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Preserving the Summer Harvest

Fruit and vegetables are cheapest when they are abundant - and serious savers will be making the most of the opportunity.

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman

Late summer is the time to fill your pantry shelves and freezer with food to last you though to the next growing season. Our earth roaming ancestors had developed lots of ways to extend the season’s harvest to the leaner months. One can imagine them huddled in their cave around their fire, sharing their methods of preserving food – and discussing new ways to avoid global cooling! Fortunately food preservation methods have endured through the generations, and been improved along the way, so we are all a little wiser and better fed.

Unlike our ancestors – who did not have the luxury of supermarkets! – preserving food is not a matter of life or death. It is however a matter of dollars and sense for the frugal family because fruit and vegetables are cheapest when they are abundant – and serious savers will be making the most of the opportunity.

Those gardening off the smell of an oily rag will have barrow loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. But even those who have yet to discover the joys of an oily rag garden should be making the most of the season’s harvest by buying cheap – or better still, receiving free fruit and vegetables from neighbours, friends and relatives.

Here are some different ways to store your abundance:

Freezing is the most common way of preserving food – so common that many people don't really see it as a form of preserving. We reckon having a decent sized freezer is an essential for those feasting off the smell of an oily rag.

Most things can be frozen, but those foods that don’t freeze well include cream (though whipped cream can be frozen), cream cheese, custard pies, cream puddings and fillings, mayonnaise, boiled potatoes (mashed potato can be frozen), salad greens, and the whites of hard-boiled eggs.

If vegetables are to be frozen, most need blanching in boiling water to retain maximum flavour and colour.

Although drying food is not all that common today, it is perhaps the easiest and most natural method of preserving fruit, vegetables, and herbs. The whole process of drying foods is designed to remove moisture. This can be done naturally (in the sun), or in an oven or dehydrator.

To sun-dry foods you have to have very dependable weather: desert-like conditions are ideal – hot days with low humidity. If the conditions are right, your produce should dry within two to three days. Fruits are the best foods to sun-dry. All that is needed is a tray (preferably lined with cheesecloth) but almost anything clean and flat can be used. A covering of curtain net is advisable to keep away pesky flies. It is also a good idea to dry yummy produce in a high place away from predators – especially hungry youngsters! If your weather is unpredictable or time is a factor, then use an oven or borrow a food dehydrator!

Preserving food by smoking is like drying, in that moisture is removed and the greater the weight loss, the better the keeping qualities. The smoke deposits and the salt used in curing also halt the growth of bacteria.

Bottling kills off the ripening enzymes that exist in all fruit and vegetables. All air contact is eliminated by placing the produce in brine, vinegar, or a syrup solution. By preventing the enzymes from reacting with the air, any further ripening is prevented and the food is preserved.

A reader from Auckland says, “Use glass jars with pop-up button lids to preserve fruit. If you don't yourself buy jams, pasta sauces etc., ask friends and neighbours for the jars they might otherwise recycle. As long as lids and jars are undamaged they can be used again and again. Sterilize both jars and lids in boiling water, fill with piping hot stewed fruit, plum sauce etc. and screw on lids while hot. Once the lids have popped down you can literally keep these preserves for years. Old stick-on labels can be soaked and scraped off and residue glue removed with eucalyptus oil.”

If you have a favourite tip share it with others by visiting the oily rag website or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei. The book Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag by Frank & Muriel Newman is available from all good bookstores or online at

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at