5 Ways I'm Using Up My Late-Summer Garden Veg
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
I love gardening, but it isn't always the most predictable hobby. From sun to rain to pests and insects, there are a lot of variables to control before you get to the fun part (harvesting). Some years, certain crops flourish out of control while others don't produce at all. The next year, it might be the exact opposite. That said, every year I learn a little bit more (check out 7 things I wish I knew before starting my first garden).
Regardless of what plants really take off, the late summer is peak garden harvesting time. After a season of dedicated care, now is the time when your hard work starts to pay off in the form of fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. However, for me, vegetables tend to grow in fits and spurts. And when the hot August sun is beating down on them, the floodgates are opened. As a person who lives alone, there are only so many tomatoes and cucumbers I can eat fresh each day. But with all of the work that goes into gardening, it would be a shame for anything to go to waste. So I've compiled some tips and tricks that help me make the most of my summer garden haul and preserve it for months to come.
Turning an abundance of cucumbers into crunchy dill pickles might seem like a no-brainer. But you can pickle several other vegetables, too. Try adding fennel, carrots, beets or green beans to a salty, tangy brine, leave them in the fridge for a few days to marinate and voila! Our Refrigerator Pickles are a foolproof formula worth trying. Plus, they last for about a month rather than less than a week when fresh. Though they can be polarizing and are not my personal favorite, you can make these Quick Pickled Beets if your heart desires.
Let's get one thing straight: I love tomatoes, and practically worship them in the summer months. That said, when late summer rolls around, I am starting to get "tomatoed out" from the copious caprese salads and tomato toasts. When this happens, I turn to some tried-and-true recipes that help me use up a large amount of tomatoes and preserve the flavors for the winter months. For me, our No-Peel Slow-Cooker Marinara Sauce is a staple. It requires very little active time and simmers all day to reduce the tomatoes down and create a deeply flavorful sauce. Most of the time, I'll date and freeze the sauce. To me, there is nothing better in the winter months than cracking into a jar of garden tomato sauce to transport me back to summer and remind me that winter will indeed end eventually.
I suppose you could make a warm soup, too, but when the weather is so hot I find very little motivation to flip on the stove. For a refreshing way to use up a variety of vegetables, I turn to gazpacho. We have recipes from White Gazpacho to Summer Tomato Gazpacho to help you use up everything including onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, peppers, garlic and more. Gazpacho is my perfect summery side that is bursting with flavor. Pro tip: don't sleep on it as a snack to bring to the beach in a thermos.
Spice it Up
This year, I started a lot of pepper seeds. I also took a few pepper seedling donations from friends who had fun varieties I had never tried. So, as you can imagine, I have a lot of peppers… like a lot. This year, my great garden experiment is to make my own hot sauce with my myriad of spicy garden vegetables. I plan to use our Homemade Hot Sauce recipe as a guide, adapting it with the different peppers I grew. Not to mention, it will help me use up some tomatoes, too. Store it in the fridge for up to a month or stick it in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Gift or Donate It
Especially these days, having plenty of fresh food is a luxury. If you really have more than you will reasonably use, donate it or gift some to a friend. Check with your local food pantry before donating to see if they have space to safely store it. You can also use your produce to make a meal to donate to a local food kitchen. Or bring a basket of vegetables or a veggie-packed meal to a neighbor or friend without a garden of their own.