One of the best feelings in the world is that of being able to harvest the fruit you’ve grown, especially if it’s the first time your trees or shrubs have borne any. After all, you’ve spent the entire year fertilizing, watering, and keeping your crops pest and disease-free, so it can feel like quite the accomplishment when you finally get to sample the payoff. Some folks are even lucky enough to have wild fruit growing on their properties like blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.
While a large harvest is a blessing, it can also be a little intimidating to use up. Sure, you can make dozens upon dozens of jars of jam to give away to everyone you know during the holiday season, but there are other things you can do with that fruit surplus, too.
When Does It Ripen?
When planning out what you’re going to make with your harvest, you'll find it helpful to know which of your garden's fruits will be ripening together, especially in the summer, when it seems as if everything is ready to be picked at the same time. Although fruit harvests fall around the same time every year, the exact window will vary based on your geographic location.
Plums, blackberries, and blueberries are all fruit that can be harvested all summer long. Fruit like apricots, cherries, and strawberries is usually ready in early or mid-summer. In the late summer, peaches, figs, apples, and raspberries turn ripe for the picking. Remember that sometimes fruits ripen earlier or later than expected depending on things like water and weather conditions. For example, the plums on my property are usually ready to harvest early in the summer, around the end of June. This year, however, we didn’t pick them until the end of July — likely because we had a wet winter, a blustery spring, and so on. If you’re not sure of when your fruit will be ready to pick, keep a diary of when you pick it this year so you'll have a better idea of when it’ll be ready the next time around.
What to Do With Your Fruit?
Pickle It: As the skit from Portlandia makes abundantly clear, you can pretty much pickle anything. Fruit, including peaches, apples, plums, pears, currants, and grapes, can be pickled in a brine or vinegar-based solution. Throw your favorite spices into the mix to increase the depth of flavor. Pickled fruit is delicious with meat-based dishes, in salads, or as a standalone snack.
Can It in a Simple Syrup: If you want to use your fruit later on in pies, crumbles, and other baked treats, try preserving it in simple syrup with a lightness or heaviness of your choosing. When you’re ready to bake, remove the fruit from the jars. Save the leftover syrup to flavor seltzer water or soda, or use it to make a mixer for alcohol!
Fruit Syrup: Create gourmet syrups to use as marinades, flavoring for tea or cocktails, and sauces for desserts, pancakes, and waffles. Fruit syrups are really easy to make and consist entirely of fruit, sugar, and water. Boil four cups of fruit, two cups of sugar, and a cup of water in a pot and strain out the fruit once it has softened. Store the remaining liquid in the fridge.
Dry It: Dried fruit makes a wonderful addition to granola, trail mix, ice cream, and baked goods, and it makes for a delicious afternoon pick-me-up. Plus, fruit leathers are a healthier alternative to more processed kids’ snacks. While it helps to have a food dehydrator on hand, you can also dry fruit in the oven as long as you’re able to set the temperature to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. After you’ve washed the fruit and removed the pits, stones, and stems, slice it into even sections. For tougher-skinned varieties like peaches and apples, it helps to remove the skin before you dry it. You may also want to soak your fruit in lemon juice and water to prevent it from discoloring.
Shrubs: Shrubs are old-timey, colonial-era beverages that are making a comeback among the hip tastemakers in the food scene. These vinegar-based tonics are used to flavor water, clear sodas, and cocktails. They're made up of fruit, sugar, and vinegar and can be mixed with herbs and spices for added flavor. Although there are many ways to make shrubs, all of them are very straightforward and simple.
Homebrew: Although brewing takes time — much of it involves waiting for the yeast to work its magic and ferment the beverage — it’s well worth it. Fruit that's high in sugar often makes the best brews. Some solid options include cherries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, blueberries, peaches, and apricots. Fruit wine is also a wonderful way to think beyond the grape and create some sweet libations that complement a variety of foods.
What About Extreme Harvests?
If you have more fruit than you know what to do with, consider contacting your local food bank. Many food banks around the country have gleaning programs, which send volunteers to your property to pick your unwanted crops for you. Alternatively, you may be able to donate your food surplus. Calling your local food bank is the best way to learn more.
Don’t let your fruit go to waste! Follow these preservation methods, and you’ll be able to enjoy your harvest until it comes time to pick next year's fruit.