Squirreling Away for Winter

This was the final week of the Preserve the Bounty challenge. We tried our hands at fermentation and curing in fats, vinegars, and booze (I largely passed up on the latter, since we don’t care for the taste of alcohol and don’t keep it in the house, other than some basics for cooking). Last but not least, we turned to preservation through drying, which was the most familiar to me. Actually, you’ve probably noticed mentions of dried fruits and vegetables through the course of my posts this summer, but I’ll stick to the ones I haven’t discussed yet here.

(My one attempt at alcohol preservation: ginger slices in sake.)

I should note that the majority of my drying was done in the convection oven. Oregon summers don’t often sustain temperatures of 100F for more than a few days at a time, and this summer has been particularly cool, with temperatures hovering around the 70’s most of this week, for instance, and several bouts of rain. I’m certainly not complaining, but I know that the odd weather has interfered with some of the local harvest, and it is by no means appropriate for drying food in the sun. My new oven has lower settings than the old one did, and the convection uses less energy and helps speed along the drying process also. That hasn’t stopped me from pining after a dedicated food dehydrator, however (and my aunt may have an extra one for me—hooray!).

One of the first foods I dried this summer was some corn kernels. I cut about 3 ears’ worth of sweet corn off the cob and spread it out on my silpat to oven-dry until all of its moisture was gone. When it felt dry and hard to the touch, I let it cool and scooped it into a paper bag, to finish dehydrating over the course of about a week before transferring to a ziploc bag for long-term storage.

I also carefully preserved all the husks and silk from my corn, and did manage to dry these outside. I’ve now got a large bagful of dried husks that I hope to use in making tamales at some point.

As for the cornsilk, I have been curious about it since reading in The Splendid Grain that cornsilk tea is a traditional cooking liquid for wild rice. I have a small bag of local wild rice from Ankeny Lakes Wild Rice Company, and hope to try this cooking method sometime soon; apparently it gives the rice a naturally sweet flavor, and the tea itself is said to be particularly beneficial for urinary tract health among other assets. But every time I look at it, I think of the corn husk dolls that Native American and pioneer children used to play with, adorned with cornsilk hair.

I dried a number of herbs this summer as well, by tying them up in bunches. Parsley and dill made appearances from the farmer’s market. My spearmint plant, nearly the only herb in my garden to survive our sweet doggie, has grown substantially in the last year or two, so I dried and crumbled quite a bit to replenish my pantry stock of it.

I also dried what I am reasonably sure is a lemon balm plant. I have only the vaguest recollections of having planted lemon balm, but it smells very lemony and looks identical to all the photos I could find, so I went for it. (Incidentally, if you think otherwise from the photo above, please tell me, because I am still slightly paranoid about it.)

And just for fun, I picked some red clover blossoms from my backyard. These started drying in the sun, but attracted the attention of some ants, so they finished up in the oven. I’m considering red clover tea or jelly, but haven’t used these yet.

Finally, I took the opportunity of the challenge to dehydrate some shredded zucchini this week. I was gifted with some beautiful 8-ball zucchini and was afraid I wouldn’t get around to using them all. My favorite way to deal with zucchini is to shred it; having a bag of shreds in the refrigerator makes it incredibly easy to get some extra veggies in surreptitiously with every meal I cook. I also save the shreds in the freezer in 1-C portions to use when Jeremy is craving zippy muffins, but my freezer is so nearly out of space that drying seemed like a much better alternative. As the photo above demonstrates, two giant trays of freshly shredded zucchini melted away into about 2 cups of dried bits that look and smell something like hay. I’ll be sure to post an update later in the year when I try to make muffins with it.

Since this was the last week of the challenge, I thought it would be appropriate to compile my summer preservation efforts here. I only attempted small amounts this year, but it adds up, and I’ll update the list—mostly for my own edification—until the farmer’s market shuts down at the end of October.

Sauerkraut, 1 quart (1 head of cabbage)
Dill-garlic pickles, 1 quart (cucumbers and garlic cloves)
Ketchup, 1 bottle (5 lb of tomatoes)
Pickled banana peppers, 1 half-pint (2 peppers)
Preserved Meyer lemons, 1 quart (about 6 lemons)

Fat Preservation:
Basil compound butter
Peach compound butter (dried peaches, peach butter, hazelnut praline powder)
Tomato compound butter (oven-dried golden tomato raisins, garlic)

Vinegar Preservation:
Pickled rainbow chard stems, 1 pint (1 bunch of chard)
Pickled baby okra, 1 pint (3/4 lb okra pods)
Wild blackberry-mint vinegar, 1 bottle (2 mint sprigs, 1/3 C small blackberries)

Alcohol Preservation:
Ginger slices preserved in sake, 5″ piece of ginger

Sweet corn kernels, about 1 cup (3 ears)
Corn husks and silk (from about 6 ears of corn)
Peach slices, about 1 cup (from 3-4 peaches, dipped in honey simple syrup)
Golden tomato raisins, about 1/3 cup (1 pint cherry tomatoes)
Tomato skins, about 1/2 C powder (from 14 lb of tomatoes)
Shredded zucchini, about 3 cups (from 3 1/2 large 8-ball zucchinis)
Radish slices, about 1/4 C (from 1 bunch of red globe radishes)
Celery, about 1/4 C (from 1 celery plant)
Bell peppers (red, yellow, and green), about 1 1/4 C (from 5-6 peppers)
Fruit leather, made from peach butter
Lemon and orange zest, 3-4 of each
Herbs: Spearmint, lemon balm, Italian parsley, dill, red clover

Peach butter, 1 cup (leftover from about a quart total)
Green beans, 2 cups
Fava beans, 1 cup
Leeks, 1 cup
Beet puree (red and golden), 1 cup
Shredded zucchini, 4 cups
Gravlax, 2 pounds (cured with fresh basil; cured with alder-smoked salt)
Tomato paste, 4 tablespoons
Pesto: Arugula, 4 cubes; garlic scape, 12 cubes; basil, 24 cubes; daikon-flax, 24 cubes
Herbs: Dill, basil
Grape leaves, 2 dozen

Seeds: Tomato (slicer, Stupice, Marvel stripe, orange paste, yellow heirloom), bell (red, yellow, and purple) and banana pepper, raspberry, dill, chives, sage, purple hull peas, Concord grape
Cuttings: Basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, lavender
Overwintering: Leeks, garlic (community garden)

Last updated 3/5/11.

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