Helpful Harvest Hints
The season of Harvest Home was a busy time for our Times ancestors, as they rushed to preserve as much food as possible before winter set in.
Nowadays, supermarkets provide everything all year round. For most of us, the imperative to harvest no longer exists, but there is much pleasure to be had from not just growing your own, but storing the surplus, too. The aroma from a jar of homemade strawberry jam, opened on a dark January day, cannot be beaten, providing food for both body and soul.
The essential requirements for storing produce are: a dry, cool, dark, frost-free and rodent-proof environment. Root crops can be stored in wood or cardboard stackable trays, or sacks made from paper, hessian or netting. Specialist companies sell all manner of storage equipment, but these items can often be obtained for free from market stalls and agricultural feed merchants. On no account use plastic bags, as condensation will soon build up, causing rot. Damaged crops will quickly spoil the rest, so only store produce in perfect condition.
Freshly dug potatoes need a few hours drying in the open air to ‘set’ their soft skins before storage. Onions should be dried off for a fortnight before storing; use upturned crates to keep them off the ground. Onions are the exception to the storage rule; requiring a cool, well-lit space, as storing them in the dark encourages sprouting.
Pumpkins have a high moisture content. To prevent rot, their skins should be hard and free from damage. Harvest them on long stems of 10cm or more. As the stem dries and shrivels, any bacteria on the cut stem will die off before they can infect the interior. Blanching runner beans is a miserable job; I simply put pre-sliced beans directly into bags and they freeze perfectly well, although they are best eaten within a few months.
Apples and pears were traditionally stored in newspaper – it’s thought the arsenic in old newsprint helped preserve them! Store them on racks or in boxes with a good air space between each fruit. Check regularly and remove any that are suspect. Plastic boxes are ideal for freezing delicate fruit. Conveniently, an empty 1 litre ice cream container holds 1 lb of soft fruit – useful to know when jam making!
Labelling produce for the freezer seems laborious at the time, but an informative label, noting contents, date and weight is essential for avoiding an encounter with a UFO, (Unidentified Frozen Object). A pencil is best for writing freezer labels. Marker pens and ballpoints quickly fade, but graphite stays legible for years – use a pencil and you’ll never sit down to apple pie and gravy again.
By Flo Whitaker, Burgess Hill Horticultural Society.