Look, it’s the end of summer, and once again farmers markets are overflowing with locally grown goodness. Those farmers have been working pretty hard all year too — they need to sock away some money for the winter, to live on, and to get the ball rolling again next spring. Some farmers have lost thousands of dollars worth of tomatoes, a crucial cash crop, to this year’s widespread tomato blight.
So here’s your assignment for the week. Take an extra $20, $30, or $40, and head out to a green market. Spend it on food that you can freeze, dry, can, or otherwise preserve for the lean months. Clear all the mystery packets out of your freezer, and get ready to fill it — not only will you have greener eats into the winter but your fridge will also use significantly less energy when it is full.
Of course, many fruits and vegetables are easy to freeze — I like to fill plastic takeout containers with blueberries, raspberries, and sliced peaches. They’re ready to go into smoothies — (no need to add ice), or you can heat lightly in a pan with a bit of honey, cinnamon, or whatever appeals, and eat with waffles, French toast, and pancakes.
Many veggies freeze well and are cheaper — and better tasting — to do yourself. Cauliflower and broccoli need to be blanched — immersed briefly in boiling water — which is a bit of a pain, but worth it if you find the idea of frozen broccoli shipped from China as disturbing as I do.
If you’re willing to cook a bit, toss diced tomatoes in a pan with a little olive oil and salt. Add garlic, onions, basil, whatever you like, and let it simmer for a bit, cool, then freeze in repurposed takeout containers. Tomato sauce! With the addition of eggplant, peppers, zucchini and/or summer squash you’ll have ratatouille, which you can eat later as is, or turn into the base for a soup or stew.
Fresh herbs—and some leafy greens—make great pestos that you can use on pasta, in soup, with eggs, spread on bread/pizzas, and a million other ways. The classic Genovese puree is basil, with olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts, but cilantro, spinach, arugula, and parsley can also be pesto-fied. Spinach or cilantro pesto whisked into coconut milk makes an earth-shatteringly good noodle sauce: just add some tofu or seitan and sautéed veggies (how about some of that frozen broccoli?).
Puree with just olive oil for an all-purpose base, or try walnuts in place of pine nuts for a change. Freeze in smallish containers, and you’ll have a cheap local alternative to fancy prepared sauces.
Drying food is another easy project — fresh herbs that are $1 or $2 a bunch end up costing far more once they’re dried and packaged. Grab bunches of all your favorites, wash well and spread on a clean towel in a cool spot, or hang bunches from a shelf or hook. Once dry remove woody stems and pack loosely in a glass jar. Ta da! Now you’re ready for winter.
For a quick guide to canning, check out The Objector's Canning 101.