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Ideas for End-of-Season Gardens

10/17/2020

What do you do with end-of-season gardens producing less and less as the season progresses?  I, for one, never want to see another tomato!  I’ve eaten enough BLTs to satisfy my craving for a couple of years.  Every meal has included sliced tomatoes.  I’ve made spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, vegetable soup, tomato basil soup…..the list goes on and on.  And, there are STILL tomatoes out there in the garden.  Why has no one told that blasted squash that the season is over?  So what to do???

Plan A is to give those extra vegetables away.  And when the neighbors start locking their doors when they see you coming, it’s time for Plan B.  I’ve still got a few green beans, a few pods of butterbeans, some stray okra and carrots, and the last of the onions.  Time for the food processor and some freezer bags!  If your processor has a dicing attachment, use this to dice onions, peppers, and carrots.  A good, sharp knife works too.  I put each one in a separate bag (I use snack bag size since you won’t need a lot of anything at a time), then put all these small bags in to one big gallon freezer bag to make a “grab bag” of fresh veggies to go to in January when you’re craving some tummy-warming soup or a stew.  Or, how about a fresh veggie omelet?  I shell the last of the lima and butter beans, snap the last of the green beans, slice the last of the okra, and put all of these into a single one-quart size bag labeled “veggie soup ingredients”.  I keep this bag going in my freezer until the last of the vegetables are in, adding to it as I go.  Once filled, I move on to the next bag.  Potatoes and garlic are dug, cured, and put in a cool, dry place like a garage or basement.

Squash does wonderfully in the freezer as “zoodles” if you have a spiralizer. I also use my mandolin (or a good knife) to slice zucchini.  No need to blanch either of these.  In fact, they thaw really mushy if you do.  Just lay the slices on a cookie sheet, separating layers with wax paper.  Stick them in the freezer and once they’re frozen, transfer them to freezer bags for storage.  You can also pre-coat zucchini slices with a little olive oil and bread crumbs if you want them ready to go straight in to the oven.

Invest in an inexpensive dehydrator (mine was $39 on Amazon) and start drying the last of the herbs.  These do NOT freeze well, so don’t try it.  Basil turns an icky black and even though it still tastes fine, it looks awful!  I dehydrate thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon, dill, sage, parsley, and so on.  I purchased some inexpensive jars and fill them every year so I always have herbs from my garden in my winter recipes.  The dehydrator is also great for hot peppers, if you don’t make pepper sauce or pickled jalapenos.  We have hot peppers all year that we use in Thai and Mexican dishes.  And I’ve been growing those very hot peppers like ‘Apocalypse Scorpion’ and ‘Carolina Reaper’ for a dear friend who gets them every year in his holiday box (Yes, I have some strange friends with a death wish). Just don’t put them in your pepper sauce!!!!

Try using some of those herbs to make infused olive oils.  They make great holiday gifts and will be fully flavored by the time winter comes around.  Again, storage bottles are not expensive.  You can “Google” lots of different ideas for using fresh herbs in sachets, soaps, etc.  Again, you’ve got gift-giving covered!

We haven’t mentioned those blasted tomatoes, have we???  I’ve found that if I just blanch them, peel the skins, and pop them in freezer bags, I’ll have some stored if I ever come up with more creative ideas besides all I’ve already done with them.  You can also make “fire-roasted” tomatoes in your oven by tossing the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil and roasting them at 400o for 45 minutes, until they’re charred.  Then, I just lightly break them up in the blender or food processor and measure 14 oz. quantities.  This equals a can size and it’s nice to have your own stock of special diced tomatoes.  You can blanch and peel them, then squeeze out the seeds before processing if you don’t like a lot of seeds in your blends.  I add oregano, garlic, and basil to batches before freezing, again to offset the need to buy cans every time I need one in an Italian recipe.  Or try your own blends……cilantro, jalapeno, and chili powder in those destined for chili or other Hispanic dishes.  Use your imagination and GET RID OF THOSE TOMATOES!  You’ll note I haven’t mentioned canning although this is certainly an option for storing tomatoes.  I just have more freezer space than cupboard space, so I rarely can anything beyond pepper sauce and pickles.

Finally, don’t forget to save seeds!  Especially if you’ve found a certain bell pepper or tomato that you really love.  Buying seeds is not an expensive investment, but why spend any money at all if you can save your own seeds from crops you really love?  I also put several in paper coin envelopes and drop them off at the library seed bank.  When I know someone is a gardener, I include a small envelope of seeds in birthday and holiday cards.  A friend sent me seeds for ‘King of the North’ bell peppers one year and I’ll be forever grateful!

I know many of you can come up with more creative and inventive ways to use end-of-season vegetables and herbs, so don’t let them shrivel on the vine or bolt!  It’s always so rewarding to be able to dig out some summer vegetables in the middle of winter and know it was because of all your hard work during the summer that you have this lovely “stash” of vegetables ready to go in to whatever recipe you’ve come up with.  Your spice cabinet is full and you’ve got a ready supply of potatoes, onions, and garlic.  Most important, you’re able to cut your grocery bill in so many different ways and stand ready to donate a pint of soup or a quart of tomato sauce to someone who needs it. Is there anything better than that?  I think not.

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