Wednesday, September 25, 2013

After the Harvest: Preserving The Bounty of the Season - with Salt of the Earth's Chef Matt Pietsch

More and more families are getting back to their roots – by planting garden patches to supply fresh fruits and vegetables for savoring throughout the summer and into the fall and winter. Yet, what happens when there’s just too much to consume or you want to preserve some of those delicious and flavorful foods for the upcoming season?

For Salt of the Earth Executive Chef Matthew Pietsch, his passion for food goes beyond his own professional or kitchens. He hopes to inspire others to find their own place in the garden, orchard and/or field and to develop a personal connection with where their food comes from and how it is best prepared.

In addition to his kitchen duties, Chef Pietsch manages a 40x80 garden adjacent to the restaurant which is chock full of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, herbs and countless other vegetables. Chef Pietsch also works with a handful of area farmers and growers to provide additional produce, like carrots, beans, squash, radishes and more. Many of these fresh-harvested treasures find their way onto the weekly “Fresh Board” menu, but some are also preserved into various forms to be used days, weeks and even months down the line. This year alone, Chef Pietsch says they’ve preserved roughly 1450 pounds of product for the winter season.

So…where to get started? Chef Pietsch offers the following tips:

Celebrate the season: Go to the market! A CSA (community supported agriculture) or farmers’ market trip should help you get all the ingredients you’ll need to preserve. Don’t pick up product at a grocery store, go for local first!

Mise en place! Put in place! Make sure you have EVERYTHING you need to get started with your preserving tasks. If you’re new to this, play with a friend this year, or do some research a week before you plan to start your work. Get educated so the process goes smoothly. Be sure you have enough containers, jars, etc., before you begin work.

Preserving is so easy to do. A very basic cook with a few small special tools (some of which you may already have) can easily preserve a whole winters worth of veggies in less than a day.

Plan a party!!! This is my FAVORITE way to preserve for the cold months ahead. Invite your friends, put together some cocktails, craft beer or the perfect Michigan wine and a small menu and HAVE SOME FUN! It makes quick work of the processing, and you get to share at the end of the party. This is also a perfect way to introduce newcomers to preserving, or invite an expert if you’re just beginning! Plan a tomato smash party, and conclude with a heaping bowl of fresh pasta with your newly made sauce, and a fresh crisp salad. Don’t forget the spicy pickled peppers!

Plan ahead for gifts – Pickled veggies from the garden, or fresh jams and jellies make superb gifts around the holiday season. You’ll be surprised how excited folks will be to receive something homemade and delicious! Likely, by the holiday, they will have forgotten how wonderful summer corn, peaches, tomatoes, and peppers taste. If you’re going for gift giving, take it to another level. Spend a little time with your computer work processor to create special labels for your jars. It takes next to no time, likely with your home printer and special labels from the office store.

Be sure to store your newly preserved ingredients appropriately so that they do not spoil. Be aware of any warning signs that your product has spoiled before you indulge.

Missed the season? Ready to make blueberry jam and you realize that fresh berries are no more? Contact a local producer. They likely have frozen fruit ready for you to make into jam, even if you’re a few weeks late.

Located in downtown Fennville MI, Salt of the Earth is open year-round, currently seven days a week: 5-10pm, Sunday through Thursday and 5-11pm on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is just 10 miles from Saugatuck, 50 miles from Grand Rapids and 140 miles from Chicago.

Salt of the Earth
114 East Main Street
Fennville MI 49408
269-561-SALT (7258)

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