Daylight strengthens and lengthens, slow and steady. Sitting at my desk in the early morning, I watch a fox scurry across the field, through the cedar swamp, and into the woods. It’s always a treat to catch a fox sighting. I was thankful for my tardiness in opening the chicken coop on this day.
February asked very little of us. Things felt quite and restful. There was plenty of desk-work countered by plenty of physical activity, which makes the desk-work portion of things more tolerable. I can’t recall a single whopper of a snowstorm this year, yet somehow our camp chairs are nearly buried. I keep saying this winter feels so gentle, but looking at the snow covered four foot tall chairs, I wonder if other beings feel differently than me.
Seed starting will begin in earnest soon and that has brought me to a place of final reflection on 2020’s garden and harvest. Mostly in terms of preservation. Everyone has their own thing they doubled down on in 2020, mine was food preservation (and perfecting homemade pizza). I was particularly interested in storing a wide variety for the long winter, knowing we’d likely still be hunkered down due to virus restrictions. I thought variety would help keep things interesting. It did! But as these things go, I may have been a little overzealous and perhaps too experimental in some areas. Let's review.
This overview will not include the perennial staples we preserve and store every year: potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash, peas, corn, green beans, salsa, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, relish, peaches, apples, pears, shredded zucchini, berries + a myriad of berry products, cabbage, kraut, applesauce, kale... I’m sure there is more I’m forgetting.
Let’s get to the new things preserved in 2020, and discuss if they will be making the preservation cut moving forward.
Jalapeño Poppers, Eggs, Roasted Juliet Tomatoes, Canned Green Beans & Potatoes
Newly Preserved in 2020
Jalapeño Poppers - We made a test batch of these early in the season with young peppers and they were amazing. Then I let the remaining peppers continue to grow and hang on the vine for the rest of the season, hoping to do one massive batch in the fall, which we did. Then about a week later we took some out of the freezer to sample, and the peppers were so hot they hurt. The filling was delicious, but the peppers were inedible to us. I don't normally grow hot peppers, so I did a little reading and learned as hot peppers mature, the heat intensifies. Those early summer peppers were just babies on the heat index!
Repeat? Not sure. There is a pepper out there called Notapeno that has all the appearance and flavor of a jalapeño, without the heat, maybe that’s more our speed. The filling was excellent though and they were fun and convienent.
Frozen Eggs - I like to keep a few first year layers in our flock, so running the risk of no eggs in winter is not a concern. Maybe freezing eggs was just a 2020 thing. Mostly I did it to feed back to the chickens; they enjoy a warm winter treat of scrambled eggs cooked in lard.
Repeat? Yes. A handful of quarts is plenty.
Roasted Juliet Tomatoes - I picked up this idea from Crystal over at Whole Fed Homestead and holy heck these are wonderful. To be honest I’m not as smitten as most are with the Juliet tomato for fresh eating, but this application is divine and we love them as winter pizza toppings, in risotto, or tossed into pesto-cream pasta.
Repeat? Yes! Might even increase the amount we roast/freeze.
Canned Green Beans & Potatoes (single jar combo) - I’ve seen quite a few people doing this and it looked like a handy combo to keep on the shelf. Honestly canned veggies are not our thing but I do see value in keeping a small selection of jars in stock. This sort of item is considered emergency food for us. I did just one canner full (seven quarts) and it will probably last us three years. A jar here and there during power outages and that’s about it.
Repeat? Yes. But it will be some time before we need to replenish.
Peach BBQ Sauce, Zucchini Fritters, Canned Chicken, Breaded Summer Squash
Canned Chicken - Another thing that is handy to have for emergencies, so I do see value in it, but it is not our go-to for chicken. The two of canners I did will be plenty for a couple years at least.
Repeat? Yes. When needed, to keep a small inventory on hand for emergencies.
Canned Corn - This was another 2020 thing. I never can corn, but last year I did. Haven’t even tried it yet, but I do like knowing it is on the shelf. We prefer frozen corn to canned if given the choice.
Repeat? Probably. Can’t think of a reason not to keep a few jars on hand for emergnecies. It will be a few years before we need to replenish.
Vanilla Pear Butter - Heavenly. The house smells amazing when making it, and the flavors softly deepens in storage. It is a little specific in that it does not pair that well with meats or yogurt like so many fruity things do. It really just wants to be served on a hot biscuit with butter. I will pay careful attention next time I make it so I can share a recipe.
Fermented Cherry Tomatoes - Super delicious with a champagne-like effervescence, but they sort of disintegrated quickly, leaving you with mostly tomato skins to enjoy if you wait too long to get through them. Very good though in those early freshly fermented days.
Repeat? Maybe a quart or two for fun atumn eating, but won’t carry them into winter.
Pickled Mixed Vegetables, Fresh Herbs - Frozen, Frozen Cauliflower, Fermented Cherry Tomatoes
Peach BBQ Sauce - I wasn’t sure how much of this we’d use, but we’ve come to use it quite frequently on pizza. We toss cooked chicken in the sauce and use it as a topping along side bacon, mozzarella, and creamy homemade ranch dip for the pizza sauce. It has become our favorite winter pizza combo.
Zucchini Fritters - Another 2020 thing. They're fine, and they cook up great in some lard/cast iron, but not really worth the time and effort it takes to prepare them in summer. It didn’t feel high value enough to plan on spending time next summer making them.
Repeat? No, not for the freezer. We’ll still enjoy them a few times in summer, but I won’t go into production making dozens.
Frozen Celery - What a handy little thing this is. It does seem to brown a little, but I prefer it to dehydrating for quick additions to soups and stews. Retains flavor really well. Does not stay perfectly crisp when thawed so don't expect that, but if using for cooking, works great.
Repeat? Yes. Can’t believe I waited so long to try freezing celery.
Pickled Mixed Vegetables - Well, we haven’t cracked open a jar of these yet so I guess that’s an indication whether I’ll make them or not. I guess we just prefer fermented veg to canned/pickled. Another one that can be chalked up to overly ambitous 2020 food preservation.
Repeat? Not likely.
Breaded Zucchini/Summer Squash (frozen) - Repeat caption from Zucchini Fritters. Not high value enough to devote precious time to in summer. They are good though!
Frozen Broccoli - We’ve frozen broccoli before, but never quite to the scale we did last year. I do a very quick blanch to prepare for freezing, which seems to be enough, but does not make for mushy spears. They are tender though, which we like. Passs the butter.
Repeat? Yes. Especially in the quanity we put up. It’s been great to have so much broccoli in the freezer this winter.
Frozen Cauliflower - Same as broccoli. Grew more than ever, froze more than ever, delighted in every spear of roasted cauliflower and baked au gratin this winter.
Fresh Herbs, Frozen - This was a fun experiment. I froze a variety of herbs that to me, don't dry that well. Chives, cilantro, parsley. I have loved sprinkling fresh (sort of) chives over baked potatoes! Also froze a special Scarborough Fair blend of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. These all dry perfectly fine, but it's nice to freeze some for adding a fresh green finish to stews and roasts. Herbs just need to be chopped and frozen. Works best to use hard sided containers rather than a freezer bag.
Frozen Mixed Vegetables - The darling of my 2020 preservation efforts. My favorite part was that it comes together throughout several months: peas, corn, green beans head to the freezer as usual, when they are harvested, then you just prepare the carrot element when you can (I didn’t get to it until after Thanksgiving), and mix everything together. To prep carrots I diced, blanched (they can handle a longer blanching than most veg), ice bath, drained, flash froze on baking sheet. Then, working quickly, I dumped all of the frozen items into one big bowl, mixed it up, then refilled the bags everything was already in. You’ll need and extra bag or two to accommodate fo the addition of carrots. These have been great for shepherd’s pie, soups, and as a buttery side dish. We love them.
Repeat? Yes! These are a top must-make item moving forward.
I’m glad to have tried so many new things last year, we made some great discoveries! I’m also glad we did not love everything, because it means I will not be carrying the work of this entire list into the next growing season. Cheers to the year garden and harvest season ahead!