How to keep summer’s nutrition for winter
Summer produce is so varied and plentiful - and by using it in delicious dishes, we get the benefit of good nutrition. We’re spoiled by the choice of things like berries and stone fruits that can top up our vitamin C, fibre and antioxidant levels. Many of them are also water rich so help us hydrate for healthier skin. Then there are tomatoes, which are high in potassium and vitamin A. Although winter has its own healthy offerings from the garden, we can give ourselves a boost in the colder months by putting summer’s bounty aside for rainy days.
Why not try some of these ways to get summer fruits and vegetables into your winter diet?
If you don’t have a fruit dehydrator, you can try using the oven. The time it takes to dry the fruit (often between 5 and 8 hours on a low heat) will depend on its size, but in general it’s just a matter of placing the fruit evenly spaced on some non-stick baking paper on a tray. It can then be stored in an airtight container. Drying it yourself can be a really healthy option because it may cut the added sugars and preservatives. Some fruit you might want to try drying include apricots, apples, pear slices, cranberries, pineapple pieces and figs.
We often aren’t able to eat as much fruit as we buy, so some can be frozen when it’s ripe, to be enjoyed later. Make sure the fruit is dry on the outside before freezing, then cut it according to what it will be used for – you might want slices or pieces for a dessert, or a puree for an ice cream topping or smoothie ingredient. It can take around four hours for fruit pieces to be completely solid in the freezer, and once there they’ll often keep for a few months.
Preserves and jams
These can be a less healthy option because refined sugar is usually added to the fruit along with boiling water, but it can make a delicious treat to enjoy over winter. Preserved fruit is generally made in a sugar syrup so it can be stored in the fridge in the short term, or the freezer in the long term. Jams are similar but the recipe includes pectin before the mixture is added to a jar. The acidity of the produce helps protect it from going off if bacteria is introduced, but it pays to check the seal of the jar when the jam or preserve is made, and before eating.
These days we hear a lot about fermented food because of its potential to boost our gut health. Fermentation is done either by using either a salty brine, or the juice of the produce itself, whey or a starter culture. During the fermentation process, the bacteria that make food go off are inhibited and alcohols or acids are produced from the food’s natural sugars and starches to preserve the food.
Before you get started on preserving, some things you might want to buy are jars made especially for this purpose. They’re designed to withstand hot temperatures such as when boiling jam is first poured in, and to maintain an airtight seal. Large size pots are also needed if you have lots of fruit to preserve, and you can also use drying racks in the oven for dried fruit. Some sturdy, long handled tongs and a rack for several preserving jars also come in handy.