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What to Do When Your Vegetable Garden Overproduces—and How to Not Waste Anything

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Growing vegetables can sometimes feel like a whole lot of work for very little payout. You might have given a plant painstaking, time-intensive care, only to be greeted by exactly two strawberry fruits of your labor. Other times, though, a crop might find the conditions you offer it to be more than ideal, and by harvest season you’re up to your eyes in vegetables. To gardeners this is known as a glut, and some of the easiest things to grow also happen to be the most glut-prone. I spoke with Rory O’Connell, who cofounded the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland, with his sister, author and chef Darina Allen. They have been teaching folks how to grow, cook, and preserve food sustainably since 1983 on the grounds of their 100-acre organic farm and have decades of experience making the most of a glut. I compiled O’Connell’s advice from our conversation together with bits from Allen’s new book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, for a simple but comprehensive guide to handling an overabundance of tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and herbs. Some of these methods you may already know while others will be completely new. Either way, this is just a modest sampling of the wisdom that Allen and O’Connell have to offer.

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Herbs

Drying herbs certainly isn’t a groundbreaking technique, but if you are waiting until the end of the season to dry them, you’re doing it all wrong. Allen advises harvesting herbs before they have a chance to flower—that’s when they’re at their most aromatic. Hang them in loose bundles—too tight and they might trap moisture and lead to mold—and in an airy but not sunny space. Unlike peppers and tomatoes, which can handle drying in the sun, leafy herbs have aromatic oils that can break down in the heat, leaving you with flavorless dust. Drying doesn’t take long (three days, max), which means you can quickly bottle and store the herbs. Drying herbs throughout the summer will allow you to preserve them at their most flavorful and minimize throwing surplus away.

While you can always make a batch of pesto or a green sauce to freeze in small portions, many herbs like basil freeze surprisingly well as is. However, there’s a trick to it, O’Connell says. “Pick it on a dry day. When you want to use the basil, open the freezer door, but don’t take the whole container out. Lift off the lid, take the specific amount you need, then quickly close the lid and close the door. You don’t want any extra basil to defrost and refreeze, otherwise it will oxidize immediately.” Most other leafy herbs freeze well too.

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Tomatoes

Even if your stomach has an unlimited capacity for tomato sandwiches and caprese salads, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to consume your entire crop while its fresh.

When thinking about tomato-preservation methods, many people jump straight to canning. That’s certainly fine, but there’s no rush to do that, says O’Connell. He offers a simpler alternative: Let the tomatoes ripen as much as possible before freezing them just the way they are, with the calyx removed. “We use frozen tomatoes throughout the winter wherever a preserved tomato would be appropriate, in place of canned or jarred tomatoes.” This way you’re able to make sauces and soups with a fresher, summery flavor profile as opposed to that of a canned and preserved tomato.

Alternatively, he recommends trying tomatoes, which you can do in the oven. Split them in half, drizzle them with salt and oil, and let them sit 8–12 hours in the lowest possible oven setting. Once completely dry, you can store them in olive oil inside a sterilized jar. You can do the same with semi-dried tomatoes, which are still a little juicy and perfect for sandwiches—just be sure to store them in the fridge.

Peppers

O’Connell recommends roasting peppers, peeling the skin, and preserving them in olive oil. He also likes to add basil leaves in between each pepper for an additional layer of flavor. “That and a bit of brea and you have yourself a meal.” Grilling works well for this too, making it easy to bring a bit of smoky summer flavor to a dish throughout the rest of the year.

According to Allen, dried chiles are able to keep their flavor for a year and can easily be rehydrated for salsas and stews. At the school they take a needle and thread and string peppers through the stem, leaving a little room between each one for proper air ventilation. They hang them in the kitchen and use them as they need them. At home, you can do this in a sunny area with low humidity and good ventilation. You can also give them a bit of a head start in a low and slow oven, and then string them up, if you’re worried about spoilage.

Peppers are also a dream for jams and chutneys, capable of lighting up a cheese spread in the cold dark of winter.

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Squash

While most late-season and cold hardy squash can last as-is in a root cellar or garage, zucchini is a particularly tricky beast. Not only does it like to grow quickly and in great volume, zucchini’s thin skin makes it unsuitable for long-term storage, and its high water content makes it a poor candidate for canning and preserves. Also, when zucchinis get too big, the flesh becomes starchy and bland and the seeds grow large. In this form the Irish call them marrows, and they are best suited as bland vessels for savory meat fillings.

If you can’t manage to stay on top of it all by eating zucchini throughout the season (here are some recipes to help you with that), you can chop them up and freeze them raw or pre-steamed. They can also be incorporated into chutneys as filler, along with other more enticing veg like tomatoes, peppers, and onions. However, O’Connell cautions: “Don’t preserve for sentiment, preserve for quality.” Going through the effort of preserving something isn't worth it unless you’re looking forward to eating the results in the future. Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply share your bounty with others.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious