The slow vegetable drip
July 29, 2013 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Our garden is happily producing vegetables for us, and I want to take some of this fresh, homegrown produce and preserve it. However, we're not getting large enough batches of produce to actually can or pickle. How do I work around this?

We've got tomatoes for sauce, cukes for dill pickles, and a bunch of other veggies that I want to either vinegar-pickle or otherwise preserve. The problem is that I can never harvest enough at one time to get a large enough quantity to do anything with. For example, after the initial glut of green beans were picked we're now getting about a dozen beans per day - not enough to stuff into a jar, and not really enough to make a meal out of each day. I've been saving the beans in the fridge, but by the time we have a sufficient amount the beans I picked several days ago have gone soft floppy. Similarly, I've got banana peppers maturing but only one or two every couple days; I want to pickle those but can't harvest enough all at once to fill a jar.

How do I deal with this slow trickle of vegetables? Is it possible, for example, to set up a brine for the cucumbers to do a natural pickle and just drop them in the brine as they come out of the garden? Something like a vegetable rumtopf? Cold storage until there's enough to fill the pickling crock?

This is our first season actually getting any kind of harvest from the garden, so I've never had to deal with this before.
posted by backseatpilot to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The beans will freeze nicely in freezer bags, just pick and add to the bag. You can blanche them first, then freeze on a cookie sheet until frosty, then pop in a bag.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mixed pickle!

(the exact recipe will depend on what you've got, but you'll find lots of recipes online from all over the world, and I guess if you don't have everything you need you could always cheat a little and buy a cauliflower or something..)
posted by Ahab at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

chowchow is another name for the "throw a bunch of stuff together and make a relish out of it" (relish/pickle/"veggies canned and preserved in vinegar") (It appears under "see also" of Ahab's mixed pickle link)

I'd also second the blanch-and-freeze method.

How many plants do you have in the garden ? It sounds like you're picking regularly, which is good (helps the plants keep producing). Are you pinching any buds ? (eg peppers and eggplant -- I pinch the first few blossoms, because that causes a lot more growth [less energy going to the fruit], which means I get a dozen or more peppers all at once, only later in the season).. I also wait until the end of the season for making pickled peppers/pepper jelly, since I can use smaller fruit for that, etc.
posted by k5.user at 12:40 PM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: How do I deal with this slow trickle of vegetables? Is it possible, for example, to set up a brine for the cucumbers to do a natural pickle and just drop them in the brine as they come out of the garden?

Absolutely! The search term you need is "small batch preserving." "Quick pickles" or "fresh pickles" will also give you some good results. A great resource for this sort of thing is Marisa McClellan's awesome blog, Food in Jars (she also has a book of the same name). Many of her recipes are specifically for small batches. Her recipe for garlic dill refrigerator pickles is particularly fantastic -- I use it for cukes, hot peppers, and green beans and haven't even thought about using any other recipe since I found it.

Ultimately, you'll just need a 1:1 mixture of vinegar (white vinegar if you want to preserve the bright green color and super-pungent pickle taste, apple cider if slight discoloration/milder flavor is OK) and water along with pickling salt and dill, some black peppercorns and mustard seeds, hot pepper flakes if you like your pickles to be spicy, and a clove or two of garlic.

For a small batch, whip up some brine on the stove, grab a jar and add whatever vegetables you have on hand, pour the hot brine over them, cap the jar and stick in the fridge, and add new vegetables as your garden's pace allows. It will take a while longer for the flavor to infuse since the brine will be chilling in the fridge -- maybe 1-2 weeks for cold brine as opposed to 48 hours for heated brine -- but you will definitely have pickles. Make sure to rinse/wash the vegetables thoroughly before you add them to the jar. You can also briefly blanch them before adding them to the brine to help them take up flavor more quickly.

For tomatoes, just stick them in a freezer bag or cut them in half and dry them in your oven (set at 250F, it will take anywhere from 2-8 hours depending on the size of the tomatoes). Enjoy your harvest!
posted by divined by radio at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

You could also try your hand at fermenting pickles - they just go along, and you can add to the pickle as it goes. More info on the incomparable Sandor Katz blog.
We've been doing this with 1-gallon jars (bars get olive and cherries in them, have your favorite bartender save one or two for you) - then we punch a hole the right size for the airlock (found at beer-making supply stores), weight down the mix with a clean rock or bag of water (similar to the brine, so if it leaks it's okay).
In 2-4 weeks - pickley stuff! We've done rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and cucumbers this way, in addition to cabbage.
The nice thing is, fermented food keeps the good biota alive (your gut will love you for that), and it stays crisp and crunchy!
posted by dbmcd at 3:28 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tomatoes you can just throw whole in the freezer to freeze until you have enough to make sauce to can, you don't even need to blanch them and it makes them super easy to peel. Other veggies you can just throw in the freezer until you have enough are peppers. Blanching is only needed for them if you plan on freezing them for months on end. I also freeze unblanched cups of grated zucchini, super handy for making zucchini bread in a hurry or chucking in stir fries.

A dehydrator is great when you have a hodge podge of veggies. as you can dry a few at a time and have more than one sort drying. I cut and dry tomatoes all the time, when leathery I store them in the fridge they are great tossed in pasta.

I do tiny batches of pickles, I'm talking 1 jar batches to can, but it also works with fridge pickles. The Food in Jars website is great for ideas for this as she is all about small batch preserving. I like to do mixed pickles and just throw a day or 2's veg into a pickle mix if I don't think I'm going to eat it. Also remember you can preserve in small jars, I often make tiny pint or half pint jars of pickles or relishes, it doesn't take many tomatoes to fill a wide mouthed pint jar and you don't need a huge canning pot to process them in.
posted by wwax at 6:20 PM on July 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I am planning to do some wild fermentation - I got a pickling crock, I just wasn't sure if I could get it set up and just throw vegetables in it as I pick them. How do you keep track of which pieces have been in there for long enough? I may try freezing things as they come out of the garden until I have enough to fill the crock.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:47 PM on July 31, 2013

« Older How do I connect PC/TV/Surround sound so they all...   |   What comes after dropping out of a surgical... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.