Here in the Midwest, it’s harvest season. People’s gardens are full of produce which is currently being picked, and many kitchen tables are full of vegetables. For a gardener, this can be the best part of the year – the sheer possibility of all of these fresh vegetables and fruits is intoxicating.
But it can also be overwhelming.
For some people, after several months of keeping a vegetable garden in tip-top shape, collecting giant baskets of vegetables means just the beginning of another round of work – often a round that they don’t enjoy as much. The deep, frugal pleasure of spending hours out in the garden with your hands in the dirt is often far separated from the work involved processing the harvest.
So what can you do with all of the vegetables?
The worst choice is to let them go to waste. You’re far better off doing something with the vegetables you harvest than letting them grow old and unusable. Thus, if you’re unable or have no desire to do anything with the vegetables, consider one of the first options on the list below.
Here are seven methods my family uses for dealing with the abundance of a large garden harvest.
Eat it fresh – go vegetarian.
There’s truly no better time to dabble in a vegetable-heavy diet than when fresh vegetables are coming in out of the garden. Just eat them, as many as you can!
It’s surprisingly easy to find creative and tasty ways to use an abundance of vegetables. Slice up cucumbers and onions and put them in a bowl of water with a bit of vinegar mixed in and some salt and pepper available and just leave them out on the table – you’ll find they quickly become your snack. Prepare dishes using all of the vegetables you’re bringing in – go beyond salads to preparing things like tomato pie. Slice zucchini and squash, dip them in olive oil, and grill them.
The possibilities are endless. Try going vegetarian – or almost vegetarian – and sock those veggies away. They’re good for you – and in a few months, you’ll wish you had all of those fresh veggies again.
Give it away.
If you have extra produce, give it away. Give it to your friends. Give it to your neighbors. Give it to the local food pantry. Leave it on the doorstep of families that could use the food.
This is the simplest way to handle the produce – and it has its own benefits as well. First, it provides a great opportunity for social interaction as well as a chance to get to know the people around you. After all, if you’re giving vegetables to your neighbors, there’s a perfect chance to have a conversation and build a relationship a bit. Second, it simply feels good to donate food to people who truly need it.
Yes, bust out the ol’ food dehydrator. It enables you to take garden-fresh fruits and vegetables and put them into a form where they can be stored dry. This works really well for some items, like tomatoes, but not as well for others. You can also dry them outside on a screen, if you’d like.
The advantage of this method is that dried fruits and vegetables are incredibly easy to store while also being very flexible in terms of consumption and cooking. The work to dry them is also quite passive – you mostly just let them sit. The disadvantage, though, is that it requires some equipment to dry (you either need a screen to do it in the sun or a food dehydrator).
Drive around Iowa in the middle of August and you’ll see countless roadside stands with people selling corn and other vegetables, and the farmers markets are loaded with people selling produce. Similarly, August seems to be the month when people really buy these things by the ton – you’ll always see people at the sweet corn stands, buying a dozen ears.
Perhaps the best tactic I’ve seen was a large pile of corn in front of an old farmhouse. The sign said “Peaches and Cream Sweet Corn Here!” I wandered over, only to find that there was simply a box with a slot on top with a sign attached that said, “Take what you need. Pay what you can.” I dropped in a five and took a dozen ears. This is a great way for them to get rid of their excess corn, giving to people who need it and selling to people who can afford it without a ton of additional effort.
If you have a large freezer, many vegetables can easily be frozen for a few months, particularly if you just intend to use them as ingredients in other dishes. Freezing vegetables is incredibly easy – just soak them in water for an hour, dry the surface, spread them out on a baking sheet, and stick them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they’re frozen, put the whole veggies right into bags or other storage containers.
Obviously, the big requirement here is a freezer for long-term storage. Without a large freezer, vegetable freezing isn’t really an option. Another drawback with this solution is that vegetables last at most several months before beginning to have serious taste and texture degradation, making them unusable.
Still, you’ll find quite a few vegetables in our own freezer. We make sure to use these frozen vegetables during the following winter so stale veggies don’t build up.
Have a party.
You’ve got a harvest, so why not have a harvest party?
Not sure what to do? Boil up fifty ears of corn. Get some cheese, grill the tomatoes, and put a bit of cheese on each one. Use the cucumbers and onions idea from earlier in the article and make a giant bowl. Slice zucchini and squash, rub them in olive oil, and grill them. Make coleslaw. Have a gigantic salad bowl.
In other words, use simple techniques to make these vegetables as delicious as you can and share the results with everyone around you. It takes the idea of giving away your vegetables to a whole new level, creating a great social event out of your harvest bounty.
We usually have an abundance of tomatoes and, as a result, we often end up making a lot of different things with the tomatoes: whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, ketchup, tomato jam, salsa, pasta sauce, and so on. Given the acidity of the tomatoes, it’s incredibly easy to can these items without spoiling them – just get some jars and lids, sterilize everything, boil what you’re going to cook, fill up the jars, put rings and lids on them, bathe these in boiling water for half an hour or so, then allow them to sit. When they cool, tap the lids – if they spring back, then eat what’s inside right away – otherwise, they’ll keep for years.
My parents tend to grow acres of tomatoes and put away so much canned tomato items that, frankly, we don’t have to do this ourselves – they give us jars regularly. We intended to can some salsa this year, but we had a disastrous year with our tomatoes and it didn’t quite work out.
Another good idea – if you’re able to can salsa or hot sauce or pasta sauce, the jars can easily be decorated and given as wonderful Christmas gifts. It’s a great thing to give to your neighbors during Christmas season, for one.
These are merely the techniques I’ve used myself in my own life to handle an abundance of garden vegetables. What do you do with yours?