It’s peak harvest season, which means it’s the perfect time for making preserves! Preserving your fruits and veggies – whether by canning, fermenting, dehydrating or freezing food – is the smartest way to invest your farmers’ market finds. Not only can you buy extra now to avoid paying high prices later for out-of-season fruit, but saving fruits and vegetables at the height of their flavour means that when you reach for those preserves in January, it’ll feel like opening a jar of west coast sunshine. Read on for easy tips, and to enter our giveaway to win your own home canning kit!
If you’ve never preserved food before, start by taking a trip to your local BC farmer’s market to stock up on the freshest, in-season, local produce – this Farmers’ Market Finder tool makes it easy to figure out which of BC’s 145+ farmers’ markets are near you. Farmers’ markets feature interesting – often heirloom – varieties of fruits and vegetables that are developed for different purposes, including different preserving techniques (think pie, sauce and cider apples!). If you’re in doubt, ask the farmer for advice: they’ll be able to suggest the perfect varieties for your purposes, along with tips and tricks for preserving your favourites. They can also let you know which produce is at the height of season, ensuring that you buy when flavour is at a maximum.
What’s in season in your neck of the woods? In South-west BC, blueberries, cranberries and mouth-puckering Concord grapes are all beautifully ripe. In the Okanagan, you’ll want to fill your baskets with mellow golden and red pears…and crisp apples, of course! The Kootenays are tomato-sauce territory: basil, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, and greens are all at their peak. Northern BC’s growing season is short, but in September the harvest rolls in: enjoy everything from summer squashes to a rainbow of veggies, including bright green peas. Vancouver Island’s golden beets, tomatoes and corn pair beautifully with locally made goat cheese – and of course, there are apples and pumpkins a-plenty in from Metchosin to Comox. To find more info about seasonal produce for your region, check out this great What’s In Season page from the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets.
Once you’ve brought your farmers’ market finds home, it’s time to get preserving. Here are four easy ways to preserve BC produce:
Freezing – Wash and dry your fruit. For berries, simply pop them on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper, and spread them out to freeze for an hour before sliding them into a resealable bag. For herbs, wash and chop them finely, then freeze pinches in ice cube trays before transferring them to a resealable bag. For fruit and veggies with cores and skins, peel and chop them before spreading them to freeze. One notable exception? Peaches! Just freeze them whole – the skins will slide off when they defrost.
Dehydrating – Got an oven and some time on your hands? This is an easy hands-off way to preserve that needs a cool day. Prepare fruit as described above for freezing, but then put the cookie tray in an oven set at 140 F for 5 hours or longer. This is also an easy way to make your own fruit leather for school lunches!
Pickling – With clean jars and tasty vinegar or brines, you can pickle just about anything! Once you’ve mastered cucumber, try your hand at zucchini, cauliflower, carrots and daikon or even watermelon!
Preserves and canning – The most popular way to preserve fruits and veggies takes time: you want to be sure you’ve properly sterilized and sealed your jars. Once you’ve learned the ropes, there are lots of delicious preserves you can make: jams, jellies, butters, pestos, relishes, tomato sauces, chutneys and conserves. Talk to your farmer about how they like to preserve food – they’ll have tips for you especially if you’re new to canning. And for excellent online canning how-tos, you cannot go wrong with the National Centre for Home Food Preservation tutorials as well as the research-based guides at Healthy Canning. Our advice: challenge your friends to each try a preserving project of their own this season. Then, swap with your friends: you’ll enjoy a fully stocked pantry with very little work (and sharing the food is part of the fun!)
Here’s something to help give you that yes-I-can feeling: from September 1st to September 15th, share a photo of your favourite BC Farmers’ Market finds for a chance to win a complete Home Canning Kit! Start with the BC Farmers’ Market finder, and then don’t forget to snap some pics as you load up on your favourite produce. Whether you are canning, dehydrating, fermenting or freezing this year’s harvest bounty, BC Farmers’ Markets want to see how you plan to save summer in a jar.