PASA Local Food Month: Preserving the Harvest

Posted on September 15, 2012. Filed under: challenge, freeze, garden, local, technique | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Crushed tomatoes.

The idea of eating fresh, local food all year long is a delightful proposition: Crisp garden flavors delight our palates, and as one food craving begins to be satisfied, another one emerges. In turn, we help create a system of support for our farmer neighbors. When I lived in California, I gardened year-round and shopped farmers’ markets several times a week; I simply–and happily–changed my diet according to what was available. Alas, that’s a lot harder to in Pittsburgh. To be sure, there are a few options for buying local food all year long: Kretschmann Farm has a winter CSA, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance runs a year-round farm stand, and you can pick up locally raised meat and eggs at the Pittsburgh Public Market. But let’s face it, winter is pretty bleak around here; I can’t grow lettuce in my garden in January or pluck Meyer lemons from trees while I walk my dog (seriously) like I did in February in CA.  So what’s a local food fan to do?

Preserve the harvest.

Preserving food for winter sounds daunting at first, but, with a bit of patience and practice, it’s easier than you think it is. Yes, you’re going to have to plan in advance, you might have to follow instructions, and it’s going to get messy. But it’s totally worth it. Think about how marvelous it’ll be to have bright-tasting tomatoes in January or lusty blueberries in March. You can make it happen. (OK, you probably should have started this in May, but there are still things you can do in September. Hello, sauerkraut.)

Perfect pesto servings, ready to freeze.


This one is easy because it doesn’t take a lot of special equipment–we all have freezers, right? Blueberries are a fantastic fruit to freeze; separate the berries individually on a baking sheet, let them freeze, and store in an airtight bag. Easy. Tomato sauce freezes pretty well, too. If you have a vacuum sealer you’ll be able to keep food longer, but a freezer bag with all the air sucked out will work perfectly fine. My favorite thing to freeze is pesto. Do it right, and it’ll taste almost as fresh as when you made it over the summer; all you have to do is blend basil, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, salt, and parmesan cheese. Protip: Freeze it in ice cube trays or cupcake pans; you’ll have perfect serving size.


Preserving food in sealed glass is the classic way of extending the harvest. You can make jams and jellies, sauces and chutneys, and pack your shelves with goodness. I made strawberry jam for the first time this year, and as autumn begins to take hold, I can remind myself of the flavors of spring by cracking open a jar. The upside to making your own jams is you can control the sugar content. The downside is that it takes a bit of finesse to perfect your recipe; I have a grape jelly that’s more like a beverage than something I can spread on toast.

If you’re looking to get in the jarring game, there’s still time: you can find late-season tomatoes at farmers’ markets and it’s prime time to make Concord grape jelly! (Yes, I’m going to try again.)

Peach Shrub


My latest obsession. A shrub is an old-timey way of preserving the harvest; records date back to the time when the US was still a British colony (and it’s likely shrubs were made before that, too). Basically, you crush fruit, and mix it with an equal part sugar; let the mix sit in the fridge for a day or two. After that, you strain off all the solids, and then add an equal part of vinegar. The result is a savory-sweet flavor reminiscent of the fruit you started with. Shrubs are a hot trend in cocktails today, but you don’t need to be a drinker to enjoy the pungent sweet flavor of a shrub; just add Pittsburgh Seltzer and you have the world’s best fizzy drink.


Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi are all foods that are brought to you courtesy of  preservationist bacteria. Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of keeping perishable food edible for long periods of time. OK, a kosher dill pickle doesn’t taste anything like the cucumber that got it started, but sometimes preserving the harvest means creating a whole new flavor. You don’t need any special equipment for this one, but you do need to pay particular attention to sanitation. Also, the fermentation process releases some–unique–odors. Personally I find the smell of pickles in brine to be a beautiful thing, but if you don’t you might want to use a fan to circulate the air.

Peppers on cooling rack, ready to dry.


My hot pepper plants were prolific this year, and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I made a few salsas (those will extend the harvest, but a September salsa in January isn’t pretty) and put a few in recipes, but I still had too many. So I decided to dry them. Think about all the wonderful dried foods there are: fruit leather, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes. What they have in common is that they are all flavor…concentrated. The most efficient way to dry food is with a dehydrator–but they can be expensive, so don’t run out and buy one if you’re not going to use it. An oven set to the lowest temperature will usually do the job, and if you’re especially diligent you can dry food in the sun–it is the original dehydrator after all.


I posted this blog as part of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s Local Food Month challenge. Leave a comment below by Sunday, Sept 23, sharing what you’re preserving this winter, your favorite food preservation story, or any recipes/tips you have in your playbook. Winner will be picked at random and will receive a signed copy of Marisa McClellan’s remarkably informative book Food in Jars and a $25 gift certificate to the East End Food Co-op! Hooray for free things!

Meanwhile, try to get cracking with a preservation project. Visit a farmers’ market, raid your garden, or check out a local farm. Be creative and have courage! Feel free to ask me for advice, too.

For more on PASA’s local food month, check out the rest of the challenge.


We have a contest winner! Congratulations to Sarah Leavens!

Method: I used’s random number generator. The list of numbers is as follows:

1: Emily S.

2: Amanda W.

3. Catherine

4: Julia

5: Katie O.

6: Dora

7: Sarah

8: Lori D.

9: Food Me Once

10: Leah L.

11: Marieella

12: Leigh W.

13: Damarias

14: Jeralyn

15: Jackie @ Auburn Meadow

16: Brigid

17: Jackie

(15-17 via PASA blog). Winning number, generated at random, is 7.


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27 Responses to “PASA Local Food Month: Preserving the Harvest”

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Hi Hal! I have…
frozen: garden tomato sauce, peaches, and rhubarb
canned: bread and butter pickles and jam (strawberry and blueberry)
dried: do chili peppers count?
fermented: kraut

Chili peppers totally count! I have some drying in the oven right now.

so, i’ve been doing a lot of freezing. tara and kate told me a very simple way to freeze them and i’ve been doing it with much success! slice tomatoes, put them on a baking sheet, little olive oil s&p and sprigs of your favorite herbs, then roast them until they’re caramelized to your liking. then throw them in a bag and put them in a freezer! oddveig also told me that you can wash and freeze watercress for soups, stocks, and adding extra herbage since it’s just a spicy green and has to be used sparingly.

That sounds like a wonderful way to preserve tomatoes. I have a few still hanging on in my garden–going to try this!

i generally eat three things in the winter: pasta with tomato sauce, soup, and bread and my garden reflects what i want to eat come winter

i am blanching and freezing all of my leafy greens (especially kale) for some heavy winter soup making this year

large tomatoes are cooked down into sauce, small baby tomatoes are being frozen whole.

buying extra apples at the farmers market to make applesauce and use as an egg replacer in all my breads

basil is chopped and frozen in ice cubes as is for pesto!

I had a kale plant that lasted most of the winter last year–was still eating from it in January. Doubt that will happen again, so maybe I’ll do a blanch and freeze; still a ton of the stuff in my garden!

Frozen – ratatoulli from fresh garden veggies, rhubarb pie filling and more!
Canned EVERYTHING tomatoes, peaches, jams, jelly, juice, Pot roast, chicken, green beans etc (see the picture I posted on western PA buy fresh buy local facebook page)
Dried – my favorite thing this year was I learned how to make zuchinni fruit snacks. remove seeds from zuchinni cook in 100% fruit juice concentrate for 30 minutes (pineapple is my fav) dehrydrate. YUMMY
fermentes kraut, asparagus, beets

That’s impressive! I’m inspired just reading all that you’ve done.

Note to readers: if you need to use a pressure canner to can pot roast, chicken, and most vegetables.

Hey Hal!

This summer has been my first year of canning. I live within a 1 minute walk of the Bloomfield Farmer’s Market, so I tend to buy a ton of produce as a result. Canning seemed to be the perfect solution for my over exuberance towards buying fresh produce. I bought Ball’s book of Home Preservation and flagged practically every page, but once I started canning, I quickly narrowed it down to the classics: crushed tomatoes and garden salsa. My pantry in my small apartment is now overflowing with these colorful jars. One day, I was overzealous as usual and purchased a ton of hot banana peppers from Schramm Farms. I decided pickled peppers would be the best way to use this large quantity of peppers. I added some jalapeños and a variety of heirloom peppers from Churchview Farm as well to add some color and extra zest to the jars. I had cut so many hot peppers before and felt impervious to their sting, so I opted (quite stupidly) from wearing any gloves. I canned the peppers and felt fine so I assumed that the capsaicin’s effects would be minimal. Was I wrong. I spent the entire night looking up home remedies for “hunan hand syndrome” in complete agony. The pain was intense, but it wasn’t nearly as intense as my anger at myself. Despite my self inflicted ordeal, I still love those canned pickled peppers, and look forward to adding them to soups, sandwiches, and roasts during the winter. Through my experience this summer I have gained a deep love for canning and a major respect for the burn of hot peppers. My favorite canning tip: Listen to the Ball book’s tip about wearing gloves, it’ll save you from spending a sleepless night with your hands in a bowl of ice water.

Holy cow! I had a similar experience a few weeks ago when I was cutting peppers to dry–I’ve never been pepper sprayed before, but I can certainly relate now! Powerful little things, those hot peppers.

Sounds like you have a cupboard full of colorful jars that will keep you happy all winter long!

Hi Hal, I’m not sure which came first the need to garden so I could preserve food to give as gifts or an abundance of tomatoes two seasons ago and a refusal to see a single one go to waste! Regardless, my mother taught me the method, my grandfather gave me the tools and this will be my 3rd season canning. This harvest, I’ve canned applesauce for the 1st time using apples rescued from the house Stephen Foster was born in, cranberry relish in anticipation of Thanksgiving and pickled banana peppers for homemade pizza. I also started using my dehydrator and have been drying the majority of my tomatoes- heirloom hillbilly and garden peach have made for some tasty snacks on top of crackers or mixed in with pasta. I should mention I’ve had some major fails – most notably spicy radish chips, not good!

Spicy radish chips! Ha! Failure is so hard to accept sometimes, but it’s part of the process, isn’t it? Sounds like you’re mostly full of success though! I’m glad some of the apples from the Stephen Foster House are going to good use (I saw a bunch on the ground the other day and it made me sad).

I am going to do the pesto freeze with my new favorite pesto recipe — I love the idea of cupcake holders, hadn’t thought of that, and have a dearth of ice cube trays, so…perfect.

Wonderful article as per usual, Hal.

Freezing in easy to use sizes is really helpful–no sense in freezing too much to use and having it go to waste later, right?!

I blanched and froze broccoli earlier in the summer, made lots of salsa, and Sally Frey and I are talking about doing a BYOJ (jars) canning workshop at Eden Hall soon.

That sounds like a great idea! (Count me in if you do it!)

I’ve been a slacker this year, so far just canning crushed tomatoes, salsa, peach halves in local honey/syrup and peach bourbon jam (the latter made with peaches from McConnell’s Farm, I’m totally in love with their peaches). I’m hoping to rally and can some more tomatoes, at least, though tomato fatigue is beginning to set in!

Doesn’t sound like you’re a slacker to me! That’s a nice haul–I’m jealous of the peaches (especially the jam).

I’m a professional “freezer” of summer produce (I just don’t have time to can!) I truly miss pesto during the winter so I make LOTS of it and freeze it in many sizes!

Pesto is such a nice winter treat. Good point about freezing being a nice alternate for people that don’t have time to can. Perhaps you can arrange a frozen food for jarred food swap…

I want to freeze little portions of herbs as well as pickle some zucchini!

You should do it! It’s the best time of year to freeze herbs right now.

I froze some pesto (stealing your idea of using the muffin cups next time, genius!), some herbs and chopped zucchini & tomatoes for sauces & soups.

Great! The muffin cups make for perfect portions.

I can’t wait to try a shrub! I usually stuff peppers while they are in season and freeze to make in the crockpot in the winter 🙂

I really like the idea of stuffing and then freezing–it’s like you have a dish ready to go at all times! Good luck with the shrub–please let me know how it turns out.

Great post Hal! This is the second year in a row I’ve canned tomatoes. I like using the canned tomatoes throughout the winter for lots of pots of chili! I also froze blueberries, peppers and lots of sweet corn in freezer bags this year. I even freeze some of the corn cobs to make corn “stock” for corn chowder. I plan on making apple sauce again this year too and giving some of the jars away over the holidays!

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