A New Way to Preserve Fresh Fruits and Veggies

By Barbara Pleasant

Many of us preserve seasonal produce to eat during the winter months, but give little thought to storing summer’s bounty in drinkable forms. In their new book, Drink the Harvest: Making and Preserving Juices, Wines, Meads, Teas, and Ciders (Storey Publishing, 2014), authors Nan Chase and DeNeice Guest share simple recipes for beverages ranging from blueberry-basil syrup to dandelion wine. What a refreshing idea!

I caught up with Nan Chase at her home in Asheville, NC, to learn more about using the garden and landscape as a source of good things to drink.

Calmful Living: What made you decide to write Drink the Harvest?

Nan Chase: I am a writer and DeNeice is a scientist, and that turned out to be a great creative partnership. We both belong to the same garden club and love to grow and harvest funky crops any time of the year. The book was our way of combining wild experimentation with ingredients with strict sanitation and processing methods.

Nowadays I am in love with making fruit juices. It’s so easy; so when there’s a big supply of anything good to work with, I turn it into up to a gallon of canned, pasteurized juice. I can use the juice straight out of the jar for my grandkids’ lunch drink, or mix it with vodka for cocktails, or ferment it into wine or mead, or boil it down with some sugar to make an amazing syrup that goes into all sorts of dishes.

OC: You mention using the freezer as an intermediate step when you don’t have time to make juice or syrup, or when you harvest small batches of berries. Can you keep fruits in the freezer until you want to make a batch of syrup or even wine?

NC: Sure. My only problem with the freezer is the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome, which afflicts so many of us. But yes, freezing fruits breaks down the cell structure, releasing natural sugars and flavor; so the freezer can take the place of cooking to release fruit juices. Be sure to use good “freezer hygiene.” That means removing pits and any rotten spots and then sealing fruits or berries in high-quality freezer containers. Don’t lose track of your freezer’s contents! Consolidate ingredients when you have small amounts of different fruits or vegetables.

OC: When making juice from berries, you suggest adding a little sugar and ascorbic acid. Are these necessary?

NC: No, neither sugar nor ascorbic acid is strictly necessary when canning fruit juices. But consider: sugar itself is a preservative; so in the case of jams and jellies, sugar plays a key role in the shelf-stable final product.

As for canned juices, I do know that a tablespoon or two of sugar per quart of juice will blend flavors marvelously. The drink tastes better. And ascorbic acid—even a quarter of a teaspoon per pint—keeps colors fresh and appetizing. After a year a juice may still be good to drink, but if the color is turning to brown I may not bother. The added ascorbic acid makes it more likely that I will serve that juice to my friends and family and not let it go to waste.

OC: I had never thought of using crabapples to make drinks, but you have talked me into planting a tree. What’s so great about crabapples? Can you grow only one tree, or do you need two?

NC: These compact trees have beautiful pink-white blossoms, bear fruit from almost the first year, require minimal pruning, are pest-free, and give more fruit every year. The last year I harvested my two oldest trees they gave me 90 pounds of fruit: 3 gallons of pure, incredibly delicious cider.

OC: Vegetables and herbs seem like unusual drink ingredients, but you encourage people to experiment with earthy flavors like beets.

NC: Yes, there are many surprising sources of drinkable crops: flowers and herbs, even citrus. Such herbs as mint, chamomile, bee balm (Monarda), horseradish, and fennel can contribute ingredients for teas and even Bloody Mary mixer. Rosebuds, citrus flowers, hibiscus, and many other flowers can be made into teas and infused for syrups. Really, the choices are nearly endless.

Get a recipe from Drink the Harvest for delicious and versatile Blueberry-Basil Syrup here.

bpleasantBarbara Pleasant is not just an expert, she’s passionate about everything garden. She’s the author of four books, including Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens and is a contributing editor to Mother Earth News and the Herb Companion magazines. Her work has garnered her multiple awards.

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