In Southern Quebec, where I live, summer is all too fleeting. With such a short growing season to work with, we vegetable gardeners spend a lot of time planning. I begin dreaming about my backyard plot in January, inspired by the gardening catalogues arriving in the mail. I sow seeds under the grow-light in March. Only in mid-May, after the chance of frost has finally passed, can I plant the majority of my vegetable seeds outside. Ah, but when that garden is growing, what an intense time of colors, scents, and tastes! The freshness, the variety of the produce coming from my own backyard is just what I had envisioned way back when the snow concealed the raised beds. If I can’t find what I fancy on my side of the fence (for as much as I’d like to, I can’t grow it all) neighbors are ready to swap bumper crops. The local farmers market stalls are brimming with offerings. Weekend drives out in the country yield unexpected treasures from roadside stands. And many wild foods await discovery, even in our suburban setting. (Last year, we harvested fourteen cups of black raspberries from the bushes bordering a soccer field!) We gather, we celebrate by feasting, and it all tastes the sweeter because we know it won’t last.
In recent years I’ve been preparing a balm to bring some summer warmth into winter’s cold. Ironically, I do so with my fridge and freezer. I’ve been taking some of our essential foods of June, July, and August –- mint, cucumbers, dill, basil, and carrots -– and preserving them in easy ways for enjoying in future months. The unique tang of dill, the clean scent of mint, the orange blaze of carrots; each will evoke special memories of a season put to sleep. Below are four condiment recipes to bring an edge to your Winter fare: refrigerator pickles, carrot marmalade, mint chutney, and basil-dill pesto. Because they are stored by chilling, no special processing of jars is required. These recipes also make lovely gifts –- a way of sharing your garden or local market offerings with others.
Tips for Summer Preservation Projects
:: Prepare yourself and your kitchen workstation in advance. Tie up your hair, wash your hands, protect your clothing with an apron. Gather the required equipment and ingredients on the counter. If you plan on doing multiple recipes, gather the ingredients in islands. Assemble your food processor and get your pots ready on the stove. Make sure everything is clean: tools, chopping boards, and countertops. Keep a stack of clean dishtowels and dishcloths nearby. Prop up your recipe in an out-of-the-way but accessible spot. These steps may sound pedantic, but they’ll save you a lot of grief once your stove’s on and already hot… your summer kitchen is getting hotter!
:: Choose storage containers that match your consumption plans. Recipes that have been frozen and then thawed should not be frozen again. Once you have thawed a pesto or chutney, it should be used within a few days; the marmalade will last a bit longer, about a week. Therefore, use containers in a size that you know your family can consume in a short period.
:: Thoroughly clean your storage containers. The refrigerator pickles will require Mason jars. If you are reusing Mason jars, use new lids or at the very least ensure that they have no spots of corrosion. The other recipes are for storage in the freezer. For these, I recommend glass containers with plastic lids; make sure that the manufacturer says they can be used in the freezer. Wash both types of containers well in hot water with soap (alternately, you can sterilize them in your dishwasher.) The chutney and pesto can be put in clean, room-temperature containers. Once sealed, they can be chilled or frozen directly. The pickles and marmalade should be packed in containers that are still very warm from cleaning. These containers should be allowed to cool completely before being put in the fridge or freezer. Unless otherwise specified, tightly seal the lids on the storage containers immediately after filling them.
:: Your condiments will only be as good as your ingredients. These recipes really succeed when you use locally grown, organic vegetables and herbs.
:: Wash your vegetables and herbs thoroughly before using to remove any dirt, insects, sneaky weeds, et cetera. Immerse the entire vegetable or herb bunch in cold water and scrub (in the case of carrots, for example) or swish (in the case of herbs); you may need to change the water a couple of times for a complete cleaning. I never use soap, but if you find it necessary, use an unscented, vegetable-based soap and rinse thoroughly after applying. You can save the water you used to clean your produce for your garden.
:: Prepare your vegetables and herbs by trimming off any blemished, wilted, or bruised areas. Each recipe has specific instructions as to what further preparation is needed.
:: When spooning condiments into prepared containers, be sure to wipe any spills off the rim before sealing. Also wipe off any spills from the exterior of the containers before chilling or freezing.
:: Have ready a good supply of self-adhesive labels and an indelible pen. Place labels on filled and sealed room-temperature containers, in a position that reflects where the containers will be stored. For instance, containers to be stacked on top of each other in a freezer on top of a fridge should be labeled on the front; containers to be stacked in a chest freezer should be labeled on the top. Include on the label the recipe name and the date of preparation.
:: To thaw a frozen condiment, place it in the fridge a day or so before you intend to begin using it.
:: If you are giving these condiments as gifts, be sure that recipients understand how the food should be safely stored and by what date it should be used.
All of these recipes are easily doubled or tripled for larger batches. Cooking with a friend will make the prospect less overwhelming, and you can split the bounty.
(Makes three medium-sized jars)
These are sweet, seasoned pickles that go great on sandwiches or burgers.
2 lbs. pickling cucumbers (choose unblemished cucumbers, as you won’t be peeling them; wash well and smooth off any prickly “hairs”)
3 fat garlic cloves, peeled (or 6 small garlic cloves, peeled)
1 bunch of fresh dill, stems and leaves
2 tsp. brown mustard seeds
1½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
1½ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup natural cane sugar (fine, not coarse)
1 cup water
3 tbsp. coarse grey sea salt
¼ tsp. dried red chili flakes
3 glass Mason jars with lids, sterilized
Prepare the cucumbers: Cut off the stems and slice cucumbers into spears, lengthwise. Make sure they’ll fit when standing up in the jars; you may need to cut them in half. You may wish to cut some into rounds, for variety – not too thick.
At the bottom of each warm, sterilized jar, place a garlic clove (or two, if you’re using small ones.) Pack the cucumbers into the jars. I put the spears in first, standing them up tall and working around the interior circumference first, then filling in the middle; I put rounds on the top, and any shorter spears. As you pack them, add sprigs of dill – a third of the bunch per jar. You want the dill to be dispersed, not all in one clump. Once each jar is filled to just below the rim with cucumbers and dill, put jars aside and prepare the pickling solution.
Using a mortar and pestle, slightly crush the mustard seeds and peppercorns. Transfer to a medium-sized saucepan and add vinegar, sugar, water, salt, and chili flakes. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Ladle the hot pickling mixture into each jar, filling to just below the rim. Push down the top cucumbers and dill to ensure that they are completely immersed.
Loosely cover the jar tops with plastic wrap. Allow jars to get to room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Chill for one day, then remove plastic wrap and tightly screw on jar lids.
These pickles will keep in the fridge for several months. (Don’t try freezing them, though!)
(Makes about 3½ cups of marmalade)
This warmly colored, lemony spread is just the thing with toast and tea on a winter’s afternoon.
2 medium lemons (wash very well as you’ll be using the whole lemon)
4 cups of coarsely grated carrots (prepare carrots before grating by washing, peeling, and trimming off ends and any blemishes)
2¾ cups natural cane sugar (fine, not coarse)
¼ cup honey (choose a mild flavor, like clover or wildflower)
Small glass jars in a variety of sizes, with lids; sterilized
Cut the lemons in half and squeeze out the juice into a medium-sized bowl, removing and discarding any seeds. Chop up the remaining rinds and pulp into large chunks. Put the chunks into your food processor and process until the mixture is very fine. Scrape the mixture into the bowl and blend well with the lemon juice. Set aside.
Put the grated carrots in a large pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to achieve a constant simmer and cook the carrots until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the carrots in a colander, pushing down on them with the back of a large spoon to ensure that all the liquid is removed. Return to the pot.
Add lemon mixture, sugar, and honey; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for about 40 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you stir, some larger chunks of lemon rind may surface; you can filter these out with your spoon, if you wish.
The marmalade is ready when most of the liquid has jelled. The large amount of natural pectin from the lemons combined with the coarseness of the grated carrots guarantees a great, firm consistency to the marmalade.
Ladle the hot marmalade into warm, sterilized jars and seal immediately. Allow jars to cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge or freezer for storage. The marmalade will keep for a week or so in the fridge, and for several months in the freezer.
(Makes about one cup)
This slightly sweet, decidedly zippy chutney is well-paired with spring rolls or fajitas, spooned onto a rice wrap or tortilla before rolling.
¼ cup almonds (natural, not blanched,) lightly toasted
1 cup tightly packed fresh spearmint leaves
4 green onions, trimmed of root ends and the top inch or so of the green shoots
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno pepper; prepare by cutting off stem, slicing in half lengthwise and removing seeds; chopped
2 heaping tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp. water
Juice from one lime
1½ tbsp. cane sugar (fine, not coarse)
1 tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like to use a few good grinds)
Glass jars in a variety of sizes, with lids, sterilized
Place almonds in food processor and grind well.
Add remaining ingredients and mix until chutney is well combined and consistent, but still slightly coarse. You may need to stop the machine a couple of times to scrape down the sides before continuing.
Spoon chutney into sterilized jars and seal them immediately. Keep chilled. Freeze any amount that will not be used within the next few days. The chutney will keep for many months in the freezer.
Basil Dill Pesto
(Makes one scant cup)
Dill lends an unusual note to this vegan pesto, which is lovely tossed with warm pasta or as a base on pizza (use ½ cup per medium-sized pizza).
½ cup almonds (natural, not blanched,) lightly toasted
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1 packed cup fresh dill
Juice from one lemon
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
¾ tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like to use a few good grinds)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (a better-quality olive oil will really make this recipe shine)
Place almonds in food processor and finely grind. Add basil, dill, lemon juice, garlic, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper and mix until a uniform green paste is formed. You may need to stop the machine to scrape down the sides a few times.
With the machine still running, drizzle the olive oil into the feed hole, mixing until the pesto is well blended.
Spoon into sterilized jars and seal immediately. Keep chilled, but remove the desired amount from the fridge and allow it to get to room temperature before using it in recipes. (You may wish to stir in an additional tbsp. or so of olive oil before use, as well.) The pesto lasts a few days in the fridge, or several months in the freezer.