This time of year, when luscious summer fruits and crisp garden vegetables are abundant, it's easy to forget what happens from late fall onward, when much of the most promising fresh produce has to travel thousands of miles.
With a little planning now, though, you can preserve some delicious local bounty to enjoy long after the last harvest. And it doesn't require sweating over dozens of jars on a sweltering day. "People think it's going to be hard, but preserving can be so easy," says Anne V. Nelson, author of The New Preserves: Pickles, Jams, and Jellies. "You don't have to go through the canning process-if you have a refrigerator, pickles can keep for several weeks, and jams and jellies can keep for a few months in a regular jar or Tupperware." You can also make "freezer jams" that require no cooking at all; chop and freeze fresh fruits in plastic bags for several months to use in smoothies; or freeze fruit juice—try juicing fresh cherries or plums, being sure to pit them before putting them in the juicer. The juice will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Nelson recommends thinking fresh when it comes to flavor combinations, too. "Chefs all over the country are doing interesting things with pickling," she says. Cucumbers are just the beginning—you can pickle zucchini, carrots, cabbage, even watermelon rind.
For jams and jellies, go beyond the basics by combining fruits. "I love peaches and blueberries together, and nectarines and raspberries," Nelson says. You can also add fresh herbs to fruit preserves—such as a sprig of rosemary or basil leaves—or spice things up with pepper or star anise. Or let the simple beauty of a single fruit shine through: "I make peach butter that's just bare naked peaches cooked very slowly. When I spread it on wheat toast on a cold winter morning, I have the flavor of August."
Pickled Baby Carrots
- 1 pound organic baby carrots
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons dill seeds
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook carrots for 1 minute; drain in a colander and run under cold water. Place carrots in a heatproof bowl and set aside.
2. Mix water, vinegar, sugar, garlic, dill seeds, and salt in a saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 minutes.
3. Pour over carrots and let cool. Transfer carrots and liquid to airtight container; refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. The pickles will keep for three weeks in the refrigerator.
Note: This recipe by Christie Matheson also works well with green beans, sugar snap peas, peppers, and cauliflower.