If you drive around the state right now, you can't miss the farm stands boasting plenty of the best fresh fruits and vegetables. This time of year, nobody could blame you for picking up too much produce from the farmers market.
Even if your own garden has grown a bumper crop too big to handle, we have some advice for how to take advantage of the season's bounty.
Beth Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers' Market Cookbook," spoke with Tom Crann of MPR News about how to make your best perishables last year-round.
TOM CRANN: Alright, now most of us know that canning is an option, but it's a steamy prospect that may not sound so great after the recent hot weather we've had. Do you have something a little cooler?
BETH DOOLEY: There are a lot of things you can do that don't steam up the kitchen. Probably my favorite thing to do with those tomatoes, which are so gorgeous right now — especially the cherries — is to put them into plastic bags and freeze them. The same thing with peppers, which you'll want to slice thinly and pack into zip-loc plastic bags. And, with tomatoes, if they're really big and juicy I usually slice them into quarters, and sometimes into thick slices, and freeze them.
Now they're not going to be the same as the fresh tomatoes when you take them out of the freezer, so you'll want to use them in soups and stews and stir-fries and things that you cook. But they are delicious and they do hold their flavor for almost a year.
CRANN: And really no other preparation, other than cutting and putting in bags?
DOOLEY: That's right.
CRANN: What can you do with tomatoes once they are frozen?
DOOLEY: I love just to pull them out of the freezer and throw them into a sauce, a sauce that I've already prepared with fresh tomatoes, or to make fresh tomato sauces using those frozen tomatoes. I know that's an oxymoron, but it does taste like a fresh tomato sauce. And a lot of times if I have a big quantity of frozen tomatoes and a tomato sauce I love, I'll wait until the dead of winter and make a big batch of tomato sauce to either freeze or to use over the next couple of days. Because that's when you want to cook, when it's really cold out.
CRANN: And what about jams, jellies and preserves, can you do that without all the boiling?
DOOLEY: You can. And one of the things that I like to do is put the soft fruits like berries — the fall raspberries are in right now — and peaches and plums and nectarines, those soft fruits, if you mix them with the sugar, and put them in the pot and let them sit overnight, they'll release their juices. So
when you come down to cook them in the morning, it takes less than half the time to bring them into a nice thick syrupy jam and then I put them into the jars and put those in the fridge. And those will keep at least a month, sometimes longer.
CRANN: Now what about with other veggies — I'm thinking of pickling?
DOOLEY: The green beans are so beautiful right now, right? And there's nothing better than pickled green beans. And we have a recipe (see below) for a hot pickled green bean, which is green beans and wax beans, and they're delicious.
And they're so easy because you're just really making a brine, boiling together the vinegar with a little sugar and salt and some cloves of garlic, and maybe a little hot pepper, and pouring that over the green beans in the jar. So there's not much cooking. It only takes about five minutes.
CRANN: So tell us more about pickling. It's not all the same, is it?
DOOLEY: That's right. There are two different ways to preserve foods. What's become really popular lately is lacto-fermentation, which employs the bacteria that's already in the food. It's a natural bacteria that grows and kills off the bad bacteria. That's what sauerkraut is, and also lacto-fermented kimchi, and shredded carrots, and traditional dill pickles.
The good bacteria helps convert the lactose in the food into lactic acid that safely preserves it and gives that classic tangy flavor. It's become increasingly popular because of the pro-biotic, health benefits. Though lacto-fermented food is safe kept unrefrigerated, until opened, I like to store it in the fridge regardless.
It's a really interesting process. It's not difficult but it can be tricky. I would advise listeners to seek out books like The Art of Fermentation which is a wonderful guide how to do that. It makes a wonderful product.
Recipes from Beth Dooley:
Quick and Easy Pickled BeetsMakes three pints (easily doubled)
The longer these sit in the marinade, the better they'll taste. This is a wonderful way to make use of leftover steamed or roasted beets. These will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 to 4 weeks.
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
3 cups cooked, sliced beets, cut about 1/2-inch thick)
In a medium saucepan, stir together the onion, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Put the beets into clean glass jars and pour the marinade over the beets. Distribute the onions among the jars. Allow to cool to room temperature, cover and store in the refrigerator.
Spicy Pickled BeansMakes 2 pints (easily doubled or tripled)
These are great at a barbecue or on a cheese plate. Use a mix of green and wax beans for color.
About 1 pound mix of green and yellow beans, trimmed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups champagne or white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 teaspoons sugar
3 dried red chilies
Pack the beans and garlic slices into clean jars. In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, salt, peppercorns, sugar and chiles to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes. Pour the mixture over the beans. Allow the beans to cool to room temperature, cover and then store in the refrigerator for up to one month.