I always get a little somber at the end of summer. My garden turns thorny and barren with stems that have long ago gone to seed. It's at this point that I turn my energies toward pickling and preserving to get me through the gray months ahead. I always prepare more than I think I will need. I've learned that a few jars will not last very long. Come the holiday season, all my friends are scraping the last jars of their strawberry jams and wishing they had more. Coming in with a gift of summer's harvest preserves will make you a hero in anyone's kitchen.
Gifts made from your own kitchen are thoughtful and treasured; I use everything from Mason jars to old jam jars. Personalize the gift with a ribbon or a tag attached to a jute string, and it becomes a coveted comestible that shows how much effort you put into it. Every year, I try to push the envelope with preserves that go beyond the usual fare of pickled cucumbers and fruit jams. Here are some of my favorites.
Pickled watermelon rinds are a Southern treat that is universally beloved. Like most historic preserve recipes, this one grew out of frugality when home cooks had to find inventive ways to use products that would otherwise have been discarded. Nowadays, pickling watermelon rinds is done not out of necessity but out of sheer pleasure. I use the rinds as a garnish for cured meats, in salads with nuts and radishes, on a cracker with a little blue cheese, or as an accompaniment to roast pork. I've even had them over a scoop of ice cream.
Tomatoes and chile peppers are always a large part of my garden, and I take advantage of the last harvests to make Chile Tomato Jam. It is both familiar and surprising at the same time. I don't worry too much about the variety of tomatoes. Usually it's whatever is left on the vines, mixed into a colorful medley. I use 'Fresno' chiles for their mild flavor, but occasionally I'll sneak a stray red jalapeño in there. I would not recommend anything hotter, or else the pepper will overpower the tomato. I love this in the mornings with a toasted bagel and cream cheese, and on eggs, too. Try it as a garnish for your next burger, and you may forget about using ketchup.
I am a fanatic for classic varieties of carrots: 'Thumbelina', 'Oxheart', 'Red Cored Chantenay'. I always make a good amount of Carrot Cardamom Confiture; it may just become your new favorite preserve. It tastes like a cross between chutney and jam. Its sweetness comes from the carrot itself, but the cardamom adds a creative savoriness that makes it a versatile accompaniment to a daring cheese plate. I use it as a sandwich spread, and it's heavenly on grilled cheeses. It's an easy pairing with all sorts of seafood plates, too. Try using this instead of cocktail sauce for your next shrimp platter.
The end of summer gives us so many wonderful gifts; it's always a project of mine to see what new flavors of preserves and pickles I can conjure up. It also keeps the end-of-summer blues at bay. The techniques in the recipes shown here can be applied to other garden vegetables as well, so I hope you'll go out and try some inventive new produce for preserves.
Originally published in Organic Gardening Magazine, Oct/Nov 2013