Canning season can be a busy time of year for serious food preservers – how can we possibly fit it all in? The truth is, we don’t. Here are some suggestions for off season food preservation. In other words, what food to preserve outside of the typical growing and canning season!
If you’re at all like me, you never get through all your food preservation goals during the major crush of harvest and canning season. No matter how I try, I still end up giving away surplus produce to friends and neighbors because I just can’t get it preserved before it spoils.
This causes some stress. I don’t like stress.
Consequently, I’ve learned to use the slower “off seasons” of the gardening year to preserve what I can. Seasons like early winter, late fall, and early spring all have bounty they can share with those of us who want to preserve their harvests.
If you’d like to join me in this off season food preservation campaign, here are some simple suggestions for how to get started.
Preserve Leafy Greens
Off season food preservation can easily begin with learning to save leafy greens in all seasons, but especially early spring and even winter.
Greens like dandelion, mint, mache, cleavers, nettle, and more can be foraged growing wild in open spaces. What you can find depends on where you live. Foraging isn’t a difficult skill to learn but there are some points to know before you begin.
—>>>To get started, read Find Free Food – Foraging Basics<<<—
Look for more resources on foraging at the end of the article.
Other greens like loose leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, and mustard can be grown in late fall, early spring, and even during the winter if they’re protected against hard frosts in the garden.
There are more resources for learning how to grow greens in the garden at the end of the article.
- You can also grow microgreens on your kitchen counter – no garden space needed!
Options For Preserving Greens
- To preserve these greens, here are some options to consider after cutting them, bringing them in, and washing them:
- Pat the greens dry and lay them out on a surface where there is good air circulation. Keep them protected from cats who might knock them down or walk over them. This method works well in dry climates and should take only a few days.
- Similarly, you can bundle the greens and invert them to hang-dry them. This also works well in dry climates.
- If you have a dehydrator, you can lay out the greens on the dehydrator’s racks and set them to a lower setting to dry slowly. Greens aren’t very thick and this should only take a few hours with some.
- Greens can also be preserved in a freeze dryer with no measurable loss of nutritional content.
With the exception of freeze dried greens, it’s best to keep the greens in their original form and avoid crushing them. This will help preserve their nutrition longer. However, if your best method of storage requires they be reduced in size, crush them as needed.
The preserved greens can be crushed or blended when needed. Add them to smoothies and soups especially in the winter when fresh greens are hard to find. Why buy “green” energy drink mixes when you can just dry them from out of your garden?
Expand your off season preservation skills by looking for herbs to preserve all year round. Sure, you should preserve all the basil you can in summer at the height of the growing season. However, do you have time to concentrate on all the other herbs? Herbs begin to ripen early in the spring and go all the way until the heavy snows and I never preserve enough of them!
Here’s a detailed article on How to Harvest Herbs.
Typically, air drying will work for most herbs, but a dehydrator or freeze dryer can also be used with success. Some herbs can be saved to use in recipes for food and others can be used in wellness recipes for items like salves, teas, and tinctures.
Recipes follow at the end of the article but here are some ideas for what to grow or forage:
Look for early chives, dandelions and emerging mints in the spring.
Don’t go too crazy during the summer because you’ll be busy preserving the veggies that are in season. However, be sure to harvest the basil and dill from the garden. Look for summer foraged herbs like roses and yarrow.
Gather all the lavender, rose hips and golden rod you can in the fall.
Yes, there are even herbs and foods to be foraged in the winter!
Meats can be bought in bulk year-round to be used for off season food preservation. The great thing is that there are a lot of options when it comes to preserving meat.
- Jerky can be made in the dehydrator and is a delectable snack, especially for family hikes and excursions.
- Canning plain meats, like chicken and sautéed hamburger, saves time and keeps the meat preserved. Home-canned meats are a healthy, affordable way to have preserved meat on hand.
- Many of us use our freezers to keep large amounts of meat preserved but, in winter storms, electricity can fail and the freezers stop working. Don’t discount freezing food to preserve it but be aware that it has that risk.
- You can also put up stews and casserole fillings, with meat included, to have whole meals on hand.
If you hunt, learning to preserve your precious harvest is so important!
Preserve Other Foraged Foods
We’ve already talked about preserving wild greens and herbs, but there are other items we can forage for more off season food preservation. For example, foraged fruits can be combined to make unique batches of seasonal jams and jellies; wild plums and cherries make a great combination, too.
Ramps, mushrooms, as well as chicory and dandelion root can all be dehydrated from the wild. Even the flowers can be harvested for jams—ever tried dandelion and forsythia jelly?