Weeknight food preservation: Put up food for winter without canning

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After a stretch of extreme heat here in Missouri, last week’s 80-degree weather felt downright fall-like.

The crispness of the morning air must have stirred something in me. All of a sudden, I realized that I’d be kicking myself come wintertime if I didn’t preserve any of the gorgeous food coming off the farm right now.

Although I enjoy canning, I’ve been too busy to devote any time to it. Luckily, one of my mentors at the farm shared some quick, easy ways to preserve summer’s bounty without canning.

Check out these short-cuts to preserve surplus food quickly and easily during the work week.


Although tomatoes are a classic choice for canning, they keep just as well in the freezer. Frozen tomatoes can be thawed for winter sauce or stews.

1. Remove skins: Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in a few tomatoes (you may have to work in batches) and boil until their skins start to blister or split (about a minute). Remove the tomatoes from the water using tongs, a slotted spoon, or a Chinese skimmer and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, use your hands to peel the skins (they should just slip off).

2. Prep tomatoes: Next, chop off the tops of the tomatoes and slice away any tough flesh, bruises, or rot spots. At this point, the tomatoes are ready to be frozen (step 4), or you can proceed to step 3.

3. Remove seeds and water (optional): Cut the tomato in half lengthwise and gently scrape out the seeds using a small spoon or your finger. Then drain the tomatoes in a colander to remove excess water. Removing seeds and water makes for a smoother, thicker tomato sauce.

4. Store: Place tomatoes in plastic freezer bags, remove air, and store in the freezer.


I love making big batches of pesto to store in the freezer, but when I have several pounds of basil (or mint, dill, cilantro, parsley, arugula, etc.) that need to be dealt with immediately, I use this short-cut.

1. Wash and dry: Rinse and dry 2 cups of your herb of choice.

2. Puree with olive oil: Combine the herb with a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a food processor. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor container as necessary.

3. Store: Spoon the herb mixture into a plastic freezer bag or container and store in the freezer.

When you’re ready to make pesto, defrost the herb mixture. Toast 2 tablespoons of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, cashews, etc.) and chop 1/2 clove of garlic. Combine the herb mixture with the nuts, garlic, and 1/4 cup more of olive oil in a food processor and process. Grate 1/2 cup of hard cheese (Parmesan, pecorino Romano, etc.) or omit for a vegan version. Stir in the cheese by hand and serve. (Makes about 1 cup of pesto.)


What I miss most in the winter is greens. So I’ve started to put up a few cups of greens here and there during the week. Right now I’m focusing on pea shoots, but later in the growing season I’ll start preserving cool-weather greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard. Frozen greens can be thrown into stews and casseroles during the winter.

1. Wash: Wash greens thoroughly and, if necessary, trim leaves from stalks.

2. Blanch: Place small quantities of greens into boiling water for about a minute. Remove greens from boiling water and chill in ice water for one minute.

3. Drain: Drain greens in a colander. Gently press down on greens to remove any excess water.

4. Pre-freeze: Place greens on a tray or cookie sheet in a single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes.

5. Store: Transfer greens to freezer bags, remove air, and seal. Store in freezer.

For more information on food preservation, visit Five Ways to Preserve the Summer Harvest.

Written by rachelshulman


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  1. A friend told me that she pops them in the freezer whole and unpeeled. Then when they’re thawed the skins slide right off! I haven’t tried it yet but plan to.

    I’ve been canning like a madwoman this summer. It’s fun to see all the colors and shapes in those jars.


    • I’ll have to try that tomato trick and see if it works! I suspect it might work better for slicing tomatoes than sauce tomatoes…

  2. Canning is great, but I agree – it takes a lot of time!! We just finished making a massive batch of pesto that was put in jars, but is heading for the freezer. Great idea on the tomatoes, those are up next! Thanks for the post!

    • I really like these shortcuts because I can put away smaller quantities of food bit by bit during the week. Freezing makes sense when you have a pound of basil that’s starting to turn a little black on the edges or some tomatoes that you know you aren’t going to get to in time. Taking 20 minutes to put up excess food as it becomes available really adds up over the course of the summer – you’ll be thankful come wintertime that you did!

      Canning makes more sense to me when all of a sudden I have 20 pounds of extra tomatoes and I have the weekend off – then I’ll make a day of it.

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