Our gar­den­ing writer Char­lotte Philcox ex­plains how to make the most of your fruit and veg­etable har­vest.

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How to make the most of har­vest­ing your fruit and veg

Au­tumn is the time of har­vest, not least for any­one lucky enough to have a veg­etable gar­den. It’s sur­pris­ing just how much pro­duce can be stashed away from even the small­est of plots which, as some­one with the habits of a squir­rel, is for me one of the most sat­is­fy­ing as­pects of gar­den­ing.

Nowa­days, few of us have the tra­di­tional ‘root cel­lar’ of Amer­i­can pi­o­neer his­tory, but some do have frost-proof garages, which if un­heated, can pro­vide fairly good con­di­tions for stor­ing many gar­den crops. Just re­mem­ber to keep any fruit or veg­eta­bles well away from gar­den and house­hold chem­i­cals.

Ap­ples last well if cool and dry, but be­cause of the eth­yl­ene gas they give off, they should be stored sep­a­rately as this can make other pro­duce ripen and spoil. It’s also a good idea to keep early, late and mid-sea­son fruits sep­a­rate, since if mixed, the eth­yl­ene will have the same ef­fect.

Some of the best keep­ers in­clude the dessert ap­ples ‘Granny Smith’, ‘Idared’, ‘Jon­agold’ and ‘Win­ston’, while ‘Bram­ley’s Seed­ing’ and ‘Lane’s Prince Al­bert’ are the best cook­ers.

Pears will store at slightly cooler tem­per­a­tures, and if you only have a few, the salad com­part­ment in an or­di­nary fridge can be a good place to keep them. Va­ri­eties such as ‘Con­fer­ence’ and ‘Doyenné de Comice’ are the most suit­able.

Al­ways pick any ap­ples or pears for stor­ing with the fruit stem in­tact. With­out this, they will rot very quickly. They should be free from blem­ishes, and just a lit­tle un­der-ripe. Place them in sin­gle lay­ers with­out touch­ing each other, in open sided, shal­low wooden or card­board boxes, or di­rectly on to un­treated, slat­ted wooden shelves.

While on the sub­ject of fruit, ear­lier in the year, small plas­tic bags of mixed blue­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries, black and white cur­rants found their way into my freezer - ideal for use in the depths of win­ter as eas­ily de­frosted top­pings for por­ridge or muesli. Most berries seem to freeze ex­tremely well with­out any prepa­ra­tion, although straw­ber­ries are best zapped in a blender and given the ice cube treat­ment (see be­low) for use in syrups, smooth­ies or fruit sal­ads.

On the veg­etable front I’ve found that broad beans and peas seem to sur­vive the freez­ing process best. I’ve long given up on French and run­ner beans, which seem to lose any sem­blance of their orig­i­nal flavour or crisp­ness once frozen. Ex­cesses of th­ese are best made into pick­les or chut­neys, given away, or gorged on while still fresh.

Many herbs freeze well, and you can save some pars­ley and mint for win­ter use now, be­fore they are clob­bered by nat­u­ral frosts in the gar­den. Gather and wash the fresh­est leaves you can find, be­fore pack­ing ev­ery­thing into a mug, and chop­ping with a pair of kitchen scis­sors. No mess, no fuss, and they’ll be ready in a mat­ter of min­utes. You can then pack your chopped herbs into the in­di­vid­ual com­part­ments of an ice cube tray, cover with a small amount of wa­ter and freeze. Once frozen, the cubes can be re­moved from their trays, placed inside a plas­tic stor­age bag, la­belled and kept in the freezer un­til needed. Ideal for win­ter sauces, soups and stews, and the

Most berries seem to freeze ex­tremely well with­out any prepa­ra­tion.

process works re­ally well for basil too.

Where herbs are con­cerned, you might also like to pop some small mint, chive, thyme, sage and pars­ley plants into pots, and bring them into an un­heated green­house for win­ter use. I like to keep a pot of thyme on the kitchen win­dow sill too.

Stems of fresh thyme, sage and rose­mary can be cut now for dry­ing. Do this first thing in the morn­ing on a sunny day. They can then be tied into bunches, and hung up­side down in a cool and airy room. I dry mine by spread­ing freshly picked stems on a sheet of grease­proof pa­per or dry­ing rack placed on top of a bak­ing tray in the air­ing cup­board. Once dry and crumbly, the leaves can be re­moved and stored in small glass jars in a cup­board or drawer.

If you have enough space to grow win­ter squashes for stor­age, th­ese should be har­vested as soon as the stems of the fruit have hard­ened off. Cut them with as much of this stem as pos­si­ble, as it will re­duce the risk of rot­ting, and help them to keep for longer. Stored in a cool room, I find they will last well into Jan­uary. Sum­mer squashes won’t store for any length of time, hence their name, which with both types in­di­cates their time of use, not of crop­ping.

Pota­toes should have had as much soil rubbed off them as pos­si­ble af­ter har­vest­ing, be­fore be­ing dried or ‘cured’ in a sunny spot for a few hours to harden their skins. They are best kept in pa­per or hes­sian sacks in a dark, cool and dry place. Re­mem­ber to check any stored pota­toes reg­u­larly for green­ing or rot, and rub off any white shoots which might be form­ing. As the pota­toes pro­duce th­ese, they start to lose some of their nu­tri­ents, but are still per­fectly good to eat.

Gar­lic and onions from a July har­vest keep best when dried out­side for a week, be­fore bring­ing inside. They should be stored in a warm, dry and airy place, as if too cold or damp, they may start to shoot or rot.

Of course there are also a good num­ber of veg­eta­bles which can be left in the ground over the win­ter, which makes life a lot eas­ier. Brus­sels sprouts, kale, Savoy cab­bages, Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes, leeks, parsnips, swede and win­ter salad leaves can all be left to grow ‘in situ’, and picked when needed. And that’s surely the eas­i­est way of keep­ing na­ture’s har­vest fresh and nu­tri­tious.

Win­ter squash ‘But­ter­cup’ ready for har­vest.

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