6 Food Preservation Recipes For Garden Failures

ATTN: This is a whole long sob story, so if you have your own problems and just want the recipes, feel free to scroll past my incessant ramblings. 

This post was originally going to be called "6 Food Preservation Recipes For When Your Garden Goes to Shit", but I thought that might drive you away before you even got here. BUT WAIT! Don't let it drive you away now, let me explain. 

The reason I wanted to title it this way, is because that's exactly how I feel right now. About two weeks ago, I could feel the glorious precipice of massive garden harvests slowly creeping upon us, I had my camera and canning jars ready. The carrots tops were looking bushy and beautiful, the beets had the sun scintillating through their massive marroon and lime green leafs, the pole beans finally in full flower after a rough start, our second planting of cucumbers seemed to be more flower than plant. And then all hell broke loose. 

First it was the beans. I have never had a garden on this land before so I didn't know what pests were an issue going into this, the largest, most important garden of my life thus far. It turns out that as soon as August hits, the Mexican bean beetles hit hard and any living legume will be dead in a week. But lets go back a little bit. This spring I became obsessively excited about dry beans. I read about hundreds of heirloom varieties and narrowed it down to just six that I wanted to plant, mostly Native American beans. I joined Seed Savers and ordered beans from members around the country. I even wrote a post about it, 7 Heirloom Beans to Plant in Your Garden This Year. When summer came, I lovingly planted these beans in a large section of the garden, dreaming of harvesting pounds of rainbow dry beans in the fall. I was going to save seed and further these endangered varieties! 

Not so fast! First the deer and the rabbits chewed the plants down to almost nothing, but I sprayed them with rotten eggs, strung fishing line around the garden, and made lovely wooden trellises for them to climb, and that initial panic subsided. They had some bugs nibbling them, but I sprayed them with peppermint Dr. Bronners soap after every rain and it seemed to keep them at bay for the most part. They were climbing like crazy and were starting to burst into flower, some plants even had a handful of beans on them already. They were absolutely beautiful, but just as I regained hope. BAM! BEETLES! Everything was dead in a matter of days. Faster than you can even say "Where can I buy some organic neem oil?". And, on top of that, heavy rains meant that, for the most part, any mature beans that were already on the plants rotted. No seed to save, no beans to eat. A whole lot of garden space wasted. 

Ultimately though, I realized that it was just one crop, rip up the plants, burn them, and move on. And thats right about the time that the deer figured out that the fishing line around all of the gardens was not going to kill them if they went through it. I don't have any long story about this one; the deer ate pretty much everything. Period. For about 4 days, I would wake up in the morning and upon inspecting the damage done the night before, really the only thing to do was go hide in the corn and cry. I even stayed up an entire night to see what time the deer were coming and try scare them away so badly they would never come back. Well, the deer decided apparently that they were full that night and didn't come and I was left exhausted and more emotionally strung out than before. 

Then, the next thing to do, after sleeping for 15 hours straight, was to gather what I could from the wreckages of my beloved garden and try to make the most of what I could, turn in the beds and plant them again. And trust me, this took a lot of will power, I came very close to never going in the garden again for the rest of the season. But deep down, I'm a farmer, and keeping on is just what farmers do. (If you've ever seen that cheesey super bowl commercial about why "God made a farmer" and couldn't help but get choked up a little bit, you know what I'm talking about. If not, just forget that I've mentioned crying about 5 times already in this post, and tell yourself that I'm only a crazy person when it comes to my garden.)

I know, you just wanted some recipes and instead you got my life story, but my point is that no matter how hard you work, sometimes there are disasters in your garden that are beyond your control. Whether the deer ate all your beets, the beetles got to your beans, or the cold killed your tomatoes, I'd be hard pressed to find a single garden that didn't have any issues whatsoever. 

Despite what can only be described by a gardener as an absolute tragedy, the wonderful thing about gardens is that you can always glean something from them, even if it isn't the prize winning produce you had been dreaming of all winter. If you've got to preserve food no matter what, here are a handful of recipes for when you've got unripe veggies, no veggies at all, or simply not enough. These are recipes that I have actually used this summer; I've put up hundreds of quarts of food despite my garden failures and you can too!

*Please use proper canning techniques for all of these recipes. This is not a canning how to, just basic recipes, so if you need to read up on how to can safely, please look that up elsewhere first.*

Corn Cob Jelly
Despite the fact that corn cob jelly has no great origin story, this historic recipe has surely been around for as long as people have had corn cobs and were canning jelly. Although most corn cob jelly today is golden, the original recipe called for red cobs, which in turn made the jelly red, tricking the consumer into thinking they were eating red berry jam. Amazingly, this odd jelly tastes much more like honey than it does fruit. 

The ultimate "waste not want not" food, this historic treat can be made from either fresh or dried cobs. I used fresh simply because it was convenient to boil and cut the corn from the cob and then throw the cobs right back in the same pot. This is the basic recipe that has been bouncing around the internet; I multiplied it by five when I made it because I had a whole lot of cobs and I'm just not a small batch canning kind of gal. 

3 Cups of Corn Cob Water (about 12 cobs)
3 Cups Sugar 
1 3/4 oz Powdered Pectin

Place about 12 cobs in a stock pot and cover with water. Boil for one hour. After removing the cobs, pour the liquid through cheesecloth if you don't want any corn bits in your jelly. You should have about three cups. If not add enough water to get to three cups. If you had extra, like me, don't throw it out, use it as soup stock and have yourself some nice corn chowder later. Mix in the pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Add sugar all at once and bring back to a boil. After boiling for five minutes, turn off the heat, and skim foam off. Fill sanitized jars immediately. Following modern canning practices, water bath can for 5 minutes. 

Green Tomato Relish
Known as green tomato chow chow by some, this relish takes advantage of all of those end of season green tomatoes, and really anything else you've got to throw in the pot. The great thing about chow chow is that it you can put any vegetable you want in it, and you don't even have to use tomatoes at all if you don't want to. Here's what I used:

12 Tomatoes, green, red, and anything in between 
10 Banana Peppers (substitute bell peppers) 
2 TBS Mustard Seed
1 TBS Celery Seed
1-2 Onions 
2 Cups 5% Vinegar
1/2 Sugar (Most recipes call for more than this, but I don't like it to be too sweet)
2 TBS Canning Salt 

Optional: 1-2 Jalapenos

Mince all of the vegetables finely (I used a food processor to speed the process up) and combine with rest of ingredients in a large pot. Remember that you can use whatever vegetables you like; one common ingredient in chow chow is cabbage. Simmer for an hour or so, or until you have a thick relish to your liking. Fill sanitized pint jars and water bath can for 10 minutes. 

Green Tomato Salsa aka Poor Man's Salsa Verde 
Salsa verde is a wonderful alternative to traditional salsa if you have a lot of tomatillos on hand, but my garden just isn't that fancy, so half rotten, half ripe tomatoes are what you get. Basically, you make normal salsa but use green tomatoes, instead of red, and pretend to be a fancy foodie rather than a gardening hot mess when you give a jar of it to your family for christmas. 

5 LBS Tomatoes (of any ripeness)
2 Small Onions (you can use more if you like, I just dont have many onions this year)
3-6 Jalapenos depending on how spicy you like it
4 Large Bell Peppers or 16 Banana Peppers
6 Cloves Garlic 
1 Cup Fresh Parsley or Cilantro 
1 Cup Lemon or Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Vinegar
2 TBS Salt
2 tsp Pepper 
1-2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Chop all vegetables finely and combine with rest of ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Pack hot into sanitized pint jars and water bath can for 15 minutes. 

Squash/Zucchini Pineapple
Sometimes the problem with your garden isn't that you have too little but too much, and with zucchini, this is almost always an issue. If it feels like all you have from your garden is summer squash, this is just the recipe for you! Basically, you mash up a bunch of squash and mix it with pineapple juice and it turns into crushed pineapple! Ah, the magic of canning. 

You can use summer squash or zucchini. I actually used some strange acorn squash summer squash hybrid because I messed up and planted them too close and it seemed to work just fine, it was just much more difficult to cut up. 

15-16 Cups zucchini, minced, cubed, whatever
46 oz Can of unsweetened pineapple juie
1 1/2 Cups lemon juice
3 Cups sugar 

Using whatever method you see fit (I used a food processor), cut up your squash. You can leave the skin on if you are short on time or take it off, again it's your choice. Mix with other ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes

Hot pack into sanitized pint or half pint jars and water bath can for 15 minutes. 

*I borrowed this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, it is not my own creation.

Pickled Purslane
Sometimes, like in my bean field, there are no vegetables to eat, so eat the weeds! Purslane is a delicious weed, that is actually quite good for you, and because it doesn't compete too much with larger crops, you can leave it be and harvest it throughout the summer as a salad green or to be pickled. You can reuse old pickle juice to make refrigerator pickle purslane, like I recently discussed in my post 10 Ways to Use Pickle Juice That You Never Thought Of, but you can also make preserved pickles for the winter. 

16 Cups Purslane, cleaned and chopped
6 Cups Vinegar
6 Cups Water 
4 TBS Canning Salt 
Pickling Spice of Choice 

Before chopping your purslane, make sure that you rinse it well with water and check for any caterpillars. To be absolutely sure that you got all of the bugs, I would recommend dipping it in a bowl of vinegar and water briefly. 

Once you've cleaned your greens, chop them into bite sized pieces and pack into sanitized quart jars. Put one tablespoon of canning salt in each quart and spices of your choice. Mix vinegar and water together in a large pot and bring to a boil. Pour hot vinegar solution over greens. Water bath can 10 minutes for pints, 15 minutes for quarts. 

Canned Shell Beans
Whether you've let your green beans go to far or your shell beans not far enough, it is possible to can your beans in the shell at almost any stage. My shell beans did not get quite mature enough to be shelled and eaten as dry beans, so I simply  canned them as green beans. Even though the beans had formed in the pods, the shells were still green and plump, not brown and dried out. Some people might not like this, but to be honest, those people are just being picky. If I've got beans that are still green, I'm going to can them and I'm going to eat them. In my opinion, this is actually better than immature green beans because it has more flavor, texture, and protein. 

However many green beans you have
Enough boiling water to cover said beans

To hot pack, cut beans into two inch pieces or leave whole, boil for five minutes. Drain and pack into sanitized jars. Cover with boiling water (not the water you boiled the beans in). Use a plastic utensil to remove air bubbles. 

To cold pack, fill sanitized jars with whole or chopped beans and cover with boiling water. Use a plastic utensil to remove air bubbles. 

PRESSURE CAN 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts. 

When you need to preserve food to last through winter, you cannot be picky about what it is or where it came from, so you should always try to diversify your food sources as much as possible. When your garden fails, nature is always there to provide for you and the only hard work required on your part is going out and getting it. Here are some of my favorite food preservation recipes for foraged food: 

How to Dehydrate Mushrooms 
Quick and Easy Blackberry Fruit Leather
Pickled Burdock Root

10 Reasons You Should Forage for Food
12 MORE Reasons You Should Forage for Food

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Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog. If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it, at no extra cost to you. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment.   

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