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Preserving the Garden

 Connie Moorefresh broccoli beets squash

Gardeners for the most part are preservers. The idea of raising a garden begins as a way to eat fresh produce during warm spring, summer and autumn months. But then, there is winter.

As we sat or kneeled over the garden bed, seeds were planted, pint-size tomato and pepper plants dug in and hugged with a hearty helping of soil. Thoughts of those fresh vegetables to come ran through our minds. Just short term gratification. Sliced tomatoes, salads of multicolored greens. Red beets covered in a thick sweet-sour sauce. Peas in butter. Green beans with bacon. Oh, we planned all the right ways to cook and eat the bounty.

cabbage beets onions

About halfway from seed to gathering though, we felt a little urge come upon us to do more. If we eat to our fill, we should fill the freezer with the rest. It will taste even that much better when all thoughts of garden soil and butterflies and bees and green are covered up with white snow and black ice.

So, we go in search of canning jars, lids and rings, freezer bags and boxes. We scrutinize freezer space and move contents of two or three cupboards in search of space for jars of things to come. We search over bookshelves looking for the reliable Ball Blue Book Guide to canning and freezing. Then in the middle of all that, more seeds and tiny plants go into whatever spaces we find outside. Yes, it seems gardeners can get carried away with preserving the garden.

canned goods

Working in a garden though is something to be enjoyed and relished as we see just how things shape up. A stand of orange carrots yielded two white, one yellow and one purple carrot. Tucked away in the freezer, these oddities will spark conversation on a winter’s eve for sure. Beet tops are just wonderful as salad or wilted as spinach might be. Garlic takes two years to grow and does not freeze even in Ohio winters. Cutworms can be stopped from eating through tomatoes with an inverted McDonald’s coffee cup. Sugar snap peas can be cut for a bouquet and will keep producing pea pods for weeks indoors.

Sprouting collards look nothing at all like their mature photos. They’re one of the new items we’re trying. Oh, that’s another thing about gardeners. They seem to love to try new veggies or perhaps heirloom varieties. Heirlooms can be a whole story unto themselves. While researching seeds in general we came across one of the most interesting books about heirloom seeds. Written by Bill Best: Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste can be borrowed from local libraries. It highlights heirloom seeds and the growing heritage of Appalachia. The Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center in Berea, KY can be googled as well as Ohio University Press in Athens, Ohio for more information about the author and book. There many wonderful small personal stories from seed savers from generations past.

One of the best catalogs for seed lovers is the Seed Savers Exchange. They too, include history of the seeds they sell and exchange. Their stock is said to be heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid and non-gmo seeds. Go to their website for more info and to order a catalog.

And finally, there is the preserving of seeds for next year. An argument could be made for why bother. Next year, stores will carry large racks of seeds, all sorted and named and ready to go. Ah, but will they produce the tender, flavorful vegetables and greens you remember from last year? Saving seeds from those plants will not only give you a better chance of getting the same quality, it also saves money and time. For, that is another thing about gardeners. They like to start early. Pots of soil, little tags to indicate what is where fill tables and windowsills. Garden lists, seed catalogs, hopes and ideas laid out for another season of garden preserving.

To Freeze Carrots

Gather carrots that are young, long as your fingers or a bit larger but not big enough to have developed a core. They should be sweet, crisp. Wash well and slice off top green and any thread-size roots. Blanch whole carrots five minutes in boiling water. Remove to cold water and drain. Cool. Pack in freezer type bags or containers. Can be frozen for up to 12 months. To use, either thaw first or add frozen to cooking liquid and add extra time to cook thoroughly.

Fresh Carrot Salad

1 cup grated fresh carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup drained pineapple tidbits
Mayonnaise

In bowl, combine carrots, celery and pecan. Stir well. Add in pineapple and enough mayonnaise to coat. Hint: more carrots can be used and less celery can be used. Find your favorite balance. Just remember the total measurement is two cups.

Buttered Fresh Carrots

Small fresh carrots
3-4 tablespoons butter

Gather very small carrots, from one inch to three. Wash thoroughly and slice off green top and any thread-size roots. Place in skillet with butter and cook over low until tender crisp, turning and stirring often.

 Sweet & Sour Sauce for Carrots

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 cup hot water

In saucepan, melt and brown butter, blend in cornstarch and cook stirring constantly over low heat. Add salt. Combine sugar, vinegar and water and blend into cornstarch mixture. Cooking over low heat, stir until thickened. For sweeter sauce add another teaspoon of sugar. To use — pour hot sauce over 4 cups of hot cooked carrots. Stir to coat well. Serve hot. Some cooks serve these carrots much like sweet & sour beets.