Summer is the time to fill your pantry shelves and freezer with food to last you through to the next growing season. It's a matter of dollars and sense for the frugal family because fruit and vegetables are cheapest when they are abundant - and serious savers will be making the most of the opportunity.
Those gardening off the smell of an oily rag will have barrow-loads of fresh fruit and veges. But even those who have yet to discover the joys of gardening should be making the most of the season's harvest by buying cheap or, better still, by obtaining free fruit and veges from neighbours, friends and family.
Here are some different ways to store your abundance.
Freezing is the most common way of preserving food - so common that many people don't really see it as a form of preserving. We reckon having a decent-sized freezer is essential. If vegetables and fruit are to be frozen, most need blanching in boiling water to retain maximum flavour and colour.
Although drying food is not all that common today, it is perhaps the easiest and most natural method of preserving food. The whole process of drying foods is designed to remove moisture. This can be done naturally (in the sun), or in an oven or dehydrator.
To sun-dry foods you have to have very dependable weather - desert-like conditions are ideal, with hot days and low humidity. Your produce should dry within two to three days. Fruits are the best foods to sun-dry. All that is needed is a clean, flat tray - covered with something like curtain net to keep away pesky flies - and somewhere sunny and high enough to allow foods to dry away from predators (hungry youngsters!). If your weather is unpredictable or time is a factor, then using an oven or borrowing a food dehydrator is the way to go.
Figs are delicious when dried and are great for school lunches or as snack treats. They are abundant at this time of the year but it's usually a race to pick them before the birds get them.
Bottling is all about killing off ripening enzymes that exist in all fruit and vegetables, and preventing any contact with the air by covering in a brine, vinegar or a syrup solution. Preserving stops the enzymes from reacting, preventing any further ripening.
A reader from Auckland says, "Use glass jars with pop-up button lids to preserve fruit. If you don't buy jams and sauces that come in these sorts of jars, ask friends and neighbours for jars.
As long as the lids and jars are undamaged they can be used again and again. Sterilise jars and lids in boiling water, fill with piping hot stewed fruit, plum sauce etc and screw on the lids while hot. Once the lids have popped down you can literally keep these preserves for years."
And here's a tip from G.P. in Whangarei on how to prevent the berries that you buy in punnets from the supermarket from going soft and mouldy before you have a chance to eat them. "When you get your berries home, prepare a mixture of one part vinegar (white or apple cider probably work best) and 10 parts water. Dunk the berries in this mixture and swirl around, then drain (rinse if you want to although the mixture is so diluted that you can't taste the vinegar) and pop in the fridge. The vinegar kills the mould spores and bacteria on the surface of the berries, keeping them fresh and tasty!"
If you have a favourite recipe or oily rag tip that works well for your family, send it to us at www.oilyrag.co.nz, or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei, and we will relay it to the readers of this column.