Preserving Your Summer Harvest

We asked our frugal living members how they preserve their warm-weather crops so they can enjoy their summer harvest even when it's the cold of winter.

iVillager lechat2 inspired us with her incredible ideas on how to make tomatoes, basil, okra and fruit last through the entire year.

Here are lechat2's ideas:

When I was a kid my Mom spent most of summer and fall canning, but I never learned how. So I follow in her footsteps using my dehydrator and freezer.

Tomatoes
Some tomatoes without much juice -- like romas -- can be dried in the dehydrator. You might want to rub the dehydrator trays lightly with oil to keep the tomatoes from sticking. Cut the tomatoes into slices and dry until they are leathery. Re-hydrated, they have a very strong tomato flavor and are great in soups and stews.

I freeze most of my tomatoes, and it's fast and easy. I place the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for about a minute. Not too long, because you don't want to cook them! Then I put them in a colander under cold running water until the skins split and they're cool enough to handle.

I peel them and place them whole in one-cup freezer containers or small freezer bags. They can be used in just about anything - pasta sauce, soups or casseroles.

Okra
Okra doesn't keep very long when fresh, so I cut it into 1/2 inch slices and freeze in freezer bags. You can still fry it after it's thawed! And of course it's great in soup or gumbo.

Apples and Peaches
Fill a large bowl about half full of cool water, and add some lemon juice. Peel the fruit and cut into thin slices, then drop the slices in the water. The cool water and lemon will keep the fruit from turning dark while you finish slicing it. Place the fruit in the dehydrator and turn it on.

Apples will take several hours (3 or 4); peaches a bit longer. You can remove the fruit when it's "rubbery" or wait until it's completely dry (but not too brittle). Store in an airtight container. The apples are great cooked with oatmeal or other whole grains -- just add them to a the cereal while it's still cooking. You can bake with the peaches or apples -- just re-hydrate them first with warm water.

Strawberries and Blueberries
Both of these can be frozen whole. Be sure they're completely dry before you freeze, so they won't stick together. I remove whole blueberries from the freezer, run cold water over them for a few seconds and put them on my cereal. If they aren't completely thawed, they actually taste fresh.

In addition to freezing them whole, I also slice strawberries, add a bit of sugar and put them in the refrigerator for about an hour. I then stir them up and put them in freezer containers. The sugared strawberries are great on ice cream or shortcake.

Basil
When the weather starts to get chilly, I harvest all my basil and make lots of pesto, then freeze it in one-cup containers. It keeps well in the freezer and is wonderful on pasta.

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