I think that August might be the peak month for produce shopping at the local market. I could be wrong but I think mid-August might provide the widest array and biggest cross-section of fruits and vegetables. Apples and pears start to come in while you still have all the summer berries blueberries, strawberries, blackberries (my favorite) and even the tail end of raspberries can be found in August. You get plums, nectarines, apricots and of course who can forget peaches.
August is classically the month of peaches here in the interior and if you happen to be fortunate enough to live in the Okanagan valley you know the delicious abundance of peach season. For $40 I can purchase more peaches than I can process. I fill my cupboards with canned peaches, my freezer with frozen peach slices for smoothies and we eat peaches every day for three juicy weeks.
But lest we forget that we are still in prime vegetable season and while spinach is in short supply in these hot days a vegetable grower worth their salt will still have greens for you. Beautiful, luxurious heads of lettuce in wide varieties. Tomatoes, peppers & cucumbers of all shapes and sizes are found along side plentiful patty pans and delicate little potatoes.
And who could forget the summer squash that stole all the glory zucchini. I personally love zucchini season and it’s mostly because I love relish. What else goes in relish? Onions, white, red, green they all are available in August as well as the season’s first summer garlic. Herbs of every variety and what else is a signature of August? Corn. That ever so seasonal probably contaminated with GMO but you don’t care because it’s so tasty sweet corn.
You name it and you can probably find it at market in August so go crazy.
Roast vegetables. Roast LOTS of vegetables because before you know it they will be gone.
Strawberries are the first fruit that you need to catch if you are going to preserve any sort of quantity of. They come ripe in about the middle of June but are VERY weather depending. If you miss them you are likely out of luck unless you live somewhere that grows the ever bearing variety that produce smaller quantities all summer long. We LOVE strawberries and you can bet that I never miss strawberry season. We almost always head out to a u-pick to save ourselves $1 or more per lb because we buy at least 30lbs of strawberries every year.
Almost all of those strawberries get frozen to use in smoothies and jam if you can believe it. Nearly every smoothie we make around here has strawberries in it. To ensure that they last until next year I split them up into 10-11 ziplock bags and label them with the month we are going to use them in. Once the strawberries for that month are gone, they are gone. This seems to work really well for us and sometimes we even find that in April or May we have a bunch of November or October strawberries to use up!
Strawberries get frozen on trays first and then put into bags afterwards. This prevents clumping and a giant block of strawberries in the freezer. I even actually lay the ziplock bags flat in the freezer as well to maximize storage space. It can get pretty crowded in there come October!
If smoothies aren’t your thing and you have a dehydrator strawberries are just about the tastiest dehydrated fruit going. Make sure you hide that jar from the kids though or they will burn through your precious store in no time flat! I know, it’s happened to us more than once.
June sees the return of many of my vegetable favorites baby carrots, beets & potatoes first come out of the ground this month. Green onions can be found in abundance with radishes along side them. If you have had a warm enough spring peas make their first appearance at markets sometime this month and are a fleeting treat that is well worth the cost. We have never bothered freezing peas but do enjoy them when they are in season. Lettuce increases in variety and in size and the cabbage lover will probably find a small fresh head in someone’s stand.
Strawberries are the highlight of this months fruit basket with those delicious tender fruits appearing just as the last of the asparagus fades away.
I always find June a tricky month for cooking as it’s not quite warm enough for summer salads but no longer cool enough for winter soups and heavy dishes. Grilled vegetables becomes a quick favorite with the fresh baby vegetables bringing a new taste to the tired roasted root vegetable casserole of winter. We opt for lighter quicker cooking cuts of meat than the roasts from a few months prior the first batches of spring chickens are often found at market this month.
I love summer. Who doesn’t. But what I love about it is the growing season and how the produce changes as it ripens and becomes ready for harvesting.
The kitchen staples of apples, oranges and bananas are a perfect example of how out of touch we are with where the food we eat comes from. Bananas are terribly cheap, horribly cheap as a matter of fact and everytime I eat a fresh banana I think a little part of me dies inside knowing where it came from. Oranges don’t grow here either so the only thing that we can actually get from around here are apples. I am staring at an apple tree as I write this. For those who come from the Okanagan they know that before there were vineyards everywhere, and the coddling moth, the apple orchards were what sustained generations of farmers and orchardists. They are a fabulous fruit in that they keep so incredibly well. I can buy a 25 lb box of apples, put them in my cellar and be done with it. No additional labour required. Fantastic.
Not all fruits are so simple. Peaches are another thing that grow plentifully where I am from and man who doesn’t love a fresh peach? They are simply delicious but they don’t keep well at all. Which is why I spent 3 hours a few days ago slicing, boiling, peeling and packing peaches into jars for us to enjoy in the coming colder seasons.
Canning is one of those seemingly lost arts. There was a time when not a root cellar in the city would be found without dozens of jars filled with wonderful fruits and vegetables lining it’s shelves. These days cans of food line grocery store shelves and are packed in factories instead of kitchens. It is sad really but I hear that canning is coming back into fashion what with the recession and all.
When I was growing up we also had a food dehydrator. My mom mostly used it to make fruit leather and banana chips, it didn’t really work all that well and I never really thought much of dehydrating food. Until this spring I met a friend who was/is an avid backpacker and recently purchased a food dehydrator. We would talk about all the things he was going to dry and as the fruit started to come into season a big giant light bulb smashed above my head. Dehydrating food is such a perfect way to keep it intact. I dehydrated a flat of strawberries early this summer and they came out magnificently I wish I had done more. We now have the ability to make our own raisins, crasins and chaisns (dried cherries I just made that up think it’ll catch on?). Brilliant.
To sum it up my primary modes of preservation are drying, canning and freezing. Pretty standard stuff.