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  Preserving Fruits
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Preserving the Fruits of Your Garden

Got a bumper crop of tomatoes this summer? Are your neighbors hiding when they see you heading their way with a paper sack of zucchini and summer squash? Fresh garden vegetables, herbs and fruit are among the best perks of gardening – but there’s no reason to stop eating the fruits of your labor just because the summer is over.

The fine art of preserving fresh produce from your garden is easy to learn. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be canned, dried, pickled, frozen or made into relish, jams, jellies and preserves. If you’re not sure of the best way to preserve your bounty for winter eating, this guide to preserving can help set you straight.

One of the easiest methods of preserving your garden goods, if you have the freezer space. It’s best for small vegetables and berries or sliced fruits, but should be avoided for leafy vegetables.

Corn: Cut kernels off cobs and spread flat on cookie sheets. Freeze, then store in zippered plastic bags.
Peas: Shell, spread on cookie sheets in freezer. Store in zipped plastic bags.
Berries: Small berries like blueberries and raspberries can be frozen whole. Strawberries can be frozen whole or sliced. (For a special summer treat – freeze whole berries on cookie sheets, then eat straight from the freezer!)

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Drying is best for herbs and legumes. To dry herbs, either spread leaves flat on drying screens, or tie them loosely in bunches and hang upside down in a dry, warm place with good air circulation. Dried beans are great soup starters in the winter. Just spread unshelled beans on drying screens out in the sun till the pods are fully dry. Shell and store beans in paper or plastic bags. If you’re brave, you can try sun-drying tomatoes.

A more common way of drying fruits and vegetables is with a dehydrator, which can be purchased from a kitchen store. Follow the directions with the dehydrator for best results.

There are many different methods of canning, but most depend on heat and sterility. Nearly any kind of vegetable or fruit from your garden can be canned. You’ll need a pot large enough to hold jars of produce, sterile jars and rings. If you do decide to try canning produce, be sure to follow all directions carefully so that you don’t introduce bacteria into the food you’re trying to preserve.

Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Butters
Fruits (and some vegetables) have a natural substance called pectin. It combines with sugar and heat to thicken the fruit syrup when it’s cooked. Generally, the fruit is cooked with sugar and water, with or without spices or other flavorings added, then ladled or poured into jars while still hot for sterilization purposes. You can find recipes for making jams from all sorts of fruits and vegetables in a good cookbook or online. In general, preserves are made with whole fruit, jams crushed, and jellies are strained of all fruit pulp.

Pickles and relishes use salt, vinegar and/or spices to preserve vegetables and fruits in a brine of some sort. We’re most familiar with cucumber pickles, but corn, peppers, melon, onions and many other kinds of fruits or vegetables can be pickled as well!