Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: food storage

Frugal Friday: Preserving Peppers

We’ve been busy as ever working the gardens, harvesting and selling what we can. Last week the Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market (which got an excellent write-up in the St. Louis Post Dispatch a few weeks ago) got rained out after an hour and a half, and we found ourselves with a ton of peppers (and tomatoes, but that’s a post for another day) on our hands. We’ve pickled peppers before but we just don’t use them often enough to justify all the work.

So we decided to freeze our extra peppers. It’s really the easiest way to preserve them. All you have to do is rinse, de-seed, and chop them before tossing into resealable bags. It helps to have a big enough bag that you can spread them all out in one layer, then store flat or roll the bag up to conserve freezer space.

We ended up with 3 gallon-size bags of peppers, mostly sweet banana but also some hot banana peppers. Once frozen they won’t be good raw, but we’ll throw them into stir fries, egg dishes like omelettes and quiches, and Mexican dishes throughout the winter.

We also roasted some peppers, by de-seeding and halving them before broiling them in the oven for 15 minutes, until the skins blackened. After cooling, the skins are easy to remove- more so in the meatier bell peppers than the thinner banana peppers. We have one serving in a plastic container in the fridge and one in the freezer to enjoy later.

As for our jalapeños and cayenne peppers, we’ve got big plans- dehydrate, crush into a powder, and use as seasoning… better than hot sauce when you don’t want the vinegar-y taste. We’ve already exhausted our supply of hot pepper powder from last year!


Frugal Friday: Alternative Methods for Preserving Peaches

We’re super lucky to have access to a highly productive peach tree this year, thanks to the owners of one of our new garden spaces. With all their friends and neighbors invited to pick peaches from the tree, there were still loads to be picked! We took more than we could eat fresh and wanted to preserve the rest… the only problem? We were out of canning jars.

So how can you preserve peaches without having to can them? We figured out quite a few great options!

1. Freezing.

One of the easiest ways is freezing.  It seems like most people prefer to peel their peaches before baking with them or freezing them. You can do this by dropping them in boiling water for a couple minutes, then running under cold water- the skin should slip right off (we do the same for tomatoes). However, our peaches weren’t uniformly ripe and didn’t always peel easily, so we just left some of the skins on- the texture didn’t bother us. Either way, remove the pits and slice the peaches, then place them on a baking sheet in the freezer so they can freeze individually- otherwise you’ll end up with a mass of frozen peach that you have to chip away at. Once frozen on the sheet you can transfer them to a container in the freezer. We’ve been using them in smoothies and instead of ice cubes in juices and drinks (they’re especially great in mimosas!).

2. Sorbet, sherbet, or ice cream. 

I do think that the peaches lost some of their flavor in the freezing process, so after my first batch, I decided instead to try to enhance the flavor by making peach sorbet. I pureed some peach slices in a blender and added sugar, vanilla, and a bit of non-dairy coconut creamer. Then I added the mixture to my ice cream maker and waited for it to become the right consistency. It didn’t make it past the slush stage, but I grew up on Philly water ice so it was fine for me! There are loads of recipes for peach sorbet, sherbet, and ice cream on the internet that could get you better results…

3. Dehydrating.

Turns out my favorite way is dehydration- the peach flavor is better preserved. I didn’t bother peeling, I just removed the pits and sliced the peaches thin, then used our electric dehydrator. (In the future we hope to have a solar dehydrator!) You can also do this in the oven at the lowest temperature for several hours, placing the fruit on a wire rack over a baking sheet so the heat can flow around and under all the pieces. I’ve been snacking on the dried peaches on their own and also adding them to my granola.

4. Infusing Alcohol.

Did I say dehydrating was my favorite preservation method? I take that back. We infused about 1/4 of a bottle of our favorite locally-distilled, environmentally-friendly vodka with some peach slices by letting them sit at the bottom of the bottle for a couple of weeks. After straining the fruit out, we were left with a deliciously smooth, subtle peach vodka, and some seriously strong vodka-infused peaches. Both made some tasty summer drinks!

Do you have any other alternative methods for preserving peaches or other fruit? We’d love to know!

Frugal Friday: Oven-Dried Tomatoes

We picked our last harvest of yellow cherry and pear tomatoes in mid-December. Many of them were still green, so they sat in a paper bag and kind of ripened on their own with their natural release of ethylene (adding apples or bananas is supposed to help). To preserve our tomato harvest, we popped some of the ripened ones in our oven at the lowest temperature (170°F) to make oven-dried tomatoes.

yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

We cut them in half and put them on wire racks over baking pans to allow heat to circulate underneath.

After several hours…

oven-dried tomatoes

We checked the tomatoes regularly and removed them individually when done- smaller tomatoes dried more quickly.

This can also be done in an electric dehydrator, or, even better, a solar dehydrator like the one Maya Creek has. We’re storing the dried tomatoes in a small jar of olive oil in the fridge. They’re wonderful tossed in our pastas or topping our homemade pizzas, and so much cheaper than store bought sun-dried tomatoes!

oven dried tomatoes

More Pickling

Last week we found ourselves with way too many beets and cucumbers to eat, so it was time to get serous about preserving our abundance. Like cucumbers, pickling beets is really easy and the results are so good You’ll want to cook them first, either by steaming or roasting. We’ve tried both ways but usually just cut them in half and steam ’em. Don’t worry about peeling the skins, you’ll be able to remove them easily after the beets are cooked.

While your beets are steaming, prepare the brine in a separate stock pot. We boil 1 part water with 1 part vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is our favorite, but it gets pricey so this time we used half white vinegar and half balsamic. Apple cider vinegar is good too. You can also add brown sugar, cinnamon, or cloves.

After your beets are cooked, cool them under water and slide the skins off with your fingers or a butter knife. It should be fairly easy to do, but it does take a little time. Then slice your beets and pack in your sterilized jars.

Ladle your boiling brine in up to 1/4″ of the top of each jar, wipe the mouth with a damp paper towel to ensure a good seal, and tap against a surface to dislodge any air bubbles (some people prefer to scrape a non-metallic spatula around the inside). Close them up and process in your boiling water bath for about 10 minutes.

Once removed, allow to cool before moving to a cool, dark place (we use the basement). You should hear delightful little plinks when the seals form as the contents of the jars cool down. You’ll know they’re sealed when the lid is depressed and doesn’t pop up when you press it.

pickles pickles picklesLooks like we have enough pickled cucumbers to last us through the winter, but we’ll definitely need more pickled beets… we love them on salads and straight out of the jar. Good thing we’re planting more beets at Dave’s place!

Frugal Friday: Sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts make a great, crunchy addition to our salads, sandwiches, and wraps, but they only rarely made it onto the grocery list because they’re a bit pricy at the store. Fortunately, we happened to find a pack of alfalfa seeds for about the same price as a container of the sprouts. Here’s how to grow your own alfalfa sprouts from seed:

All you need is a large glass jar, bleach, a cheesecloth or mesh material, a rubber band, an extra towel, and a few days.  The seeds should be kept away from sunlight throughout the process until the very end. 1  1/2 T. of alfalfa seed will yield a large jar’s worth of sprouts!

  1. Place 1 1/2 T. of alfalfa seed in your jar, then soak the seeds in a diluted bleach bath- 1 tsp. bleach in 1 c. hot water for 15 minutes (apparently the seeds can carry E. coli if not disinfected).  Cover the jar with a cheesecloth or mesh material secured with a rubber band instead of the lid.
  2. After soaking, rinse and drain the seeds thoroughly- fill the jar with water, swirl it, then drain completely at least 3 times (the cheesecloth or mesh should strain the water out while your seeds stay in).
  3. Fill the jar with water about 3x the height of your seeds and allow to soak overnight, 8 – 12 hours. Cover the jar with a towel to prevent any light exposure.
  4. Next rinse the seeds, drain the water, and rotate the jar so the seeds spread out and stick to the sides. Then cover with your towel and prop at an angle to promote drainage, and let sit for 3 – 4 hours.
  5. Repeat step 4 three times a day.
  6. Your sprouts should be ready to harvest within 4 – 6 days, when they are about 1 – 2 inches long. Before harvesting, let the jar sit in indirect sunlight so the sprouts will produce chlorophyll and turn green. 
  7. Then rinse, drain, and allow to dry before storing in a closed container in the fridge. Ours have kept for over a week when dried out completely in the salad spinner, though you do lose a few sprouts that way.

  Day 2  

End of Day 1                              End of Day 2                           End of Day 3

End of Day 4, Greening

Frugal Friday: Bread bread bread

As you can tell by our fresh herb bread recipe last post, we tend to make two loaves at a time- because, really, who wants to put in that much time to end up with one loaf? But sometimes at the end of the week (if we haven’t frozen the extra loaf) we end up with bread that’s not so fresh. What to do with our delicious-but-slightly-stale bounty? There are a number of easy and tasty ways to use up your extra bread.

Make your own croutons: Pre-heat your oven to 375° F. Cut your bread into cubes and spread them out on a baking sheet. Lightly spray with oil and season to your liking- I like to sprinkle on a little salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning the croutons halfway through. Your croutons are done when they’re lightly toasted and completely dried out.  Allow to cool and store in a sealed container for up to a week.

Make your own bread crumbs: Follow the same steps as the crouton recipe above. Once cooled, transfer the croutons into a sealable plastic bag, wrap in a towel, and crush/beat with a rolling pin on a sturdy surface until all the croutons have been reduced to your desired texture. You can also do this in a blender or a food processor, but what’s the fun in that? Keep your breadcrumbs in the bag or in another sealed container for up to a week, or you can freeze them for future use!

Other recipes: You can find lots of bread pudding recipes online, and slightly-stale bread is perfect for French toast (our favorite vegan recipe here). Or if you’re going for something more savory, try making a strata (if we’re lucky, Eric’s sister might share her tasty recipe…) The possibilities are endless!

Frugal Friday: Food Currency

Generally, in order to procure a product you must input time and/or money.  As you well know, Eric and I tend to spend more time than money by scavenging and buying things second-hand. We’re growing more food this year than we ever have, but we’ll still have to rely on other sources for food. At the farmers’ markets and grocery stores we focus on buying ingredients in their most whole stages, which lessens our monetary loss by taking on a greater commitment of time.

Popcorn is one of the best examples of reversed food currency. According to the EPA, the United States is the largest producer of corn in the world. I could write an entire book on the backward system of corn production in our country, but I’ll leave that for another time. For now, I’ll just say that you can buy popping corn by the pound (and organic, too) for about the price of a box of 3 microwave pouches.  Not to mention you can pop just enough for a single serving, and you’re not subject to all the added salt and fat in many commercial brands. 

All you have to do is heat up a little canola oil in a pan, add the corn kernels, then cover and cook over low-to-medium heat, moving the pan a bit to keep the corn from burning. Altogether, it takes less time than the 3 minutes it takes in the microwave, and you have a cheaper, healthier snack.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of making a tray of granola every Sunday to give myself a week’s worth of breakfasts, way cheaper than a box or two of cereal. I’ve posted my recipe here for anyone who’s interested.