(BPT) - You've spent the summer tending and nurturing vegetables that have flourished, and now you have such an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and leafy greens, your home is starting to resemble the produce section of a grocery store.
Some people think harvest season is when the work stops for growing fresh fruits and vegetables in the backyard. If you want to be able to enjoy your hard work all year long and incorporate your vegetables into meals throughout the winter, though, there's still some work to be done.
Here are some ways to preserve and share the bounty you've grown in your backyard:
* Host a canning party - Canning is making a comeback, even for urban families who grow their vegetables in container gardens. If you have tomatoes, peppers, berries, beans, carrots and even peas, canning and freezing are two ways to preserve these items for use throughout the winter months. Both options preserve the nutrients of the fruits and vegetables, and most canning and freezing processes don't require any additional ingredients to be added to the product. If you're looking for a way to add more variety to your pantry, chop tomatoes, peppers and onions into a salsa mixture to be canned.
If you have friends in the same situation with an abundance of food, host a canning party. Ask everyone to bring extra pots, hot pads, stirring utensils, knives and cutting boards so you have enough equipment to keep all hands busy.
* Pickle your veggies - All pickling recipes are different, and it's fun to experiment with different seasonings and techniques. To get started, try this basic pickling spice recipe from Frontier Co-op. It features a balance of flavor that blends several different responsibly sourced seasonings:
Balanced Basic Pickle Seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric root powder
For other recipes for preserving your vegetables and incorporating them into delicious dishes all year long, visit www.frontiercoop.com.
* Gift your garden goodies - Ask your coworkers, neighbors and friends if anyone would be interested in some of your fresh produce. Or, better yet, can some of the produce in smaller batches to hand out as gifts. Everyone loves a batch of raspberry jam or a jar of homemade salsa in their holiday stocking or as a thank-you gift. To make the gift look nice, decorate the jar with ribbons or wrap it in a pretty gift bag.
* Make fun drinks - If you grow herbs in your yard, you can either freeze or dry the leaves to preserve their flavors for future use. Or try making herbal soda, which is usually a mixture of lemons, herbs, soda water and simple syrup stirred together for a refreshing summery drink on ice. Invite guests over for a relaxing afternoon on the patio and impress them with your simple, tasty drinks. Your family will also love them for a way to cool down after having fun in the sun.
* Share your harvest - Families that are food insecure appreciate the fresh produce found at harvest season. Contact your local food pantry to ask how you can share your harvest with others. They may require specific kinds of produce, or need vegetables to be harvested in a specific way.
You can use your vegetables and fruits in meals all year long, and these tips also provide you with great ideas for sharing what you've grown with friends and family. As you reap the benefits of summer's growing season and the care you provided your garden, consider these ways of making the most of your crop.