When is my favourite produce in season?

Getting ready to can!

It’s canning season again, folks, and this year it comes even earlier than usual.   Now that summer’s heat has arrived, the farmers markets are starting to get full of delicious produce, and we here in the office have been pouring over canning and preserving cookbooks to dream about the delicious food we’re going to put away this summer!   If you’re a canning newbie, you might be interested in our workshop series that will give you the basic skills to make four of the most common types of preserves:  pickles, jam, whole fruit, and salsa.  (You can read more about our workshops schedule here.   Tomato salsa and dilly beans are already FULL, so act now if you’re interested in jam or peach preserves! If you just want a refresher on the basics, you can review our Canning 101 and Canning 201 posts from last summer.)

For those of us that love trying new things every year, it’s always fun to try new recipes, but I inevitably find amazing recipes just after a fruit or vegetable’s season is done.  Why do I forget what order everything comes into season every year?  It’s not really any use to remember when I canned something last year – this year’s produce is almost three weeks ahead of where we were in 2011, which itself was a very late year for Nova Scotia.  If I canned something last year on August long weekend, chances are this year it will be coming into season soon.   How’s a passionate canner supposed to get herself organized and plan ahead?

Marla and I came up with a basic chart that lists fruits and vegetables in order of when they come into season.  The season changes from year to year, but the order that things ripen generally stays the same.  Hopefully this chart will help give you a bit of a heads up on when you should start planning your produce purchases for your canning projects.  Buying in bulk is a great way to keep canning affordable, but you do need to think ahead a little bit.

For example – its’ a good idea to start thinking about strawberry jam when rhubarb season is winding down.  If you plan ahead, you can think about booking off a day to visit a u-pick farm, or maybe it will remind you to talk to local farmers at the market to see if you can order berries in bulk once they’re ready for market.   It’s always a good idea to wait until the peak of the season to buy produce, and not the very first time you see it in the market.   For example, I noticed the earliest baskets of strawberries sold for over six dollars at the market from the very few vendors that had them.  It’s still a great deal for the first berries in the season, and they make the most wonderful strawberry shortcake or a fresh strawberry pie – but a little pricy if you want to make an entire batch of jam.  However, within a few weeks when the strawberry season was at its peak, these same vendors sold them for a few dollars less for the same amount of berries.  If you pick your own fruit at a u-pick farm, you can get an even better price for bulk berries – plus you get to meet the farmer who grew them.  It’s the same idea for tomatoes – many farmers grow hothouse tomatoes and will have them available all summer, but if you want to make a big batch of salsa, you’d be best waiting until the field tomatoes have ripened, which is usually in late August or early September.

This chart includes foods you might want to buy in bulk for freezing, dehydrating,  canning, or pressure canning.  (Yes, pressure canning!  Remember, many low acid vegetables will need to be pressure canned to store safely – this includes many veggies and even chunky tomato sauces!)

Chronological List of Seasonal Produce

Early Spring

Fiddleheads – Great for pickling or freezing.  Check out my fiddlehead pickling experiments here.

Rhubarb – Makes great jam, great for freezing, especially as a syrup.

Early greens like Spinach and Arugula  – Great for freezing.  Marla also loves making arugula pesto, which is also very easy to freeze.  If you want to be like Popeye and can spinach, make sure you use a pressure canner!

Spring

Asparagus – Great for pickling

Strawberries – Great for freezing and making jam.  You can even dehydrate them!

Garlic Scapes – A short season, but great for pickling.  Also a great substitute in pesto.

Early Summer

Green Peas – Freeze

Cherries – Great for canning whole, and dehydrating.  (Does anybody have experience with freezing cherries?  What’s your technique?) Cherries have a relatively short season, so if you’re mad about local cherries, move quickly on these!

Zucchini – Freezing and canning.  Small zucchini are also great to pickle as bread and butter pickles, and larger squash are perfect to grate and use for relish or freezing for wintertime chocolate-zucchini cake.

Baby carrots – Mixed pickles aren’t complete without a few baby carrots!  Otherwise, eat fresh.

RaspberriesFreeze or make jam.  These are also great to pick at a u-pick farm – you will need A LOT of those little boxes of raspberries at the market if you want to make jam!

Cauliflower – Don’t tell me you haven’t had cauliflower pickle!  So good!  Also really tasty in mustard pickles or piccalilli.

Green beans – Great for dilly beans or mixed pickles, and also very easy to freeze.  Beans have a long season, so you don’t need to act quickly if you want to put these away.  Some folks also pressure can green beans if they just want a simple canned vegetable.

Summer

Blueberries – Freeze or make jam… or chutney.  There are lots of places to find bulk blueberries in August.  Many farmers at the market will have them for sale in five pound boxes which is a great amount for any canning project.  It’s also easy to find local frozen berries all year round.

Field cucumbers – Traditional brined pickles or canned pickles.  Many farmers grow English cucumbers in greenhouses, but field cukes make the best bread and butter pickles or relish.  (English cukes tend to be a bit more watery, and have a thinner skin so pickles made from them are a bit on the mushy side.) Farmers usually start off the season with letting their cukes grow large.  ‘Baby’ size cukes usually come into season a couple of weeks after the large field cucumbers show up – but they have a very short season!  If you love canning baby dills, you need to be vigilant about snatching these up when you see them!

‘Baby’ cucumbers – Perfect for dill pickles.  These usually appear a few weeks after the first field cucumbers, but often only show up for a week or two.  Mid summer is a good time to visit the market early so you can snatch up the stock!  It’s a good idea to ask farmers when they think their baby cukes are ready for harvest.

Cherry Tomatoes – Great for dehydrating, but a bit too juicy for successful canning.

Peaches and Plums – Preserving or freezing.  Probably would also be good to dehydrate, but might be a bit tricky to get them fully dry without using other preservatives.

Red and green peppers – A crucial component of many chutneys, relishes and sauces.   Could also be dehydrated to use later on in winter.

Late Summer/Early Fall

Blackberries – Great for freezing and making jam.  This is a great time of year to go foraging for blackberries.  Point Pleasant Park is a great spot to harvest blackberries!

Field Tomatoes – Good for everything!  Regular tomatoes are great to oven roast and then freeze.  Paste varieties of tomato like Roma or San Marzano are best for canning as the flavour is concentrated and you end up with a thicker result.  You can make salsa, tomato sauce, or plain canned tomatoes Remember that tomatoes are a medium-acid food that require extra acidity to can safely.  Consider pressure canning tomatoes if you don’t want to add extra acid, especially if making tomato sauce with other vegetables.

Pears – Great for freezing or preserving.

CabbageSauerkraut!  Often you can find cabbage much earlier in the season, but if you want to make sauerkraut it’s better to make it a little later in the season.  The brining process works a bit better if you have cooler temperatures to store your fermenting kraut.

Beets – Pickle or store in root cellar.  You don’t have to hurry to pickle your beets – they have a long season that make it possible to can when your kitchen is a little cooler.

Late Autumn

Apples – Freeze, or store in root cellar.

Cranberries – Freeze or make into chutney or sauce and can. Make a day of it and go foraging on a beach!

Carrots, Turnips, Cabbage and Beets – Root cellar!

Onions and Garlic  – Cold, dry storage.

Did we miss your favourite produce?  Do you have other suggestions on how to preserve the harvest?  We’d love to hear about it!

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