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What To Do With Your Garden HarvestJuly 6, 2016 Master Gardener Scoop

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By Renea Starr,

Master Gardener

Our spring started out kind of on the wet side. I had begun to think we were going to have a repeat of last year. However, the garden is looking pretty good now. My mother always said, “If you have a tomato by the 4th of July, you are doing good.” I don’t believe I will be that lucky, but things are looking up.

It seems that once the garden starts to yield, it comes on all at once. What’s a person to do with all the produce? One option would be to rent a space at the local farmer’s market. There are many in our area, and I am a regular. My garden is just a small plot, so I enjoy buying things that I do not grow.

As a child, my parents had a very large garden. I spent many summer evenings snipping green beans on the back patio. My parents were very knowledgeable about canning and preserving. We had canned tomatoes, beans and pickled cucumbers all winter long. Since we lived at the edge of Kent’s greenhouse, my mother would give me 50 cents to go into the field where the Kent girls were cutting asparagus. I would hand the lady my 50 cents, and she would give me enough asparagus for our dinner that night. Now that’s fresh!

One of my favorite recipes to make once the garden starts to produce is salsa. There are many different recipes out there with varying degrees of hotness. This makes good use of your tomatoes, onions and peppers. Since you generally add salt and vinegar to your recipe, you will want to drain the liquid off your salsa each day. Salt and vinegar draws out the liquid from the tomatoes. A batch will last up to a week in your refrigerator.

Once you start growing zucchini and summer squash, they seem to multiply like rabbits. I enjoy a good stirfry with these items. I also enjoy them sliced and tossed with Italian dressing and then thrown on a grillpan and grilled outside. Zucchini bread is another favorite for many people.

With an abundance of peppers, you could make a nice stuffed peppers dish which incorporates ground beef, turkey or chicken and rice. Of course, peppers are a nice addition to a good summer salad.

One thing I like to dabble in every year is freezer jam. It seems that every year, I have varying degrees of success with this. I start out in late spring with the strawberries. My favorite product to use is Certo Sure Jell. This is the thick liquid which I have had better success with. Just follow the directions provided in the package to a tee. Do not deviate from the directions, or you will not have success. If you want a low sugar product, there are low sugar varieties. Do not decrease the sugar on the regular batch. One very important trick I have learned with strawberries is to drain as much of the liquid off the mashed strawberries as possible. I like to use a potato masher to mash the strawberries. You may have another use for the drained liquid, but if you do not drain off the liquid, your freezer jam will not set up properly. Also, if it has been a wet spring, the strawberries will have more water content making them more difficult to set up. Avoid making your jam on a hot, humid day. This will also affect the jam’s ability to set up.

Another fruit I like to use for freezer jam is peaches. I do the same with the peaches as the strawberries, mashing them with a potato masher and draining off as much of the liquid as possible. Peaches tend to brown easily, so it is important to use as much lemon juice as the recipe calls for. I prefer to use fresh-squeezed lemon juice, but the bottled variety will work in a pinch.

If you have followed all of these tips and the directions carefully, you should have a delicious selection of jams to enjoy all winter long. However, freezer jam is an exact science. If yours does not set up properly, the concoction makes wonderful summertime drinks. Enjoy yours!

What To Do With Your Garden Harvest