Plan for summer bounty this winter
Sweet summertime! I love the height of summer season — lots of casual dinners and local produce abounds!
As someone who struggles to make healthy eating choices, I find these summer months to provide me with the best opportunities to save money on my grocery bill and be a little kinder to my waistline with more fruits and vegetables on the menu at the same time.
For some of my greener thumbed friends and neighbors, that savings also comes by simply growing their own gardens and in some cases, selling the excess tomatoes, zucchini and other tasty garden treats.
Whether you are like my green thumbed friends and enjoy growing your dinner or are like me and choose to support local produce vendors for your fresh garden fix, this is a great way to save money — and stock up for the less bountiful winter months that loom ahead.
Thanks to canning and freezing, you absolutely can enjoy the summer harvest and keep those food bill savings going even when the mercury drops back below 80 degrees!
Some of my best childhood memories revolve around watching my mother and grandmother can freshly harvested vegetables from the garden, making things like pickles and tomato sauce, which headed to the pantry for the winter months.
These days, I have friends who share their tomato bounty in the form of pasta sauce and salsa and other pickled vegetables.
Need a sweet fix? Try your hand at jams and preserves for a taste of summer year round.
While the process seems a little old fashioned — and in my case, a little over my head— getting started simply requires the right tools and following some basic instructions for food safety and proper canning — to stockpile your pantry with some summer staples.
Head online to find a good canning site (I like www. necooking. com and food.com’s canning tutorials) for a grocery list and directions and get to work! I also recommend a simple search on Pinterest if you are looking for specific ideas for a certain fruit or vegetable! While getting started may take an initial investment — which can be less costly by sharing with friends — once you get started, the cost is fairly minimal.
Tomatoes and cucumbers are top canning candidates but you can get creative and look for ideas for all that squash and zucchini, too!
Consider cooking and flash freezing your fresh corn — I promise you that you will be glad you made the effort when the January frigid temps are here! Canning now will prevent waste of course— who hates to waste all those garden goodies — and will save you money on pantry items you would normally have to pay for in the fall and winter months, when your food bill is already likely to be higher!
If you don’t want to feast on salsa and pickles all winter — not judging if you could, because, well, I absolutely could — virtually all of your favorite winter soup recipes will surely taste better when they are made with freshly picked produce.
Canning your own soup is always going to be more affordable — and less processed — than the canned options you will have in the grocery aisle! Regardless of what you decide to can — be it preserves, pickles or soup, be sure to follow directions closely — especially related to food safety — to avoid bacteria and possible foodbourne illness.
So, as I type this, I can already read the emails from my friends, who like me, may not have the time or patience to undergo the adventures of canning! You can also save money on your food bill with some advance planning and attention to bulk sales this summer!
Nothing cools me off on a hot summer’s day like a handful of frozen tart cherries or grapes right out of my freezer! These tasty treats are always more affordable during the warmer months so when you see a good sale, stockpile them!
Wash them and divide them into single serving freezer bags for a yummy treat. Just a little tip for you, frozen grapes taste like vanilla ice cream!
Other easy to freeze fruits include strawberries, blueberries, peaches and mangos! When grapes and other kid-friendly fruits shoot up in price in the less bountiful winter months, I always have a standby for lunches as well as a quick break from the mid-winter blues!
One often overlooked candidate for summertime stock-ups are the amazing fresh herbs of the season. Dill, basil and cilantro all freeze beautifully and can be grown by even those black thumbed gardeners like yours truly! Use the added sunlight to grow a bouty — I assure you, you will have plenty of herbs to go around — and freeze what you cannot use immediately in that day’s cooking. Fresh dill in February? Yes, please!
Simply mince and put in mini Tupperware containers (or put in snack size baggies for quick portioned cooking later on! Use those fresh herbs to make homemade marinades that you can use to freeze fresh meats like steak and chicken, which almost always seem to be less expensive during the traditional grilling months. Regardless of what you decide to stockpile your freezer with this summer, be sure to label and date all of your frozen items to avoid spoilage from freezer burn! Keep an eye out for the dreaded freezer burn on any of these items — and consume them ASAP as soon as that burn begins to show!
For more tips on what foods to freeze, recipes for foods that freeze well as well as more ideas for freezing techniques, visit bettycrocker.com.
(Editor’s note: Kristine George is a freelance journalist who resides in Easton.)