Pick and preserve

Reaping the Last Harvest

by Rebecca Underwood


It seems like just when production hits full swing, fall chills begin to set in and the garden season comes to a close. Don't despair, though! The following ideas can help you make the most of your final harvest. Even if you don't have a garden of your own, local farmers and gardeners may be all too happy to let you scavenge these goodies after a long summer of picking and preserving.

At the first freeze, extra honeydew melons and cantaloupes can be peeled, seeded, cubed, and frozen in bags. Thaw in the fridge and serve as needed. Or, if you find the softer texture unappealing, make sorbet and/or healthful popsicles. Simply puree the frozen fruit with a little simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water dissolved) and a squeeze of lemon or lime to taste; freeze in a pan for sorbet or pour into popsicle molds. To serve sorbet, blend frozen mixture again just before serving. Alternatively, make cheap and nutritious "breakfast juice" by blending frozen melon cubes with water and a small amount of sugar or honey.

Green tomatoes can be picked and salvaged just before the first frost. In the south, they're battered and fried for a tasty side dish. Simply slice 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, batter and fry until golden on both sides. Try dipping in a mixture of 1 egg plus 1/3 c. milk, then dredging in a mixture of equal parts flour and cornmeal, or use your favorite batter recipe. If frying doesn't appeal to you, chopped green tomatoes make an interestingly tart addition to homemade salsas or relishes. And if you're really adventurous, you can even try green tomato pie, another old-fashioned southern favorite. Fill an unbaked pie crust with green tomato slices; sprinkle with a tablespoon of cornstarch, about a cup of sugar, cinnamon to taste, and a few small dots of butter (opt.). Top with second crust, crimp edges, vent, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.

When the first freeze is predicted, don't let those baby veggies go to waste. Go ahead and pick the tiny summer squash and zucchini. Gather all the other odds and ends vegetables that will otherwise be lost. Wash, trim, and toss them together in freezer bags. Stir-fry straight from the freezer with your favorite seasonings and toss with pasta for a quick winter meal that reminds you of summer. Just be sure to blanch any hard veggies (green beans, sliced carrots, etc.) in boiling water for a minute or two and drain before freezing.

As temperatures really begin to dip, harvest as much of your herb garden as possible without harming the plants. Dry herbs by hanging upside down in a cool place with low humidity, or freeze if you prefer. Frozen herbs can only be used in cooked dishes, but dried ones are very versatile. Consider crumbling dried herbs in interesting combinations to give as potpourri, seasonings, or bath teas for Christmas.

And, last but not least, salvage some of those garden leaves and blossoms. Select the best just before frost and press dry. They'll come in handy for fall craft projects and decorations. You don't need to buy an expensive press to do this. Just cut 12-inch squares of corrugated cardboard from discarded boxes. Sandwich as follows: cardboard, topped with 3-4 layers of newspaper, then a single layer of leaves/blossoms, more newspaper, and a final square of cardboard. Continue sandwiching several batches and bind tightly with two cast-off adjustable belts that crisscross like ribbon on a gift (or tie tightly with strong cord). Every few days, check leaves and tighten belts slightly until drying is complete. Store flat and admire your handiwork throughout the holiday season.


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