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Summer Produce

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for August, 2000, Vol. 4, No. 4

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Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer harvest is reaching avalanche proportions--and I haven't done a food tip since February. Those of you in the Southern Hemisphere can save this tipsheet for a few months, if you like.

So...now that you and your neighbors are about to be buried under platoon quantities of zucchini, tomatoes, berries, and other good stuff...what do you do with it all? (If you don't have a garden of your own...make friends with a gardener. They will be only too glad to give you some of their excess. Other sources include a few small pots on a windowsill or terrace--at least enough for herbs and tomatoes--membership in a cooperative farm, local farmers markets, and roadside produce stands.

1) Preserve it!

Wouldn't it be nice if you could keep some of that summer goodness for the cold and dreary months to come? That way not only won't you get sick of it all now, but you'll have it when you really appreciate it.

Good news: you can! Many produce items, even some you wouldn't think of, can be dried, canned, or frozen. We invested in a food dehydrator many years ago, and I've never been sorry--especially when it's darkest January, the winds are howling, and I'm savoring the summertime taste of a reconstituted dried tomato harvested at the peak of flavor. Anything that goes into the dehydrator should be thinly sliced. We've done tomatoes, pears, apples, strawberries, bananas, plums, rhubarb (OK, so that was a little weird--but great in soups)--the only thing that didn't turn out too well, so far, was pumpkin. If you live in a sunny area, you could probably even make homemade drying racks, cover them in bug-proof but food-safe netting, and just use the sun. We have to use electricity for our store-bought one.

We also store quite a bit in our freezer: fresh herbs (basil is particularly wonderful. It loses its color, but the flavor is nearly as good as fresh), u-pick blueberries, cooked tomato sauce. I once even made waaaaay too much hummus and froze the extra in pint containers; I was surprised at how well it did. Tofu freezes too, though it gets very chewy afterwards--but great for things like vegetarian chili.

And though I've never bothered with it, I know many, many gardeners who home-can. If you've got a pantry, you can put up vegetables, fruits, jams, and more.

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A request to please forward this issue to three friends. If you're reading this for the first time, every month, I send out a brief tipsheet on some aspect of low-cost fun (the subject of my book, The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook). Past issues have covered travel, entertainment, dining, romance, and more. Past issues are archived on the Frugal Fun website, and I hope to get the archive current by the end of the summer.
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2) Use your imagination (and your favorite cookbooks)

We do try to use a lot of the fresh bounty when it's still fresh. And we don't just do salads with it. Flip through cookbooks and think, "how can I do it differently with what I have?"

Just the other day, I made a crustless quiche with a whole bag of last week's fresh greens. I chopped them finely, sauteed mushrooms, garlic, onion and wine together, added the greens for just about two minutes, mixed them with eggs, milk and cheese, grated in a little nutmeg and black pepper, and threw the concoction in the oven for an hour. It was great! And my family didn't have to moan, "oh, no, not salad again!"

I invented zucchini guacamole a few years ago. Throw zucchini into a food processor with lots of garlic and cilantro, some lemon, and a dash of hot pepper. Serve with corn chips. Do something similar with eggplant, but cook it first (eggplant likes a long cooking time, but then it's a wonderful receptacle for strong flavors).

Corn is another very versatile food--though this year's crop has been so nice and sweet that we haven't wanted to mess with it. But if you get a starchy batch, mix it up with cheese and hot peppers in a casserole.

If you've got an orchard surplus, think about stewed mixed fruit, apple-berry sauce, oatmeal cookies with fruit...

Get the idea? Very little food goes uneaten into the compost pile around here?

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ABOUT THIS TIPSHEET:
Once a month, Shel Horowitz sends out a Frugal Fun Tip covering some aspect of cheap fun. As the author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook--Shel has been featured in print media and on radio stations around the world.

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