Every August, we try to avoid it, but it is inevitable: summer’s long days grow shorter as the season draws to a close. On the bright side, in its waning weeks, our gardens and farm stands explode with cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant. If only there was a way to bottle that bounty.
Fortunately, there are some convenient and fool-proof ways to extend the flavors of the season, and savor them for months to come. Here are two to try—quick-pickling and drying.
Quick-pickling is an easy alternative to fermented and pressure-canned pickles. You can quick-pickle anything, from classic cucumbers and onions to tomatoes and even peaches. The ingredient is submerged in a 1:1 mixture of water and vinegar (typically, white, cider, red, or rice), and seasoned however you like. Add about 1 tablespoon of salt for every 2 cups of liquid, and flavor the mix by adding ingredients like peeled garlic cloves, ginger root, dried or fresh chiles, whole spices (it’s important to use whole spices, as ground spices can impart a gritty texture), cilantro or dill stems, sugar, or honey. The list is virtually endless, but always on hand in my fridge? Pickled red onions with sliced habaneros and dried oregano.
Pour the mixture over the ingredient—whole for small produce, like green beans or grapes, or in wedges or slices, for things like beets, cauliflower florets, or carrots. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to 2 months afterward. Enjoy pickled cucumbers, green beans, or okra as a snack, or use the pickles in any dish for a briny, acidic note. Sauté pickled tomatoes for an easy pasta dish or blend pickled peppers for a tangy, spicy sandwich topping. Reserve the leftover brine for vinaigrettes or other pickles.
Drying produce, most commonly fruit, removes the water from an ingredient, which is the main culprit in spoilage. Dried fruits can be held at room temperature for up to a year, which means you can snack on dried tomatoes, grapes, peaches, plums all winter. You can dry halved, quartered, or sliced fruit, though the smaller the pieces, the more efficiently they will dry, leading to better storage.
To dry fruit in the oven, lay the pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 200°F with the door ajar until the fruits are shriveled, chewy, and dry to the touch. Depending on the fruit, it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. Cool the fruit completely before storing in air-tight containers or zip-top bags. Discard the dried fruit if mold or moisture appears, or if they begin to smell “off” or rancid.
Dried fruit can be enjoyed just as it is, chopped and added to your favorite scone or baking recipe, or even dipped in chocolate for a sweet treat! Though dried fruit makes for a great lunchbox or hike snack, they can also be added to plenty of savory dishes, like tagines, pastas, and salads for a burst of summery sweetness.
Chef Jose Frade is an Associate Dean at The Culinary Institute of American in San Antonio, Texas.