Bargains are very abundant at the farmers’ markets this time of year that you may be tempted to go overboard, buying far more fruits and veggies than you’ll need. But there are clever ways to preserve veggies and fruits for the long haul,so you’ll be able to enjoy them later in the fall and early winter. Want a taste of summer all year long? Here’s what to do:
Drying is best for tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant and fruit slices.
Dried fruits and vegetables have a very concentrated flavor, so a little goes a long way.
First, heat the oven to 200 F. Slice veggies or fruits 1/3″ thick and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Sprinkle veggies with salt (don’t use it with fruit slices).
Bake 4-6 hours, or until pliable but quite shriveled-there should be no condensation or moisture in the pan at all.
Store stacked in single layers between paper towels in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Freezing breaks down the cellulose fibers that give produce its firm structure, so defrosted items will be better suited to cooking than to eating out-of-hand.
Most fruits and vegetables can be frozen.
Peel and seed extremely juicy vegetables (like tomatoes), and remove the pits of stone fruits (like peaches and apricots.) Although blueberries can be frozen in their original packaging, other fruits need a little preparation.
Chop and slice fruits and vegetables into 4″ pieces or smaller.
Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet for 1 hour, then transfer to individual zip-top (or lock) bags; freeze for up to 6 months.
Freezing Tomatoes (for garden-fresh sauce during winter)
Removing the Skins-Fill a large stockpot 2/3 full with water; bring to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice water. With a knife, cut a shallow cross in the bottom of each tomato. Plunge tomatoes into the boiling water 3 minutes or until the skin begins to split. Remove tomatoes and plunge directly into the ice water. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use a knife to peel away the skin.
Removing the Seeds-Remove the cores and cut each tomato in half. Holding the tomato half in hand over a bowl, gently squeeze out and discard the seeds.
Chopping-Chop the seeded tomatoes into small chunks. Since fresh tomatoes are usually very juicy, use a cutting board with grooves to catch the juices. And don’t throw them away; save for the sauce.
If you’re not planning to use the tomatoes right away, you can freeze them in a plastic container or zip-top freezer bag. They’ll keep for up to six months in the freezer.
A Few Farmers’ Market Tips
Since practically all of the produce sold in farmers’ markets is grown locally, it’s picked at a riper stage than the regular supermarket produce. Therefore, buy only what you will use in the next three days.
Ripe fruits and vegetables will feel heavy for their size, have deep, even coloring and yield slightly to pressure.
Don’t buy any bruised and blemished items. Also avoid grossly overgrown items-they’ll typically have a mushy texture and watered-down flavor.
Inspect the entire bin. Many fruits and vegetables (including tomatoes, peaches and apples), release ethylene gas as they ripen (An honest farmer will remove any produce past its prime as soon as possible, to make sure that the fruits and veggies surrounding it are not also affected).