By late summer and early autumn more and more fruit and vegetables will be ripening in the garden, readying them for harvest. By properly packing, storing and regularly inspecting your harvest you can enjoy plenty of home grown fruit and vegetables right through the winter.
The best fruit for storage are apples and pears. The length of time that apples and pears can be stored will vary depending on their variety. Generally apples that ripen early in August i.e. ‘Epicure’ or ‘Discovery’ are never stored whereas late season varieties i.e. ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ or ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ that are harvested in October can be stored for months. The best guide for knowing when apples are ready for harvesting is watch for windfalls and to gently lift the fruit in the palm of your hand and twist slightly. If the apple comes away easily with the stalk attached it is ripe and ready to be harvested. The most traditional method for storing apples is to individually wrap the fruit loosely with newspaper or waxed paper and place in individual layers onto slatted shelves or into well ventilated, stackable crates that are kept off the floor. Store in a cool, dark, ventilated store room, ideally a cellar or dry shed.
Techniques for storing pears are very similar to apples. However, unlike apples, pears do not require wrapping in paper and need to be harvested when still slightly immature and allowed to complete the ripening process in store.
Fruit such as raspberries, blueberries, cherries and currants do not last long in dry storage and should instead be made into jams, chutneys, bottled whole or frozen. Freezing fruit is one of the simplest methods for preserving. Properly frozen fruit will retain most of their nutrients and flavour but their texture can be altered making them softer than fresh fruit. This makes them much more suitable for making into smoothies or fruit desserts when defrosted. Freeze your chosen fruit by spacing well apart on top of a baking sheet, and then sit in a freezer until solid. Once solid place the frozen fruits into labelled freezer bags and return to the freezer until you are ready to use them.
The most popular vegetables for dry storage are main-crop potatoes, onions and garlic. These crops can be harvested all at once and in large batches. Once harvested, they need to be left lying in the sun for several days to allow them to completely dry off and to allow the skins to harden. Imperfect specimens should never be stored and need to be used as soon as possible or stored as pickles or chutneys.
Main-crop potatoes should be left in the ground for as long as possible. Once the foliage has died back they can be dug up and once dry they can be stored in large paper or hessian sacks. Store them in a cool dark room to prevent them from sprouting. Inspect regularly to ensure none begin to spoil.
Onions and garlic are ready to harvest when the foliage turns yellow and begins to topple over. When harvesting, remember to leave the foliage attached if you wish to braid the bulbs together and hang them up in your store room. Alternatively, store in mesh bags or in single layers in well ventilated crates. Many onions and garlic bulbs are stored in kitchens but they prefer a cool airy position and a busy kitchen will become too warm and humid, resulting in the bulbs going soft.
Many other vegetables are suitable for home freezing i.e. beans, peas and asparagus. Before freezing, however, vegetables require blanching by immersing them in boiling water and then into ice cold water before freezing individually on baking trays and placing back into the freezer in freezer bags. If you put them in bags straight away they will freeze together and you’ll be left with an icy clump which has to be used all at once. When frozen separately and then put into bags you can tip out the exact quantity you need. Happy eating.