Reaping the rewards of your veg patch

Make the most of your harvest
Make the most of your harvest

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Okay, so your trug is now buckling under the weight of your fattening courgettes, juicy tomatoes, plums, green beans, aubergines and peppers – and the chances are some of it will end up in the bin unless you’re feeding a bunch of hungry vegetarians every night.

However, don’t despair and don’t let your courgettes turn into marrows just because you don’t know what to do with them. A few recipe books may give you inspiration to make a job lot of ratatouille or other veggie delights which you can freeze and enjoy at a later date.

As part of its Grow Yourself Healthy campaign, BBC Gardeners’ World magazine is inviting people to reap the rewards of their labour during Harvest Week from September 12-18, with a list of suggestions on how to make the most of your crops on its website and in the September issue of the magazine.

Suggestions include hosting your own harvest party with the help of a range of party menus on the website, which feature mouth-watering recipes to show off your home-grown crops.

If you have an allotment, organise a swap shop where allotment holders can bring their excess produce to swap for some of your harvest.

However, if you’re reluctant to part with the home-grown fruits of your labour, there are many ways to preserve it so you can be enjoying it well into the winter months.

Tomatoes can be frozen to use in sauces, casseroles and other cooked dishes. Immerse them in boiling water, peel off the skins, let them cool and then store them in batches in freezer bags. Just remember, they will be soft when they are defrosted, so won’t be suitable for salads.

Alternatively, make tomato chutneys using a mixture of vinegar, salt and sugar, with added spices. Apples, garlic and onions can also be used to add flavour to chutneys.

Many vegetables can easily be frozen, by preparing and blanching them first (plunging in boiling water for a couple of minutes and then cooling them in iced water for a few minutes so they don’t continue cooking), then transferring to freezer bags. Green beans, asparagus, sweetcorn, carrots, Brussels sprouts and courgettes can all be frozen in this way.

Virtually every fruit can be frozen, but be warned that when it is defrosted it’s likely to be soggy and sitting in juice. However, its flavour will not be impaired and such fruits are ideally used in sauces, compotes, pies and tarts.

You need to de-stone stone fruits before freezing, as the stone will give off an almond taint. Apples and plums can be sliced, tossed with lemon and sugar, then frozen.

Don’t store any apples ripening before the end of September, as few of these will keep for long. You’re better off turning them into puree, juice or dried apple rings. The best keeping varieties hang on the trees through October and are only gathered when hard frost hits them.

Prepare them for storage by placing them in a cool, airy place for a couple of days to sweat out any excess moisture. Put them out on a chilly evening without frost and then put them in storage first thing in the morning before they have warmed.

Lay the apples in trays on a bed of crumpled or shredded newspaper in a frost-free, cool, dark place, such as a garage or shed. Pears can be stored in a similar environment but should not be wrapped.

Other home produce requires dry storage, including potatoes, onions, garlic, pumpkins and winter cabbages. Potatoes should be left to dry off for several hours before storing in a wooden box in a dark, frost-free shed.

Parsnips, cabbages, cauliflowers, beets and other roots keep fresh in the ground if covered in loose straw and plastic before everything freezes solid. Alternatively they can be kept in a cellar, or a dead chest-freezer in a shed, where the temperature and humidity are constant.

Onions, garlic and shallots keep easily for up to six months if they are well dried.