Locavore Lore: Savor the flavors a little longer

Put away food for the winter

Jul 28, 2010 at 5:00 am
Locavore Lore: Savor the flavors a little longer


Some things should only be enjoyed at certain times of the year. Pumpkin pie, eggnog and tanning fit into this category. Also, tomato sandwiches. Let’s talk about ’mater sammiches. In the summer, when tomatoes are ripe, there is nothing better than a well-seasoned tomato sandwich. You know what I’m talking about — the kind of juicy sandwich where you practically have to stand over the sink to eat it. Out of season, who would ever think of making this simple culinary creation? And really, who would want to? In the off-months, they tend to taste more like Styrofoam with a hint of tomato flavor.

That said, time is running out this year — if you haven’t had one yet this season, you best get to it. In season, a tomato is juicy and flavorful and has a distinct grassy aroma that you can smell from the outside. Its flavor is slightly acidic and sweet. It is not something that can be replicated when picked 1,000 miles away and chemically ripened — all whilst being shipped on refrigerated trucks. (FYI: Refrigerating tomatoes dulls their flavor and makes them mealy.)

My point is not that you should gorge yourself on these flavorful delicacies (although there are worse ideas), but that nothing compares to the taste and quality of freshly picked seasonal produce. My advice? “Put away” food whenever you can.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Right now, farmers have a bounty of perishable crops with a limited shelf life. But you can buy tomatoes on their deathbeds and breathe new life into them by making salsa, tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. It may not be as great as the “real thing,” but it will all be better than anything you get from a can.

This concept of storing fresh food for a later day is not limited to tomatoes — the same goes for greens, herbs, hot peppers, fruits and cucumbers.

Whether you have excess food from your garden or CSA, or simply want to stock up on local food while you can, there are numerous ways to extend the life of full-flavored produce so it can be enjoyed long after its season.

Putting food away is not just limited to canning — freezing, dehydrating and other storage methods are great options. Here are some secrets for storing local food:

Fresh Herbs
First, you don’t have to be an accomplished gardener to grow fresh herbs. Basil, in particular, bushes out when you clip from the top, and a single plant can easily provide the average person with enough basil to last a year. But if you aren’t inclined to grow your own, you can easily find basil, dill, parsley, cilantro and an array of other herbs at farmers markets and grocery stores. Although available at supermarkets year-round, they are significantly less expensive in season.

To freeze, chop your herbs and place them inside an ice cube tray. Fill each compartment of the ice cube tray with enough water to barely cover the herbs. Once frozen, empty the ice cube trays into labeled freezer bags. The cubes can be thawed or used directly in cooking dishes as needed throughout the year. This is an especially useful technique for herbs like dill and cilantro, which go bad quickly.

Then there’s the pesto solution. You can make basil, cilantro or arugula pesto in a food processor and freeze it in ice cube trays. Just thaw a cube or two
as needed.

To dry herbs, wash and bundle them and hang in a sunny window, making sure they dry thoroughly and do not mold. Once dry, pull the leaves off the stem and store in a covered container.

Tomatoes are tailor-made for preserving, since they are high in acid and only require a hot-water canner, which can safely and easily be used at home. If you are interested in learning how to preserve tomatoes and other foods by canning, Foxhollow Farms is offering two canning classes on Saturday, Aug. 7 and 14, from 1-5 p.m. The cost is $30, and you get to keep what you can. Visit www.foxhollow.com or call 241-6869 to register.

To make sun-dried tomatoes, simply quarter tomatoes and put them on a baking sheet in your oven at the lowest temperature setting. It will take 10 or more hours to get them fully dried but still flexible like a raisin. These should be stored in a zippered bag with the air removed. For extended storage, you can freeze them for up to a year.

Freezing is another option for this summer fare, either in the form of sauce, paste or stewed tomatoes. Just use freezer bags, remove any air pockets, and flatten before freezing for better storage. Unless you are only freezing tomatoes for a few weeks, the tomatoes should be cooked first to extend the life and the flavor.

Refrigerator Pickles
There are many variations of refrigerator pickles. You can simply use vinegar or salt to preserve cucumbers, or even zucchini, for up to a year. They must, however, be kept refrigerated once pickled.

Hot Sauce
While hot peppers are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, they are quite perishable and do not have a long shelf life. There is a wealth of hot sauce recipes available on the Internet, from a simple mixture of peppers, vinegar and salt, to complex concoctions.

This is undeniably the best time of year to enjoy fresh, locally grown produce. And while there are some summer delicacies — like the tomato sandwich — that can’t be replicated throughout the year, there are many ways to savor the flavor of seasonal produce year-round.

My Favorite Hot Sauce Recipe

6 habanero or serrano peppers

Half a red bell pepper

Half a red onion

1 large clove of garlic

A generous handful of cilantro

4 pinches of chili powder

2 pinches of cumin

5 pinches of sea salt

Black pepper

2 cups of water

1 1/2 cups of white vinegar

Blend all ingredients until thoroughly liquefied. Pour into a medium saucepan and bring to a rolling boil for at least five minutes. Continue cooking the mixture until it reaches your desired consistency. Enjoy!