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Make summer last forever (at least at dinnertime).

Rochelle Bilow
May 14, 2018

Wouldn’t it be great if summer could last forever? While endless long and lazy days by the pool may not be in the cards, you can extend the season by at least a few months. If you think fresh fruits and veggies are the best part about summer, you’ll appreciate daily reminders of the beach in December—just by opening your fridge or pantry.

Produce picked at peak ripeness in summer is a prime candidate for preserving. But when to pickle, can, freeze, or turn into a sauce? Here’s a guide for the best way to preserve maximum flavor from the most common types of warm weather produce.

Hardy Greens (Like Kale or Swiss Chard)

These greens, including mature spinach, can be frozen easily. Try this method for easy access later: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop the greens in, working in batches. Simmer for 15 seconds, then use tongs to remove from the hot water and drop in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Once completely cooled, squeeze out as much water as possible, and form into balls, roughly the size of tennis balls. Place on baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze. Once frozen solid, transfer the balls of greens into zip-top bags and store in the freezer. Simply remove one ball at a time for cooking in the coming months.

Salad Greens

Spring mix and arugula coming out of your ears? Eat up: These delicate greens don’t maintain their flavor or texture when preserved. Enjoy all the salads you can now, and mix things up with creative vinaigrettes.

Fresh Herbs

Pesto isn’t just for basil. Blitzing any tender herb (just use the leaves; discard the stems or use in stock) with nuts, oil, salt and pepper, and a little (optional) cheese is the ideal way to keep summer’s fresh herbs tasting vibrant. Although you can dry them by hanging them upside-down in bundles in a dry and high spot in your house,, they’ll retain their flavor better in the sauce-like consistency of a pesto.

Peppers (Sweet and Hot)

Sweet peppers don’t respond well to most methods of preserving; they lose a lot of flavor and take a textural hit when frozen and lose their snappy crunch when pickled. But they can be charred, peeled, and stored in seasoned oil in your fridge—think of the jars of “roasted red peppers” available in Italian grocery stores—and used in colder months to make this delicious roasted red pepper sauce.

If you’re a hot pepper fan ready for a project, dehydrating your own is a great way to go. If you don’t have access to a dehydrator, place rinsed and dried hot peppers on a sheet tray in the oven set to the lowest possible temperature it will go. Stir and flip the peppers a few times throughout the process. This will take anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on your oven, but there are a few cues to watch for: If they begin to turn brown and become fragrant, they’re cooking rather than dehydrating. Move peppers away from any oven “hot spots,” or crack the oven door.

Sweet Corn

Corn *technically* isn’t a vegetable or fruit—it’s a grain—but because it’s often included in summer’s bounty, we’ll tackle it like a veggie. No matter how you preserve it, sweet corn loses a fair amount of flavor from the fresh stuff. If you’re insistent on bringing a batch into fall or winter, your best bet is to freeze raw kernels. Peel the ears and use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the kernels from the cob. Pop the kernels directly into a freezer storage bag with the excess air squeezed out, and use sooner rather than later.

Tomatoes

These are one of summer’s most iconic fruits for a reason! There’s nothing quite like a juicy, sweet, in-season tomato, and for that reason it’s highly recommend you eat all you can while the getting’s good. But tomatoes also keep well when cooked down into a sauce. If you’re turned off by the idea of stirring a huge stockpot of sauce all day, Italian grandmother-style, you can simply simmer them down into an unseasoned tomato stew (peel and seed them first). From there, you can either can or store in zip-top bags in the freezer. If using the freezer method, store the bags flat on their sides until frozen completely. This results in a slim package instead of a bulky bag that takes up prime freezer real estate.

Zucchini/Summer Squash

Delicate summer squashes are best eaten in-season, but they can be preserved to a moderate degree of success by freezing. Wash the skins, then prep them using a box grater or the grating attachment on your food processor. Collect them in a clean tea towel, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Store grated squash in the freezer in zip-top bags with as much air squeezed out. Although the flavor won’t be as concentrated as a fresh veggie, the grated squash makes for excellent additions to frittatas and stir-fries.

Eggplant

These will last for a couple of weeks in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer, but if you want to enjoy them for months to come, cook them down into a saucy caponata (dip) and can them.

Cucumbers

You guessed it—these are prime candidates for pickling. But first, make sure the variety of cucumbers you have is ideal for pickling. Thick-skinned cukes, such as kirby cucumbers, are perfect. Long, thin-skinned varieties aren’t ideal, so eat those now in salads.

Root Veggies (Such as Carrots or Beets)

If you’ve never tried pickled carrots or beets, you’re in for a treat! These hardy veggies can stand up to a flavorful brine, and get better—and more potent—with time. While “refrigerator pickles” can be stored in jars without the full canning process, the pickles will last longer if canned and stored in a dark place away from dramatic temperature swings.

While most modern homes no longer contain root cellars, these veggies also last for a couple of months if stored in the coolest, driest spot in your house. A bushel box or basket covered with burlap and kept in the cellar is the ideal “next best thing” to a traditional root cellar.

Potatoes

Here’s another candidate for your makeshift root cellar. The larger the potato the longer it lasts, so eat the small ones now and save the big guys for the coming months.

Berries

Jams and jellies are the classic choice here, whether you can them or store them in the fridge. But if you’re looking for a lower-sugar option, you can freeze your berries! To avoid a big clump of berries that must be thawed at once, freeze them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Once firm, transfer to zip-top bags and keep the the freezer. Use later in baked goods, smoothies, or oatmeal.

Melon/Watermelon

You should eat as much melon as you can while it’s fresh, but if you have the freezer space, you can also cut peeled melon into cubes and store in the freezer for smoothie additions later. You can also process it in a blender and store in freezer-safe jars or bags (frozen on their sides; see “tomatoes” section for details) and use the purée from frozen. Working with watermelon? One of our favorite things to do is pickle it (seriously, it's delicious!).