and when it’s full, into the bowl.

Apricotslices
When you’ve got four quarts (16 cups) of apricot pieces in the mixing bowl, add half a cup of sugar and four T of Fruit Fresh. (The photo above shows the slices with sugar and Fruit Fresh added. You can see that they’re releasing their natural juice.) Stir, and then scoop into the quart containers. Label the containers (as in the photo below) and put them in the freezer. Repeat until you’ve processed all the ‘cots.

Apricotbags

You can use the same basic recipe with any summer fruit, including berries, plums, and peaches. (I blanche the peaches first, dipping them in boiling water for a minute and a half, so that I can slip the skins off. But if you don’t mind peach fuzz, it’s not necessary.) Now that you’ve got that down, let’s try a simple jam that uses the microwave rather than the stove, and goes right into the freezer.


Strawberries
Simple Strawberry Jam

(adapted from Cooking Light)
4 cups ripe, organic strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
4 T fruit brandy (I use plum) or sweet, mild-flavored juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Wash and hull the strawberries, cutting out any soft or brown parts. Quarter and then halve the quarters lengthwise if the berries are big. (The jam will spread better of the fruit pieces are small.) 

Cuttingboard
Put the strawberries, sugar, and 3 T of the brandy or juice into a two-quart or larger microwaveable dish with a lid. Cook on high power for five minutes or long enough to bring it to a bowl. Then take the lid off and simmer it until it is reduced to a cup and a half of thick, chunky jam. (I use half-power on my microwave and it takes about 45 minutes. Check to make sure it’s not boiling over or burning. The photo below is the partly cooked jam.)

Jamcooking
Scoop the jam into clean half-pint canning jars. Don’t fill the jars up to the brim–leave space for the jam to expand a bit as it freezes. Screw lid on tightly, label, and put into the freezer. (Makes a cup and a half.)

This jam smells intoxicating as it cooks, so you may be tempted to eat it right away. If you must, eat just half a cup, and put other cup in the freezer for winter, when its ruby-red color and summer flavor will be such a treat! (If you choose not to freeze it, the jam will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.)

Next week: preserving herbs and greens as pesto–not just basil–for the freezer…

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