Discover more from Home Food
An apartment-dweller’s guide to preserving for the winter
The more I garden, the less I believe in self-reliance. And yet still I find myself susceptible to the homesteading YouTube channels and Instagram feeds and online courses trying to convince me that I can grow, preserve, and store a year’s worth of food. Images of water glassed eggs and homegrown, pressure-canned vegetables lined up all in a row offer the same soothing feeling as a cozy, well-stocked store. Except, wait—in the corner of an Instagram Reel, I spot a glug of imported olive oil and the flash of a crème fraîche container. A split second is enough for me to recognize the green logo of the Amazon-owned Whole Foods 365 brand.
Even if someone farms for a living, they don’t provide entirely for themselves—subsistence farmers, too, need salt, not to mention the animal and plant proteins, fruit and vegetable nutrients, cooking fats, and everything else. As I remind myself, the YouTube homesteaders YouTube for a living, they don’t farm.
But the more I garden, too, the more I realize the teetering fragility of the modern agriculture system. To eat is to be dependent—on farmers and the Earth. Preservation is a way to be a steward of the land. It’s not only for the YouTubers, bloggers, and stay-at-home mothers of 10. It can also be a cheap and organic source for months of tea, a waste-free solution for an abundant CSA, or simply a sustainable way to have a taste of summer in the dead of winter.
Here are a few of the things I am preserving from the garden, the CSA, and the farmer’s markets. Some are only little jars or frozen pints that will last a few weeks or months, but they are my larder.
Mint is an easy and prolific herb to grow, and while I enjoy cooking with it (it’s excellent in pasta or as a garnish to “cool down” a spicy dish), there are only so many mint dishes one can have in a week. I like to dry garden mint for tea, a refreshing and non-alcoholic digestif that Skylar and I both enjoy.
I don’t have a dehydrator and the temperature doesn’t go low enough on our rental apartment’s IKEA oven, so instead I hang-dry my herbs. I wash them, tie them with a string (or, if the stems are long and sturdy, use a rubber band to make a cow hitch knot), and hang them from a magnetic hook on the back corner of our range hood; in truth, I should probably hang them farther away from the steam and heat of the stovetop, but I’m not too worried about it. After a few days, when no moisture remains in the crinkly leaves, I trim them from the stems and store them in a reused glass jar.
When it comes to brewing, I much prefer to use an unbleached paper tea bag rather than a reusable steeper. The former requires no clean-up, and since it’s unbleached, I can scoop the tea bag directly from the tea and into the compost.
(By the way, I don’t plan on buying a dehydrator, or a freeze dryer, for that matter. The homesteader YouTubers all say freeze dryers are more useful and produce better-tasting results than a dehydrator, but we don’t have the space, and I can’t justify the expense for the size of our garden. Hang-drying will do for now.)
Dried oregano and sage
I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed raising oregano. It’s simple to grow and dry, and much more flavorful than its grocery store counterpart. Likewise, sage is very simple to dry.
I learned in a fresh pasta-making class last month to crush dried herbs right before cooking to release their essential oils. So this year, rather than grinding or crumbling the herbs, I am storing the leaves as in-tact as possible.
Frozen corn cob stock
Whenever my dear friend Eric and I hang out, our conversation inevitably tracks back to food—what we’ve been eating and cooking, and the latest fun fact I’ve learned from whatever food book I’m currently reading. In early May, over martinis at Dick and Jane’s Bar Room, he told me about the corn cob stock he made last summer, how light and luscious and unusual it was in soups in lieu of vegetable or meat stock.
I hadn’t stopped thinking about it by the time corn started appearing at the farmer’s market, so a few weeks ago I picked up a dozen ears and brought them home. I loosely followed this recipe, though I skipped blending in the corn kernels, and wound up with a few pints for the freezer. I used one already in this tofu and corn egg drop soup by Hetty McKinnon, and I’m already dreaming of a winter squash, corn stock soup.
(I used the kernels for an ill-fated soured corn project. I am not yet confident enough to determine if my lacto-ferments are sporting kahm yeast or mold, so I decided to compost the questionable batch and figure out a more reliable way to weigh down the kernels in the brine for next time.)
If you are lucky enough to pass a roadside corn stand or find a good deal at the supermarket, corn kernels freeze exceptionally well. Right before leaving town a few weeks ago, I cut off the kernels from a few cobs in the fridge and threw them in a freezer bag. When we returned, I used them directly from the freezer in my favorite Melissa Clark recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta With Basil.
Pesto is a wonderful way to use up wilting leafy greens. I usually make up pesto recipes using whatever I have on hand— soft herbs like basil, parsley, or cilantro, plus wilting kale or arugula—blending them with lemon or preserved lemon, garlic or garlic scapes, red pepper flakes, and an affordable nut like hazelnuts or walnuts. Many recipes call for a food processor, but I don’t have one and find our KitchenAid blender to be perfectly acceptable. If I’m freezing the pesto, I usually hold off on adding a hard cheese like parmesan or pecorino, so that if I reconstitute later in a hot pan the cheese won’t melt.
The pesto can be used in pasta dishes, as a spread, or thawed and mixed into a greek yogurt for a dip or dressing.
I won’t know the success of this project for another six months, but I used scraps and pieces from our CSA fruit to make peach vinegar. I strained the solids off a few days ago and will leave it on the counter to continue to ferment for a few more weeks before I bottle it for aging.
I was surprised by how simple making vinegar is and am inspired to start more vinegar projects! I followed the above recipe as written, except that I also stirred the mixture each day.
I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t used much of the rosemary and lemongrass I’ve grown this year. The other day I tried to right my wrongs and cut a few pieces of each and slipped them into bottles of gin and tequila, respectively.
Then, of course, there are the various CSA fruits and vegetables that I cleaned, sliced, and froze. I refer to Freeze Fresh often; most of the time I slice and “flash freeze” on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan before transferring to long-term storage in a freezer bag or container.
I’d love to hear what summer produce you’re preserving this year! I’m harvesting Lemon Drop and Aji Crystal peppers for a fermented hot sauce and hoping to squeeze in more frozen corn and corn stock. 🌽
If you liked reading this, feel free to click the ❤️ button on this post so more people can discover it on Substack.
Home Food is edited by Jillian Goodman.