Eating seasonally and buying local is not only the most delicious way to plan your meals but also the most sustainable. When you buy from local growers, your food has a shorter journey to reach your reusable shopping bag, and the associated fuel emissions of travel are dramatically reduced. Prioritizing eating with the seasons is also an investment in your community and the local farmers your dollar supports.
That being said, we’ll admit the only downside of eating seasonally is that inevitably you’ll have to say goodbye to certain produce when the seasons change. (For us saying goodbye to summer peaches is a tough one.) But fear not. We’re exploring different ways you can extend the shelf life of our favourite seasonal produce while it’s still available. This winter, with simple at-home preservation methods, instead of reaching for a commercial can of peaches or grabbing frozen corn that was flown in from another country, you can enjoy local produce from your own backyard.
If you’re reading this and summer has passed, rest assured these tips are handy year-round and perfect for those weeks when you accidentally over-shop and can’t eat all your produce before it spoils. Food waste is an often-overlooked culprit when it comes to climate change. When we waste food, we also waste the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, and transport it. Plus, food that ends up in landfills rots, producing methane — a greenhouse gas we want to keep out of our atmosphere.
With a little prep, you can enjoy local produce year-round while actively reducing your carbon footprint.
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to extend the life of your local produce, and when you do it yourself, it significantly cuts down on the packaging and plastic ending up in the trash. Frozen fruit can be added to your morning smoothie and frozen veggies can give a satisfying crunch to your next stir fry dish. Here are some top tips to keep in mind when you’re freezing your fruit and veg.
- Buy ripe fruit for maximum flavour.
- Wash produce and remove skin, stalks, cores, and pits before freezing.
- Blanche vegetables before freezing them. Blanching is when you boil or steam vegetables briefly until they’re partially cooked. Blanching helps stop the enzymes that cause food to decay and helps maintains the flavour and colour.
- Freeze fruits and vegetables by spreading them in a single layer on a sheet pan before storing them. This prevents produce from sticking together in large clumps.
- Freeze fresh herbs in oil to add an extra boost of flavour to sauces and dishes.
Another easy method you can explore to preserve local produce is dehydrating or drying your food. This is one of the oldest preservation methods in the book, and almost any food can be dehydrated. This method requires a little investment up front to get started, but once you’re up and running, dehydrated food can last for years if packaged and dehydrated correctly. Dried fruit makes a tasty snack or addition to your morning oatmeal.
Even if you aren’t ready for the dehydrator yet, you can always practice air drying by hanging herbs like chamomile, mint, and lemon balm to dry. These soothing herbs can be used to brew a warming cup of tea when the temperature drops.
For beginners, canning may seem a little more intimidating than freezing or dehydrating, but canning is an amazing way to preserve food for up to a year once you get the hang of it. There are two main types of canning: water bath canning (for high-acid foods like fruits and sauces) and pressure canning (for meats and vegetables). By heating the food inside a jar, it kills the bacteria that would normally cause food to spoil. Then when the jars cool and the food expands, it pushes the air out, resulting in a long shelf life.
One of our favourite things to can is tomatoes. Although modern convenience has made these red gems accessible year-round, buying locally and eating seasonally can only access them in the summer. While a winter without pasta seems unimaginable, you can make organic tomato sauce or preserved whole tomatoes to stock your pantry with canning.
If you aren’t quite ready to take on canning, maybe give pickling a try first. It’s almost like canning’s chill older cousin. One simple method is vinegar pickling or quick pickling. This involves immersing fruits or vegetables in a heated solution of water, salt, and vinegar and then sticking it in the fridge. The other method, called fermentation, is a little more complex, and preservation is caused by a chemical reaction between naturally present bacteria. Kimchi is a great example of this. Although fermentation takes a little more effort, the process creates bacteria that your gut loves as it aids with digestion.
Quick pickling cucumbers from the garden or local market is one of our go-tos, but we’ve included a few recipes below for you to explore.
And that’s a wrap! Four ways you can preserve your local produce at home and eat a little greener. Learning any new skill can be intimidating at first, but we promise that your palette and the planet will thank you once you get the hang of it.