By: Mallory Franklin, MCFM Nutrition Liaison & Moriah Maternoski
The seasons are changing and the crisp feeling of fall is in the air. The time for bonfires, changing leaves, and pumpkin spice flavored everything is here! It is a beautiful time of the year, but fall also signifies the coming of winter–a time that most local food enthusiast disdain simply due to the lack of variety in locally grown produce during the chilliest months. If maintaining your local food mantra is challenged during the winter, there are many things you can do to keep your ambitions alive! Here are a few simple and quick long-term storage tips to extend the produce you buy now into the barren winter months.
One of the oldest and simplest ways to preserve an abundance of produce for the winter is blanching. Blanching is done by boiling veggies for short periods of time and submerging them in ice water to stop the cooking. This process kills enzymes that degrade the food, therefore retaining the food’s quality. Once blanched, produce can be frozen for up to 6 months without any nutritional loss. One thing to keep in mind when blanching is that not all veggies are created equal. Root crops like carrots and beets will take longer to blanch, while more delicate greens such as kale or swiss chard might take less than a minute. The University of Minnesota has created a helpful list to guide you through various blanching times for your bounty of veggies. This process can be especially quick if you tack it onto your dinner preparations one night. Spend an extra 10 minutes in your kitchen and preserve those veggies for the cold months to come. I guarantee it will be worth it when making hearty soups, hot dishes, and stir fries this winter.
- Large pot boiling water
- Cutting board
- Slotted spoon
- Large bowl ice water
- Paper/cloth towel
- Freezer bags
- Bring water to a boil.
- Cut veggies into smaller pieces and add them to the boiling water for 1-5 minutes.
- Note: blanch root veggies for longer than veggies like greens
- Quickly transfer veggies from boiling water to an ice water bath for rapid cooling.
- Dry veggies with towel, package in freezer bags, and label with date.
Another wonderful way to preserve veggies for long-term storage is pickling. Against popular belief, pickling doesn’t always require an extensive canning process. Canning is a wonderful tool but is a bit intimidating for those who have yet to master it. A quick pickle can be done in mason jars and stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. Most importantly, it is quick and easy! Add pickled veggies to any winter dish to add flavor and nutritional variety.
- Vinegar (at least 5% acidic)
- Pure Sea Salt
- Water (avoid using hard water)
- Cane sugar
- Various spices (flavorings)
- Mason jar
- Boil 4 c. vinegar, 2 c. water, 2 tbsp salt, and 1 tbsp sugar for 2 minutes.
- Cut veggies into smaller pieces and add to a large mason jar.
- Add your preferred combination of spices to the jar with veggies (flavoring)
- turmeric, bay leaves, basil, thyme, dill, mustard powder
- Pour the hot brine into the jar until veggies are submerged. Close and store in fridge for at least 24 hours and your veggies will be ready to be eaten in a week and will last for 6 months.
Flavorful summer dishes are often made with an abundance of fresh herbs that aren’t available in the winter. Drying herbs is a wonderful way to preserve them for year round use. Less tender herbs such as rosemary and thyme can simply be tied in bundles and hung upside down, while more tender herbs like basil and cilantro should be tied and placed in a paper bag with holes punched in it. Once herbs are dried they can be stored in small jars or ziplock baggies. Add them to any dish for additional color, flavor, and nutrition. Dried herbs are not as potent as fresh herbs, so adding a little extra to each dish is advised. The more herbs you dry now, the more you can use this winter!
- Brown paper bag
- If paper bag is required, punch 4-6 holes in a paper bag
- Bundle bunches of herbs and invert them inside a paper bag. Tie the bag shut with a string.
- Attach the other end of the string to the ceiling, a hook, or a door frame so the herbs are hanging in a place with good airflow and minimal sunlight.
- Herbs are completely dried when then have the consistency of cornflakes.
In addition to drying your herbs, you can use them to whip up a quick pesto. Pestos can be made from any combination of herbs, seeds, and oil. You can experiment and find your favorite pesto using this guide. Once a big batch is made you can freeze it for a snowy day. Another great trick is using an ice tray to freeze bundles of herbs submerged in olive oil. That way, whenever you are making a stir fry or curry you can simply pop a cube out into your cast iron! Experiment with different herb combinations or stick to what you like best.
Winter doesn’t have to signify the end of your local food support! By planning ahead, buying what’s currently in season and doing a few quick preps, you can enjoy local foods all winter long. The only limitation is the size of your refrigerator!