September is, quite literally, a fruitful month in Vermont gardens. Melons finish their journey to ripeness, apples and pears are ready in orchards, fall raspberry canes bow with the weight of fruit, and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to mature in gardens. In our sunny southern sloping garden, we’re excited to be growing these heat-loving treats so successfully. It is also a time for preservation as we prepare for impending frost. Vegetables like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans can be blanched and frozen. Ingredients for salsa, tomatoes, pesto, hot sauce, and apple sauce are all ready to be harvested and canned. Almost any vegetable or fruit from the garden can be pickled.
Here are a selection of some of my favorite recipes that may help inspire you to enjoy the bounty September has to offer:
Salsa – Our basic recipe and ideas for inventive iterations.
Pesto – consider swapping another nut or seed for pine nuts, another cheese for parmesan, or another herb for basil. So many opportunities for great flavored sauces!
Pickles and fermented veggies – The idea I always fall back on at the end of the day. Almost any favorite vegetable or fruit can be pickled. However (even more beneficially) wilty, less favorite, or overly abundant things can be pickled with equal success.
This is my favorite time of year to include a big handful of herbs and flowers in every meal. Herbs have fully leafed out and are starting to grow tender new leaves. The flowers in bloom are ever evolving, and you’d be surprised to learn how many of them are edible. While we’re waiting for our first peas, beans, cucumbers, and carrots, I love highlighting the wonderful flavors of backyard and garden herbs and flowers.
Make tea: Both herbs and flowers make wonderful tea. Standard flavors like chamomile and mint are easy to grow in your garden and are best harvested at this time of year. Other familiar blooms and leaves also make great tea! Try red clover, stinging nettle, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, catnip, or rose petals. Spices from your kitchen like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon make great additions to tea blends. Want to dig deeper? Get a book or look online to learn the healing properties of your favorite herbs and flowers.
Make Herb Pesto, Dip, Sauce, or Dressing: I’m always surprised by how big a bundle of pungent herbs can be used to made a small dish of delicious “pesto.” Try blending the herbs in your garden with sprouted sunflower seeds, olive oil, parmesan, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto. Add a small amount of chicken broth or coconut milk for a wonderful sauce to top your meals. Add more oil and vinegar, and perhaps some plain yogurt, mustard, and garlic to make a delicious green dressing. As a bonus, herbs are packed with nutrients and a variety of healing properties.
Garnish Generously: Flower petals and finely chopped herbs made delicious and beautiful garnishes for meals and toppings for salads. If you don’t have many choices in your garden, wander into your yard (make sure there are no pesticides or pet waste!) or nearby fields. Dandelion greens and petals, clover petals, violets, wood sorrel leaves, purslane, chick weed and lambs quarters are all nutrient-packed wild leaves, “weeds,” and flowers that are plentiful and tasty.
Garlic scapes are delicious and versatile. We use them raw and cooked in late June and early July when they spring from the tops of our garlic plants. Here are a few suggesitons:
Pickled Garlic Scapes: It might help to read through my “fermenting foods” post first if you want to try out natural fermentation for the first time. Use 1 T. of sea salt per packed quart of veggies and fill with water. Let sit, loosely covered, in a cool place and make sure all vegetables/scapes stay below the surface of the brine. I love picked scapes! Blended up, they could also made a great garlicky and sour addition to a spread or paste made later in the growing season.
Garlic Scape Pesto: Take 1.5 cups fresh scapes cut in one inch pieces, 1/3 cup of olive oil, and 1/4 cups toasted pine nuts. Blend well in a blender or food processor. Stir in 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Spice up your dinner, use as a dip, or freeze in small jars for later use.
Garlic Scape Stir Fry: Simply chop up scapes into bite-sized pieces and stir fry with your other favorite veggies. I suggest adding in the scapes last, because they lose their garlic flavor quickly. They should only fry for a few minutes – just past the point when they turn bright green. I froze a bag of chopped scapes for a fun addition to winter stirfries.
It’s the time of year that backyard gardeners start to think about preserving their garden harvest for the winter. We’ve canned our first batch of pickles and frozen blanched spinach, green beans, and broccoli. As you begin to harvest the bounty of your summer garden, don’t forget the herbs! We dry them for later use in cooking and for herbal tea.
The best time to harvest leaves or flowers is in the mid morning, when the dew has dried but the plant is not dried out or stressed by afternoon sun. Pick fresh growth and full newly-opened blossoms. Older leaves are woodier and older blossoms fall apart easily. It’s best to harvest clean leaves to avoid the need to wash them after harvesting. Leaves should be completely dry before dehydrating.
There are several methods for preserving herbs. Most of the herbs bought in the store have been dried. If you live in a dry climate, bunching and hanging herbs in a dry warm place is simple and will work great. We’ve covered our hanging herb bunches with paper bags to allow for air flow but keep off the dust.
In the Northeast, however, we are blessed with humidity during the mid and late summer. Using a dehydrator is a standard way for you to do this at home. We have one with stackable trays that works well for herbs. A few years ago, however, we realized that the pilot light of our stove (which is on at all times) keeps the oven at about 110 degrees. Perfect for drying things out! We
place herbs on cookie trays in the oven (without turning it on) for about 24 hours. We use this method for chamomile and anise hyssop blossoms, and lemon grass, mint, tarragon, sage, oregano and rosemary leaves. We love using the camomile, anise hyssop, mint, and lemon grass for home-grown herbal tea blends. The other green herbs are perfect for flavoring soups, stews, and sauces. They’re often fresher and more flavorful than anything you can find on a store shelf.
For basil and other delicate and high-moisture leaves, chopping and packing in olive oil can be a better way to preserve the rich but fragile flavors. Other moisture-rich herbs include cilantro and chives. Once dried, they seem to loose much of their spark. We freeze pesto (recipe below) and green sauce, but it’s also just as effective to simply chop/food process a single herb (use about 2 cups) and mix with olive oil (use about 1/3 cup). Put the resulting paste in small plastic containers and drizzle a bit of additional olive oil on top so that no herbs are exposed to the air. This will keep your herbs protected in flavorful until you’re ready to use them in the winter.
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a paste is formed:
-2 cups Basil
-1/2+ cup grated Parmesan (best to buy as a wedge and grate it yourself)
-3/4 cup Olive Oil
-1/4 cup Pine Nuts
-2+ cloves Garlic
Enjoy fresh or spoon into small plastic containers, cover surfice in additional olive oil, and freeze