When most people plant their spring vegetable garden, they are only thinking of the delicious fresh flavors they will be eating later at harvest. But when I plant, I’m thinking about what I like to eat out of a jar — the foods I enjoy from the pantry.
I am a canner. So aside from fresh produce, I tend to also look at an edible garden as a promise of future meals. I want to be enjoying fresh flavors in the dead of winter when that garden is long gone. So I plan my garden with preservation in mind as well as flavor.
If you, too, would like to do some canning this summer and fall, start picking the appropriate plants now — during spring planting. As you choose your plants, consider how you might like to use them on the pantry shelf or what canned foods you particular love (like pickles).
Do you like pasta and stew? Then set out an extra roma tomato plant or two so you can preserve crushed tomatoes for sauce and slow cooked foods. Enjoy pickles? Then plant vegetables that pickle well such as beans, carrots, hot peppers and pickling cucumbers. When any vegetable is pickled on harvest day, the flavors can’t be beat. Do you like to bake? Zucchini will always provide more than you need and it is easy to grate and freeze for zucchini bread or cookies later. Or you can chop it for a delicious canned relish. And if you have any type of berries or fruit, then jam and jelly are probably in your future.
If you are just getting started with canning, then I suggest you start with the two vegetables below. They are versatile and a good way to dive into preserving the harvest. But no matter what canning foods you plant, you will be mighty happy when winter comes and you still have fresh garden flavors on your pantry shelves.
You can preserve any homegrown tomato in a jar and it will hold its flavor well. But I especially enjoy roma tomatoes because they make a great crushed tomato for sauce and Italian cooking. Two to three plants will provide enough for several batches of crushed tomatoes. Grow more if you really want to stock up. Most romas tend to ripen all at once, which is perfect for canning. But you have to watch them so you are ready when they are.
Not all cucumbers are good as pickles. You need to grow a variety specifically meant for pickling. (It will say so on the label.) They are small and firm and hold their crispness when pickled. But the good news is that you also can eat a pickling cucumber fresh in salad as well. It is really dual-purpose! So, if you plant a pickling cucumber but later decide not to make pickles, you still have delicious cucumbers to eat fresh. And if you are a first time canner, you can make quick pickles with cucumbers instead of brined pickles. They are easy and yes…quick!