Make most of summer crops

A Generic Photo of a stack of frozen vegetables. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.
A Generic Photo of a stack of frozen vegetables. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column.

The warm summer months might be over, but the abundant wild berries, plentiful apples, and juicy tomatoes they helped create can make it feel like the sun is still shining.

It’s unlikely keen gardeners can manage to eat all this bumper produce immediately though, which is where the art of storage comes in.

Maincrop potatoes and onions will keep well in a cool shed or garage, while garlic should be placed in a cool room in the house. All three should be free of soil and perfectly dry before storing. Onions and garlic can be strung and hung up, while potatoes will be quite happy in paper or a hessian sack, kept in the dark to stop them from sprouting.

If you have blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries, these are perfect for jams, partly because they contain plenty of pectin, the ingredient that makes jam set. With jams or jellies, it is important to sterilise the jars and lids for 10 minutes in boiling water before using them. Most fruits and vegetables will last up to 12 months using this method.

Blackberries and other wild berries have been abundant this year, thanks to last year’s wet summer and this year’s dry one, and are easy to freeze (although avoid freezing strawberries as they become mushy). Just select the best fruit, spreading the berries in a single layer on a clean tray and put it in the fast-freeze section of the freezer. Once it’s frozen, transfer it to bags and return it to the freezer.

If you have too many ripe tomatoes, try drying them in the oven, placing them on a tray at the lowest setting for several hours with the oven door just ajar. Alternatively, skin them by placing them in a bowl of just boiled water, leaving them there for a few minutes, then removing the skin and blitzing them into a puree which can be a base for any Italian passata, which can be frozen. Unripe tomatoes can also be transformed into delicious green tomato chutney, there are umpteen recipes to be found on the internet.

Cucumbers spring to mind when we think of pickling, but many vegetables and fruits can be preserved in this manner including peppers, cauliflower, apples and pears. Peas and green beans should be blanched (dunked in boiling water for several minutes, then plunged into cold water and dried off) before freezing, while courgettes freeze satisfactorily in prepared dishes such as ratatouille, and pumpkins can be made into preserves using lemons, sugar and mixed spices.

Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beetroot and celeriac can generally be left in the ground until required, although try to dig a few up to store in a cool place before winter sets in and the ground becomes too hard to harvest them easily.

To store gluts of apples and pears, you’ll need to handle them carefully, placing them in a room with a low, even temperature, good ventilation and a moist atmosphere such as a cellar. If you are putting apples in your garden shed, wrap them in newspaper (this slows the shrivelling process and isolates rots), put them in boxes, stack them in a cool spot under insulation (such as straw or polystyrene sheets) and cover with polythene. Check them regularly for signs of disease and remove any which have rotted. Pears prefer slightly drier and warmer conditions and are best not wrapped or stacked.