This is my favorite time of year. (I assure you I will say that all year round.) I love the season of gathering and harvesting. Other than the heat, this time of year is like Christmas every day! That small walk from my front door to the garden is always filled with so much excitement and anticipation. You never know what you will find out there. Sunflowers smiling in the heat of the day. Tomatillos sagging over the side of the tomato cages. Wildflowers dancing in the breeze. And as I lean forward and observe each new fruit and bloom, stocking my bucket as I go- I dream of what each of these will become.
Some will land on our dinner table that very night. Others will be cleaned, processed, and preserved to be enjoyed all year long. This is a beautiful season and my heart is so thrilled to not only partake in it, but to share it with all of you! Whether you are new to this or a well seasoned preserver who can operate a pressure cooker with the same confidence I use to operate my washing machine, I am just so glad you are here!
This is just a little look into the way my kitchen has been operating the past couple of weeks, and the way it will continue to look for about another month or more. (Probably until we jump back into homeschooling.) I am sharing a few of my ideas and compiling a list of resources and recipes so you don’t have to! But as always share your wisdom, tips, and favorite preservation methods in the comments! This is definitely an open conversation!
Preserving the Harvest
Your initial thought here may be: I cannot do this. I am far too busy. Mama, I feel that on such a deep level that I wish I could just hug you! I will not pretend that my house hasn’t suffered in the process. When you look at my pictures, just know that I hide the ugly stuff on the other side of the camera (or peep the background because there tends to always be kids and marks of real life there). I know this season of life with little ones, homes, gardens, work, and everything else is busy. (I hate that word, but sometimes it is the only one that seems fitting.) But just like with anything else if you want to preserve something from this season, prioritize it.
That most likely means something else needs to fall from the to-do list. That’s okay. I promise you the house will be clean again, but that head of cabbage can’t wait a month to be fermented. We can do this, together. And we will not judge each other’s homes or our children’s mismatched outfits and lack of shoes! Promise.
So before we get going on the actual food, let’s discuss the essentials. We will need freezer bags, straws (to suck the air out of the freezer bags), large pots (generally you want to avoid aluminum when canning), sterilized jars, lids, and rings, and a plan before you start. (I linked some jars and lids from Amazon above, but if you have a local Amish store they are almost always better priced there!) Preserving takes some thought so develop a plan and make certain you have everything you need before you start. Midway through boiling jam is not a good time to realize you need more jars or should have washed and heated some. Plan it out, lay it out, and preserve away!
And Mamas, label everything! You will not remember in February what that random orange jar is! Label, label, label, and if you aren’t sure if you should- label it!
Need some basic canning essentials? Click here! My personal favorite must have for canning is the magnetic lid lifter for pulling your lids from the boiling water! The other end also doubles as a bubble popper when canning! (It is included in the canning essentials or sold in a four pack for 8.99 in the second link.)
I started this year planting six zucchini plants, but only two came up. I succession planted another three a few weeks later, but those seem to be stunted. (Probably from lack of rain.) So from my own garden I have gathered only a handful of zucchini and the rest I purchased at the Farmer’s Market!
Zucchini is perhaps my favorite of the squash family due to its versatility. But of course it is also good for you! Zucchini is rich in nutrients, full of antioxidants, contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, can help lower blood sugar and tons more! (Click here more fun facts about the health benefits of zucchini.)
So how do we use and preserve our harvest of zucchini? Fresh zucchini can be used as a pasta replacement, just cut your ‘zoodles’ to your desired length and thickness, or use a spiralizer.
Zucchini is also great cut into strips or rounds, battered, and fried. Zucchini can be difficult to freeze raw because of its water content.
My favorite ways to preserve zucchini are as a relish and in baked goods. Click here for my favorite recipe for green tomato zucchini relish! I use this with everything! Tuna fish, homemade tartar sauce, on top of beans, hotdogs, or burgers. It is literally good on anything!!
My favorite way to save (and eat a ridiculous of) zucchini this year is by baking chocolate zucchini bread. This recipe is low in sugar and uses zucchini as the number 1 ingredient! I have already put three loaves and 24 muffins into the freezer and we have eaten another 2 or 3 dozen muffins already! It is literally the best recipe for zucchini bread (and chocolate muffins) I have found! (If you do muffins rather than bread, they take about 15-17 minutes to bake through!)
Ah, summer squash. In Tennessee, we toss this in a little buttermilk and cornmeal, fry it up, and serve it almost nightly through the summer months. I’m trying so hard not to say it, but it is on the tip of my tongue so I may as well just let it go. I am not a big fan of fried yellow squash. Don’t hate me, I will still eat it, but I much prefer fried zucchini or okra.
There are some redeeming recipes for squash though. The biggest in my book being squash casserole. Now that is something I will happily serve every night and I think it is just as easy as frying it! I would love to put my exact recipe here, but honestly I just throw things into a pan. So here is a similar recipe to the one I make.
I have frozen about 3 squash casseroles already, and plan to freeze about 3 more for those winter nights when you crave a little taste of summer. I just pulled my cast iron with it only cooked on the stovetop and spooned it into a foil pan. For best results, leave the topping off and add it when you cook it later this year. Label your container with the directions for how to prepare it for a quick and easy dinner side that even your hubby can prepare. 😉 (Hint, hint, Rafael!)
After squash casserole, my next favorite way to preserve squash is of course, squash relish! (I’ve never said squash so much in my life.) If you’ve never tried it- think chow chow. You can easily waterbath can it just like the zucchini relish. Serve it year round on hotdogs, burgers, beans, cornbread, soups, etc!
What is more refreshing than a fresh picked cucumber on a hot summer day? And the best part is they are great for you! Due to their water content, they are high in vitamins and minerals, but low in calories! Cucumbers provide a variety of health benefits, everything from cardiovascular health to soothing skin to conquering bad breath.
Preserving cucumbers is pretty straight forward- especially if you are my husband who calls them pickles even while they are still on the vine. Making pickles used to seem so daunting to me, especially because I hear so many complain that theirs are soft. Pickles can be finicky, but honestly I have only had a jar or two over the past couple of years that weren’t perfect. (I have had better luck with bread and butter than dill; I have no idea why.)
Listen you can concoct your own recipe all you want- and frankly I say go for it! My sister even made buffalo pickles once! But if you are nervous or unsure, then I have two words for you- Mrs. Wages. Mrs. Wages pickle mixes are so straight forward and simple. They may have more sugar than a homemade recipe but to start off in learning to make pickles- this is a great option!
Most of you probably already know my love for blackberries, considering I wrote an entire devotional on the season: Blackberry Season: A Devotion of Gratitude for the Season. Blackberries are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and may support brain health. They are the superfoods of the fence row! The fact that blackberries are so high in Vitamin C makes them a perfect food to preserve for this winter when cold and flu season start.
Preserving blackberries is what sparked my love for canning and gardening, so I will always be grateful to them. I have not yet made my blackberry jam this year because my domestic vines are still producing. There are about 3 gallons waiting in my refrigerator now. Most will be cooked down with sugar and made into jam or jelly (depending on how many berries I have.) Blackberry jam is perfect for a peanut butter sandwich, making a glaze for pork chops or loin, or topping plain yogurt. You could also fill donuts with it! I have a real knack for making healthy foods unhealthy.. Click here for a step-by-step recipe for old fashioned blackberry jam.
I will also freeze a bag or two for smoothies, cobblers, and quick snacking this winter.
Preserving the Market
So what if you don’t have a garden? Or enough space to plant everything you would like to? Or what if some of your plants just aren’t producing well this year? (Ahem. 🙋♀️) Well, my friends, this is where we thank God for the local Farmer’s Market! We can preserve food from the market just the same as we could from our own backyard.
This has been the key to my plans for preserving more food this year. Honestly, I already had my garden out before my heart felt moved in this direction. But that is just fine because where there’s a will, there’s a way! So here is an overview of what I have purchased/preserved from the farmer’s market so far.
Okay, first of all can we all just acknowledge how beautiful cabbage is! I would happily use cabbage plants as landscaping year round if that were an option! But cabbage and I have developed a very special relationship this year- and it all started with thrush- of all things!
Indie developed thrush at about 2 or 3 months old. We did the usual Nystatin routine twice (without questioning it) to no avail. I began researching and realized that Nystatin only cures thrush in about 50% of babies. So what was the underlying cause of his thrush? This is a long story but to tell the shortened version: I realized gut health was our problem. Our ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria was off. (I’m saying ours because he is solely breastfed, so I’m certain the issue was one we shared!)
We needed probiotics! (and prebiotics) And so I learned: fermentation, fermentation, fermentation. You can ferment anything, but cabbage (sauerkraut) is probiotic rich and nutrient dense. Water kefir and sauerkraut became my main food groups, and guess what? Thrush disappeared. And I felt so much better without even realizing I had been feeling bad! (This is not medical advice, always talk to your doctor or health care provider before changing up your diet or adding supplements.)
Cabbage has become an essential in our home ever since! Making sauerkraut or canning sauerkraut is actually quite simple and incredibly healthy. I canned 8 pints of sauerkraut using this method from Whippoorwill Holler. (I have not taste tested this one yet as it requires 4 weeks to ferment.) So I fermented some to use a little quicker (in about 10 days) using this tried and true method from Lisa Bass at Farmhouse on Boone!
It is hard to preserve peaches in this house because they get devoured the moment I bring them home! But preserving peaches means we can enjoy the sweetness of summer even in the bleakness of winter!
Peaches provide a variety of health benefits from heart health to healthy skin, but most importantly (at least in my opinion) they are anti-inflammatory! Click here for a full list of reasons to enjoy peaches! Now, let’s preserve!
Peach cobbler, anyone?
One of the simplest ways to preserve peaches is to make a simple pie filling and freeze it! Some butter, brown sugar, and a little cinnamon- (here I go making it unhealthy again!) But imagine it is the first week of January and dinner guests stop by unexpectedly. Having small bags of peach filling means they will thaw quickly and can be tossed into prepared pie crusts, topped with an oat crumble, or a typical biscuit cobbler topping for a simple summer dessert on a cold winter’s night. (You could also top ice cream with it.) For a freezer safe peach pie filling, get the recipe here!
Another preserving method would simply be to can peaches in a light syrup. Here’s the thing if you can find it canned or frozen at Wal-Mart, you can can or freeze it at home better and healthier! Click here for step by step instructions on canning peaches (you can even use honey instead of sugar!)
And of course peach jam! You can make a freezer peach jam or can it! I personally love peach jam mixed with some dijon mustard, salt, and pepper- to top a pork chop! Peach salsa, peach bbq sauce, or drying peaches for snacks or trail mix– I have to stop, I’m getting hungry!
If you have followed my gardening blogs you may be thinking, why did you buy blueberries at the market? Don’t you grow those? Yes, one word: Chickens! Blueberries are a favorite across the board in this house, which is precisely why we invested in growing them ourselves in the first place. During cold and flu season, I always try and serve blueberries and oranges every day for a quick immune boost. (A little cheaper than elderberry, I guess.)
If you haven’t noticed yet, I am a firm believer in letting your food be your medicine. Nothing against medicine when it is needed obviously, but if my choices are a cup of blueberries or Tamiflu- one doesn’t have any negative side effects! Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and are considered a superfood! “Studies show that they help protect against aging, cancer and damage to your DNA.” Umm, yes, let’s preserve some of that!
The simplest way to preserve blueberries is to toss them in a freezer bag and lay them flat in the freezer! These can be tossed into smoothies, pies, or simple snacks on busy days.
Blueberry jam has become a staple in our house over the past couple of years. I’ve even made it from frozen organic blueberries from the store. Here is a simple recipe for blueberry jam!
This is just a start. There is so much still to do. With each small thing we save, we are planning a route to food security. These are small steps and they may feel like they aren’t getting very far, but small steps add up to long distances over time. With every new attempt- be it a success or failure, we are one step closer. Before I started our first planter, I knew nothing about supplying calcium to plants or battling blight. And though we have had many fails in the garden- I am more confident than ever to approach the soil with a handful of seeds.
My hopes for the coming weeks are to lay out a fall garden (that blog is coming soon!), to preserve the summer garden (mainly lots of tomatoes and corn), to preserve more beautiful things from the market, and I am really looking forward to trying my hand at watermelon jelly this year! I hear it tastes like Jolly Ranchers. (I will let you know!) I also have a lot of thriving stevia so feel free to send me any tips on what to do with that!
Planning for Abundance in case of Lack
If missed our first blog in this series: Planning Food Security (Without Fear), read it here. As Mamas- and people in general- we desire to see our families well cared for. Every time I turn on the news or a podcast anymore I hear people discussing “food insecurity” or a coming “lack”. Of course our hope is that this simply doesn’t happen. But with a little planning and a few practical tips, we can be ready either way.
Mamas, as Christians, we are called to be salt. Back before refrigerators, salt provided not only taste, but it also helped to preserve.
I know I always tend to start some kind of devotional in whatever I am talking about, but normally that isn’t the plan. It is quite simply that when you really love someone, you start to see them in everything..
God calls us to be salt and light. Not only in seasons of abundance when we have extra to set on our neighbor’s table, but also in seasons of little.
While we may be planning ahead in our calendars and kitchens, let’s not neglect our job to preserve this world. We have a job here- our job is to share the gospel. To lead others into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our hope doesn’t lie in our stocked pantries, stuffed freezers, or thriving gardens- our hope is in Jesus. And that hope will change and preserve the entire world. Kingdom work should never diminish even when our earthly lives are busy. (Geez, that stirred up conviction in me.)
Mamas, just like a small step towards food security pushes us a little farther down the path, a small step in faith leads us a little closer to a season of abundant fruit. (And I don’t mean the kind you grow in your backyard.) You don’t have to do all the things. When Jesus needed to feed 5,000 people- he didn’t need a farmer to show up with 3,000 lambs. He just needed one brave enough to hand over his small basket. We don’t have to do the impossible. Just plant, preserve, share the fruit of your hands and your heart, and let God be God.
As an Amazon Affiliate, I receive a small commission on everything bought through an Amazon link in my blogs. You are not charged extra for this; it just helps us out a bit! And we greatly appreciate it!
Before canning, using a pressure canner, dehydrator, or any other preservation method consult your owner’s manual or safe handling instructions- know the time it takes to kill bad bacteria and adhere to that!