Dealing with Gluts
Lots of things you can do when you grow too many.
Suitable for most vegetables. Use freshly picked, unblemished produce. Prepared them as you would for cooking.
Method 1 – Blanching
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Use a wire basket or cloth to plunge the vegetables into the water and bring it back to the boil (don't try to do too many at one time). At the end of the blanching time (see below), lift the vegetables out of the pot and plunge them into ice-cold water and cool right to the core as quickly as possible. Drain well and pack into containers or ziplock bags, removing as much air as possible. Pack in "meal-sized" quantities or spread on a tray and open-freeze before bagging for ease of use.
1-2 min. Peas, mange-touts, beans, broad beans, cabbage, spinach
2-3 mins. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, swedes, carrots
Instead of blanching, courgettes and mushrooms can be sautéed, cooled and frozen.
Cooking frozen vegetables:
Most vegetables will keep in a freezer for 10-15 months. Remember, frozen vegetables should be cooked without thawing.
Method 2 – Freezing from raw
Prepare for use and spread on trays to open freeze and pack in plastic bags or containers (or bag in meal-sized quantities)
Suitable for soft fruits (raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants etc); plums; rhubarb; leeks; onions; peppers; tomatoes – skinned.
Apples can be sliced and steeped in a solution of juice of 1 lemon to 1 litre water for 15 mins, then dried on absorbent paper and packed as above.
If freezing from raw, use within 6 months.
Method 3 – purée
Fruits that can be puréed or stewed then and frozen are apples, plums, damsons, rhubarb, gooseberries, tomatoes.
Crops should be harvested when they are young, in prime condition and full of flavour. Vegetables and fruit are best gathered early in the day.
The best way to store your harvests will depend on the variety of the crop, and all produce must be handled with care to avoid bruising. Many crops will require careful attention if they are to keep well. Some main crops, such as carrots, potatoes, onions, and beetroots also need special forms of protection if they are to last throughout the winter months; however some hardy roots such as Swedes, parsnips and some long-keeping apple varieties need little more than a frost-free store to last at least part of the winter with minimal assistance.
Fruits require gentle handling at all times as they bruise so easily, and even a small amount of damage can reduce their storage life. Set aside for immediate use any fruits that show damage caused by pests or disease. Some of the firm-fleshed tree fruits, particularly apples and pears, can be stored in their natural state for use during Winter, though only a small amount are likely to keep in good condition through to the new year. The variety is the important factor in determining their keeping qualities. The best condition for keeping apples in their natural state is a cool, dark but frost-free store, where the environment is fairly humid. A cellar would be an ideal example of such an area. Wrapping the apples in either tissue, or specialised oil paper may keep them slightly better; however you may be unable to spot the early signs of developing rot and this is therefore simply a matter or preference. Apples (either wrapped or unwrapped) should be stored in moulded paper trays or in fruit boxes with extended corner posts to support the tray above. The storage life of soft fruits is prolonged by cool conditions. They often are better picked earlier in the day, and chilled as soon as possible after picking. The longevity of the fruit once stored, again depends of the variety. Gooseberries can remain unpicked, without spoiling far longer than other soft fruits, and it is often better for them to remain unpicked until use than attempting to keep them once picked (but beware of birds!).
Storing root vegetables is safest (provided you have the space) in boxes in a ventilated shed or outhouse. Place the roots in layers with slightly dampened peat or sand around them. In more severe weather, the boxes can be covered with a layer of straw for extra protection (clamping). You can also store potatoes in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, frost-free, ventilated store, ensuring first that the skins are completely dry. Onions and garlic also need frost-free storage, but in order to prevent them from sprouting they must not be kept in a dark place. Once dried and ripened, hang them in nylon or string netting bags, or string them up by twisting their stems around a length of thick string.
Pickling is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Any fruit, vegetable or meat preserved in vinegar or brine is pickled. The use is wide and varied, and is generally grouped into 5 classes.
1. Brined Pickles – Vegetables are submerged in a salt brine solution to ferment for about six weeks. Sauerkraut belongs in this group, and cucumbers and tomatoes may also be brined. Herbs and spices may be added to the pickling solution.
2. Fresh Pack Pickles - vegetables are put in a spicy vinegar solution (they may be brined for several hours beforehand). Cucumbers, sweet gherkins and dilled green beans are among the vegetables which can be preserved by this method.
3. Relishes are prepared using chopped fruits and/or vegetables cooked in a spicy vinegar with sugar added if desired. Piccalilli, Pepper-onion and Corn relishes can be prepared by this method.
4. Fruit Pickles are usually prepared from whole fruits and simmered in a spicy, sweet-sour syrup. Pears and peaches are popular fruits for this.
5. Chutneys and Sauces are a combination of vegetables and/or fruits spices and vinegar cooked for long periods to develop flavour and texture. They can be highly spiced and have a sweet-sour blend of flavours ranging from hot to mild. Most people are familiar with apple, tomato or other fruit chutney.
The preparation of the ingredients, the proper utensils and the method of pickling are important factors for success, and space doesn't allow details to be included here. Many good cookery books have good recipes and instructions, and these can also be found on the web site www.allotment.org.uk
Many vegetables, fruit and herbs can be dried easily. You can invest in an electric hydrator but specialist equipment is not required - an oven, hot press or radiator will often do, or you may just tie them up outside providing the weather is going to be dry and warm for a few days.
The drying process is best carried out somewhere warm and well ventilated. Any moisture in the air will hinder the evaporation of water from the produce and may cause it to rot. So the more ventilated the drying space the faster the food will dry. Drying food is rather like drying clothes, on a warm windy day clothes will dry quickly on the line but will take considerably longer if placed on a radiator in a damp flat!
Most herbs dry well and retain their scent when dried properly. Drying herbs should be done as naturally as possible and most importantly away for sunlight which darkens the herbs and often lessens their properties. The easiest and most effective way to dry herbs is to tie the herbs in to a bunch and hang them inside a paper bag with holes punched into it. Ensure sure you label the bag as one dried herb may look like another! Hang this bag upside down in a warm place. The leaves dry out retaining their flavour and other attributes and as they dry the leaves fall into the bag and so you don't even have to worry about stripping the dried leaves, flowers or seeds from the stems. Store the dried herbs in sealed jars; old jam jars are useful for this.
Most members of the squash family can be dried for storage by leaving them in the sun for a few weeks to dry, turning them every few days to ensure all of the skin gets sun.
To truly sun-dry tomatoes, you'd need to live somewhere you could reliably predict several days of sun at 32°C, a light breeze, low humidity….. So, not in Ireland
! However, tomatoes can be dried or semi-dried in a low oven to intensify the flavor and to preserve them.
Food should be dehydrated between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You can begin drying your food at higher temperatures, but turn the temperature down after the first hour or so. The last hour or so of drying time should be turned down on a lower setting. You must turn the food and rotate the trays while the food is drying.
You will know your food is dried when when you touch it, and it is leathery with no pockets of moisture. If you are testing fruit, you can tear a piece in half. If you see moisture beads along the tear, it is not dry enough. Vegetables should be tough but can also be crisp.
When storing your dried product, keep in mind that no moisture should be allowed to enter the container...ever. Dried food absorbs moisture from the air, so the storage container must be airtight. Some acceptable storage containers are jars and plastic freezer bags. If storing dried fruit, wrap in plastic wrap and store in another airtight container. Store your containers of dried food in a cool, dark, dry place. 60 degrees Fahrenheit or below is best.
For oven-dried tomatoes, cut the tomato in half, place on a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with sea salt, place in an oven at about 140°C, 275°F, Gas 1, for up to 15 hours. Remove each one as it becomes firm and no longer juicy as individual tomatoes will have individual drying times.
The basic rules of drying: remove the moisture from the produce through heat and ventilation and when dried, store in either a cool dry place (potatoes or onions) or a sealed dry place (herbs or berries)
Alternatively, oven roasted tomatoes will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks if covered with oil. Prepare tomatoes as before and cover the tomatoes in olive oil. Place in an oven at about 170°C, 325°F, Gas 3, for at least an hour.
Vegetable Drying Guide to Timing
All vegetables except onions and peppers,and mushrooms should be washed, sliced, and blanched. Dry vegetables in single layers on trays. Depending of drying conditions, drying times make take longer. Dry vegetables at 130-degrees Fahrenheit.
* Beans, green:Stem and break beans into 1-inch pieces.Blanch. Dry 6-12 hours until brittle.
* Broccoli: Cut and dry 4-10 hours.
* Carrots: Peel, slice or shred. Dry 6-12 hours until almost brittle.
* Mushrooms: Brush off, don't wash. Dry at 90 degrees for 3 hours, and then 125 degrees for the remaining drying time. Dry 4-10 hours until brittle.
* Onions: Slice 1/4-inch thick. Dry 6-12 hours until crisp.
* Peas: Dry 5-14 hours until brittle.
* Peppers, sweet: Remove seeds and chop. Dry 5-12 hours until leathery
* Tomatoes: Dip in boiling water to loosen skins, peel,slice or quarter. Dry 6-12 hours until leathery.
* Zucchini: Slice 1/8-inch thick and dry 5-10 hours until brittle.
Fruit Drying Guide to timing
All fruit should be washed,pitted and sliced. Arrange in single layers on trays. Dry fruit at 135 degrees Fahrenheit. You may wish to pretreat your fruit with lemon juice or ascorbic acid or it won't darken while you are preparing it for drying. Just slice the fruit into the solution and soak for 5 minutes.
* Apples:Peel, core and slice into 3/8-inch rings, or cut into 1/4-inch slices. Pretreat and dry 6-12 hours until pliable.
* Apricots: Cut in half and turn inside out to dry. Pretreat and dry 8-20 hours until pliable.
* Bananas: Peel, cut into 1/4-inch slices and pretreat. Dry 8-16 hours until plialbe or almost crisp.
* Blueberries: Dry 10-20 hours until leathery.
* Peaches: Peel, halve or quarter. Pretreat and dry 6-20 hours until pliable.
* Pears: Peel, cut into 1/4-inch slices, and pretreat. Dry 6-20 hours until leathery.
* Pineapple: Core and slice 1/4-inch thick. Dry 6-16 hours until leathery and not sticky.