Unplanned Food Preservation Day

001Oh, y’all. Oh, my. Food preservation can become a full time job. I am almost dreading tomato season…

We asked for some help last weekend with heavy weeding and some clean-up/fixing of the last ugly spot in our yard which is the side yard by the composter that leads out to the area we store our trash can, recycle bin, and city compost bin. It is a horrible spot we haven’t devoted a lot of time to, and it is also a very muddy area of the house because the neighbor’s gutters are basically draining over to our side of things in that spot. We had a path there that was never great to begin with because of tree-root issues and a lot of mud slung itself over everything. Add in that it is a favorite spot for the dogs to dig holes, and that the previous owners had bolted a set of open shelves to the side of the house and it finally rotted and basically broke and fell apart, but somehow still clung tenaciously and somewhat drunkenly to the siding, and you had one hideous disaster of a side yard. Well! Heidi and Laurel (all of our yard helpers are women – girl power!) made short work of it. There is a pile of debris which will be hauled off soon, the path has been pulled up in spots and some pea-gravel has been raked smooth (update! dogs already dug two holes but it still looks better than it ever has), the ground has been leveled off significantly, and the weeds have been ruthlessly yanked out. The other thing they did was trim our Concord grape vines so you don’t get smacked in the face as you walk by. I asked them not to put the vines in the compost bin because I wanted to harvest the leaves so I could make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) with them later. I clipped a bunch of leaves and brought them into the house…but then realized I would have to deal with them sooner rather than later because leaves really don’t store well for any length of time. They just dry out and become brittle, brown, and unusable. So I ended up spending a lot of time cleaning, blanching, and trimming them so that I could get them in the freezer. It ended up kicking off a food preservation afternoon and I’m not going to lie. I was pretty exhausted afterwards.

After dealing with the 110 grape leaves* I decided to harvest my escarole because it was starting to reach a point where it was going to spoil out there. So I harvested, cleaned, chopped, blanched, and froze that. Then I spent time harvesting strawberries, by far the least labor intensive thing of the day. I washed and hulled them, then froze them on a tray. Once they were frozen solid I slipped them into a plastic bag. Since I plan to use the berries in some kind of canning project (jam or preserves) I was careful to measure exactly how many pounds I had before freezing them. I was very excited to have two pounds on my hands! One more pound and I’ll be in jam/preserve making business. Next up (soon) will be to harvest beets and purple snow peas. I’ve already decided to preserve the beets, however we will be eating the greens right away. Turns out greens preservation is not my favorite thing. The snow peas… I’m not sure. We might eat them quickly, but I might freeze them for a stir fry later. Depends on what life throws our way…

Blanching grape leaves.

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Trimming grape leaves.

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110 Grape leaves blanched, blotted dry, stems trimmed, and stacked in neat piles by size.

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Harvested escarole.

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Blanching chopped escarole.

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Drying escarole.

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Neat little bags of escarole ready to go into the freezer which will eventually make its way into some soup this winter.

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Weighing strawberries. Two pounds!

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Laying out (washed and hulled) strawberries on a pizza pan to freeze. After the berries freeze transfer them to a freezer bag and label.

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And of course I need to give credit to my trusty kitchen helpers!

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* Sorry no pictures of how I froze the grape leaves! After blanching and trimming the grape leaves I separated them by size. Then I rolled them up tight;y, like a cigar, in stacks of about a dozen. Then I wrap each “cigar” tightly in plastic wrap. I then place the plastic wrapped “cigars” into a freezer bag, push out as much air as I can before sealing it, label it, and finally tuck it into the freezer. There is nothing like using fresh grape leaves for dolmas. They are so much more tender and tasty than the ones you buy that are packed in brine. It was a huge pain in the butt to do, but it is so very worth it! At some point in the future I will post my dolmas recipe which is very simple (olive oil, onion, fresh dill, lemon juice, and a bit of salt) and also gluten free, and vegan.

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