If you grow your own fruit and/or vegetables, you’ll approach late August and September with feelings of mixed trepidation and joy.
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of seeing all your hard work bear literal fruit, and even stalwart grow-your-owners never tire of plucking a freshly grown cucumber off the vine or a juicy tomato from the plant. Yet, chances are, you’ll also be faced with more produce than you can physically eat or cook with, all coming to fruition at once and leaving you overwhelmed and feeling as if you’re drowning in courgettes, rhubarb and leafy vegetables. Even your friends will start to resist your desperate offers of free food, having not yet been able to eat up the last donation. When a glut strikes, here are some coping strategies:
Not everyone wants to faff around over the stove making chutney, and not everyone likes the strong, vinegary flavour of this dark, sticky condiment. Quick-pickled vegetables are quite a different beast, though, and - as the name suggests - won’t take much time out of your day. Simply julienne or thinly slice root vegetables such as carrots and radishes (cucumber works well too, but remove the seeds), and mix with a little rice vinegar into which you’ve dissolved sugar - for every 100ml vinegar, add 1 tbsp caster sugar. Leave for half an hour or so, stirring occasionally, then serve alongside Japanese or Vietnamese dishes, salads, cooked meat or fish… the possibilities are endless. These also keep well in the fridge for a few days, so are great for packed lunches and adding a little tangy crunch to whatever you’re eating.
Purée and freeze
Apple and pumpkin purées can be frozen in convenient portions and defrosted later to use in baked goods such as muffins, loaf cakes and granola. For apple purée, simply simmer peeled, cored and diced apples with a splash of water until they turn to mush (you may need to use a stick blender to whizz them to a fine texture), then cool and freeze. This works well as part of the base for homemade granola, and as a low-fat alternative to butter in brownie, cake and muffin recipes. For a pumpkin/squash version, roast large pieces of pumpkin or squash with a little olive oil until totally tender. Peel off the skin and discard, then mash the flesh roughly and place in a sieve lined with muslin to drain overnight (this stops the purée being too watery). Freeze the drained purée in tupperware or freezer bags; it’s great for cheesecakes, scones, muffins, bread and cakes. This is also a good way to use up a large quantity of squash or pumpkin, because it cooks down to very little once all the water is removed.
Courgettes are both a joy and a many-headed monster. You don’t just grow one courgette; you grow what seems like hundreds. The good news is that grated courgette can be added to almost any bread or cake recipe with good results, so try sneaking them into brownies, soda bread or loaf cakes for an added boost of nutrients (and the sweet relief of using them up). Soda bread with grated courgette and feta in the dough is a lovely thing, perfect toasted for lunch, and courgette works very well in chocolate brownies with chocolate chips, ground cardamom and pistachios. Courgette also works well in savoury cheese scones, with toasted pine nuts and sundried tomatoes.
Gluts of cooking apples can be turned into apple jelly with very little faff, no peeling or coring necessary. It’s a great way to use large quantities of apples, and makes a lovely gift. Simply chop the apples roughly and simmer with water, then strain everything overnight through a jelly bag. Simmer the resulting liquid with sugar until it turns deep golden and sets to a sweet jelly. The added bonus of this is that you can incorporate any herbs that you may have an overload of, to preserve their flavour long into winter. I like apple jelly flavoured with lavender, lemon verbena, rosemary or thyme. It is excellent on toast or with cheeses and cured meats. You can also make slightly more savoury versions with chilli (good if you also grow your own chillies). Jelly can also be made with rhubarb.
The perfect way to use up home-grown tomatoes and chillies, and very versatile. It also makes an excellent gift; everyone I’ve ever given this to has loved it and asked for another jar. My favourite chilli jam recipe uses ripe tomatoes, red chillies, Thai fish sauce and ginger. It’s quick to make and fabulous with goat’s cheese or other strong cheeses on toast. Just make sure to wear gloves when chopping all those chillies – I learned this the hard way!
Indian saag paneer or palak paneer
These vegetarian Indian curries are made with lots of leafy greens that cook down to a rich sauce, and are the perfect way to use up a large quantity of leafy vegetables. Spinach is perhaps the most authentic, but Swiss or rainbow chard and kale will also work well. They turn into a flavoursome, thick ‘gravy’ that is the perfect blanket for cubes of creamy, bouncy paneer cheese. Make a large batch and freeze some for later.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.