Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Questions Than Answers, or: How to Preserve a Harvest

This morning's garden haul yielded five spaghetti squash, five zucchini, five yellow squash, a few cucumbers, one watermelon, and about fifteen pounds of tomatoes. I ran out of time before I could make it to the peppers and tomatillos but the plants are hanging heavy with fruit. The yellow, zucchini, and French varietal squash are at the end of their cycles, the slicer cucumbers and cantaloupe plants have given up the ghost but the lemon cucumbers have surprised me by putting out a whole new generation of babies.

I watch amazed as the single spaghetti squash hill I planted on impulse, from some carelessly saved seed gathered from a grocery store squash, puts out dozens of fruits. The eggplant that I planted right before a gullywasher of a storm came through and washed away half the seed grows all over my garden -- in the hills where I planted them, next to the grape vines, among the corn and squash, and even unprotected in the neighboring, unfenced, unirrigated field. At least fifty funny slipper-shaped fruits are starting to darken and I hope that they'll mature before whatever is chewing so vigorously on the leaves kills the plants.

Herbs are wild and huge, corn and sweet potatoes are almost ready, calabaza and pumpkin will mature soon, chard and French sorrel never seem to stop, artichokes keep on coming, and half the red potatoes are still in the ground.

Soon it will time to start the seeds for the fall garden.

This was my first full-on spring garden out here in the hills of Central Texas and every day has been a surprise -- things that I thought would grow didn't; things that I didn't think would grow took off in some kind of vegetable explosion.

I've learned a few things, I guess, but mostly I'm amazed at how much is out of my hands, how much depends on the weather, birds, insects, raccoons, and anyone else who likes my veggies as much as I do.

Now I'm trying to find the time to preserve as much as I can, and I have even more to wonder about.

For example

-- How long do spaghetti squash last? Will I need to parboil and freeze or can I just store them, a least for a while, like a winter squash.

-- Can you really freeze tomatoes? I keep reading that some people do, but I find it hard to believe that a lot is not lost, in terms of flavor and texture.

-- My Ball canning book says to add citric acid to tomatoes when canning. Do I really have to do this? I never have before and I know my mom never did. Have I been playing tomato-botulism-Russian-roulette all this time?

-- What's the best way to preserve eggplant?

How do you keep up with your harvests? What shortcuts have you found? I'd love to hear anything anyone knows about preserving.


  1. I will do my best to answer what I can!

    Spaghetti squash lasts a long time. Keep it in a cool spot, perhaps the basement i you have one? It should last for weeks. However, I do not know how they will do in the heat you Texans have!

    Freezing tomatoes: I have froze salsa, and while it might not look as pretty, it is still really good. I know of folks who freeze them until they get enough to can a whole batch.
    Yes, you really should add the citric acid to tomatoes you are canning. The problem with the tomatoes we now grow is that they are basically very low acid. Years ago my mom did "open-kettle" canning which is a huge no-no nowadays. It is the mercy of God that we are alive to talk about it!!!

    Preserving eggplant: Not sure about that one. It doesn't last long around here as I am an eggplant lover. Ratatouille on the grill is my favorite.

    I don't grow enough to do much canning from my own garden, but I buy from the local farmers market and usually get my tomatoes, cukes for pickles, peaches, apples for sauce, etc., from there. (to can) Mostly what I grow is for our daily consumption. Tho I put in 26 tomato plants, for the most part we will eat them fresh. If I have enough, I will likely can some salsa with the excess.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Did you not get my great big, long response???AAGGHH

  3. Arggh indeed! Something went wrong with comments but it's fixed. I think. Cyn, I'm so sad to have lost your comment. I know you know all about this stuff.

  4. Hokey toot! Let me see if I can re-cap this!!!

    Spaghetti squash: Living here in MI my spag. squash lasts a really long time...weeks on the cool Autumn counter. Texas...not sure. If kept cool, it should last equally as long.

    I free salsa, tho I prefer fresh or my home canned. I know some folks freeze their tomatoes until they get enough to do a whole canner full, then take them out and can them.

    Citric acid in tomatoes: YES..because the tomatoes that we typically can do not have the acid that our grandparents tomatoes had. I can remember when tomatoes had a real "bite" to them. Not any more. The form of citric acid I use is lemon juice. Costco has organic lemon juice in a glass bottle that is really cheap.

    Eggplant: I have no idea how to preserve it. I love eggplant so it usually gets used right up. I make an oven roasted ratatouille that is wonderful...and in the summer I make it right out on the gas grill. That way I don't heat up the house.

    I don't really have to keep up with the harvest here, as I don't plant that huge of a garden. I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) and get lots of fresh, organic produce every Thursday. I DO grow some things...I put in about 26 tomato plants, peppers, zucchini, herbs, lettuces, radishes, chard, peas, etc. Only cause we use a lot of that stuff daily, and I want a steady supply. When I want to can, I go to our local farmers market and get a bushel or two of "seconds"...tomatoes, cukes for pickling, peaches, apples for sauce, etc.

    Gosh, hope this goes through this time!!!

  5. That would be I "freeze" salsa!!!

  6. Thanks so much! That explains why my mom never used citric acid. I'm going to try it with that Costco lemon juice you recommend.

    BTW, that sounds like a pretty large garden to me!

  7. Idaho is a far cry from Texas, but we find spaghetti squash to store extremely well. In a low humidity environment at 50-65°it will keep over 7 months for us. We also cook and freeze some of our squash.

    Tomatoes freeze very well. We freeze some of them whole with any defects cut off including the top and bottom scab on the bigger ones, These tomatoes retain their flavor and are excellent in sauce and soups... skin and all. Sometimes we make a spaghetti type sauce up with fresh tomatoes and freeze it for later use. Salsa is best canned if one wants the chunky texture to be retained.

    We are going to try cooking, mashing, and freezing some of our eggplants this year. These will be used in the winter for Baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and other hummus dishes. Perhaps some fried patties as well... we shall see how good this works.

    It sounds like you are having a most excellent harvest this year.

  8. Thanks for the great advise, H. Fried eggplant and baba ghanoush, mmmm. Looking forward to that harvest even more now.

  9. Oops, I meant "advice." Too bad I can't spell.