Wish the season would never end? It doesn’t have to. You can save stellar produce at its peak and let the fruits and vegetables liven up recipes for months to come. Here are our favorite ways to stretch the summer bounty.
Fruits and Vegetables
A low oven temperature concentrates the flavors of summer fruits and vegetables. Use the oven-dried technique for tomatoes, blueberries, and stone fruit such as cherries or plums. For chile peppers, try stringing them into a Mexican ristra: Thread a large piece of twine or fishing wire through a big-eyed needle; knot the bottom. Pierce ripe chiles of a similar size just above the base of their stems. Hang the ristra in a hot, dry place for at least 2 weeks and up to 6 months. (If humidity is an issue, dry chiles in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet in a 200-degree oven for 8 hours.)
Drying is the best technique for sturdy herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. Wrap a piece of kitchen twine around the stems, creating a loop. Hang the bunch, upside down, in a cool, dry place. Most herbs will take from four to ten days to dry. Once they're crisp, pick leaves from stems, and place in a tightly sealed jar. Label and date. Store in a cool, dark place; dried herbs will keep for about six months.
Probably the easiest way to save the season! While some produce, such as green beans and okra, requires pre-cooking, most can be frozen as is. If you have the space, spread your fruits and vegetables out on a baking sheet before freezing. This prevents clumping and makes it much easier to portion out when you're ready to cook. For tomatoes, consider turning them into something delicious before storing up for winter -- tomato puree, water, and confit all keep beautifully in the freezer. And don't forget about fresh herbs! All you have to do is chop basil, mint, or cilantro, add a splash of olive oil, and pour into an ice-cube tray. The frozen flavor bombs will be a lifesaver come winter.
Canning can be intimidating at first. You have to make sure you have the right jar size for the amount of produce, sterilize the jars to prevent food-spoiling bacteria from forming, and depending on the recipe, acquire the equipment for either water-bath canning or pressure canning. However, the results are well worth it -- fruits and vegetables with a yearlong shelf life. Trust us, once you get the hang of canning, it’ll become your new summer tradition. Start with Raw-Pack Tomatoes and Canned Succotash, then move onto all kinds of jams, jellies, and pickles.
Whether want to make traditional fermented pickles or the quick refrigerator variety, we’ve got you covered. While cucumbers may be the first thing that comes to mind (try these classic Dill Pickle Spears or Sour Pickles), we encourage you to experiment. Try pickling anything you’ve got a glut of, such as zucchini, tomatoes, corn, green beans, wax beans, cherry peppers, okra, or peaches; unripe produce, including green tomatoes and green strawberries; watermelon rinds that might otherwise be discarded; or even something as unusual as rose petals.
Make Jams and Jellies
The difference between jam and jelly? Jelly is strained so that there aren’t any pieces of fruit in it. Both our Basic Jam and Basic Jelly don’t require canning and lends themselves well to all kinds of fruits. Don’t be afraid to mix and match -- some of our favorite jam combinations are nectarine-raspberry and peach-plum. If you’re looking for something with an even longer shelf life, try Freezer Jam, which can be made with any summer fruit and stored in, you guessed it, the freezer for up to six months, or make a batch of Canned Plum Jam (follow our nifty step-by-step guide).
Make Shrub Syrups
Before the invention of refrigeration, shrubs, also known as drinking vinegars, were a popular way of preserving fruit, and they’ve had a much-deserved renaissance in recent years. The base calls for making a syrup with fruit, vinegar, and sugar, which lasts for a month (or even longer in our experience) in the fridge. Add a couple splashes of sparkling water, and you’ve got a shrub. Top off with sparkling wine or vermouth, and you’ve got a shim, our summer drink of 2017. Not only is a batch of shrub syrups a great way to showcase summer fruits, but it also means you’re set for cocktail hour. Our versions add fresh herbs to the mix for a hint of savoriness: blackberry-and-sage, strawberry-and-tarragon, and peach-and-bay laurel.
Watch our Kitchen Conundrums expert Thomas Joseph demonstrate his favorite ways to save summer fruit: