Shoulder Season Eating: The Last of the Garden

Growing for winter eating

It’s early spring and the snow on my garden beds is mostly gone but spring weather in the Cascade foothills is fickle: late frosts and snow and cold temperatures have ruined past attempts at early planting. I have learned to wait.

The garden period between the slow or non-production of winter and the high production of summer is often called the shoulder season, a term borrowed from the travel industry. For me, it runs from November through most of April though with my plans for extending seasons this year I hope to shorten my shoulder season from December to February. Before we had grocery stores with imported food, the shoulder season was often a period of eating mostly preserved foods if you were fortunate but it was also a season of hunger for the less fortunate.

I haven’t kept track of how much time I spend preserving food for winter but at a recent meeting of a newly-formed neighborhood garden club, one of my friends said she now “grows for winter.”  That got me wondering how much food from last year’s garden was I still enjoying. So I did an inventory and was pleasantly surprised.

In the Pantry

Dehydrated Vegetables & Fruits

  • Cherries, Apple & Pear Slices
  • Onions, Carrots, zucchini, green peppers
  • Dried tomato sauce & cherry tomatoes
  • Kale & tomato powders
Dehydrated veggies
Dehydrated veggies (photo: SK)

Canned Foods

  • Raspberry Jam
  • Pickled green beans
  • Asian plum Sauce

In the Fridge

  • Pickled garlic
  • Pickle relish
  • A bag of sunchokes

In the “Root Cellar” (an unheated room)

  • One small pumpkin (ate the last of the butternut about a month ago)
  • 2 full bags of garlic
  • Potatoes – ate the last of the fingerlings three weeks ago

In the Freezer

  • Raspberries – I have enough to last through summer (my raspberry cultivar is fall-producing).
  • Strawberries – Actually two years old but good for smoothies
  • Blueberries – I buy 2-3 flats from a local grower and freeze them.
  • Cherries – Two one-gallon bags left
  • Huckleberries – Two small bags (These are considered precious because my partner reserves them for his huckleberry ice cream.)
  • Elderberries – I wildcraft and freeze large bags so I can have year-round elderberry cordials.
  • Aronia berries – Given to me by a friend, I have only used them for vinegar-based shrubs.
A collection of berries in the small chest freezer
Berries in the small chest freezer (photo: SK)
  • Peppers – Quart bags of Aji and jalapenos. The Aji make a delicious Peruvian pepper sauce.
  • Green peppers – Used the last of the chopped and whole ones about a week ago.
  • Brussel sprouts – Half of a gallon bag left – I bought several locally grown stalks and blanched and froze them.
  • Green beans – One small bag left and I think the dog will get them. I don’t like the texture.
  • Kale & nettles – Four 1-quart bags – Sauteed and frozen, I break off portions from the bags to add to soups, stir-fries, and pasta recipes.
  • Apple butter & apple sauce – Purchased from local orchards, I make freezer versions because they don’t require additional sugar as canned recipes do. 
  • Cherry catsup – 5 pints – Sounded good at the time but I have yet to open one.
  • Cherry Jam – one can – we aren’t big jam eaters.
Frozen tomato sauce, apple butter and cherry catsup
Frozen tomato sauce, apple butter, and cherry catsup (photo: SK)
  • Pureed pumpkin – I bake, puree, and freeze pumpkins over the winter months and use them for bread, pie, smoothies, and to add to a vegetable soup. Our dog gets a ½ cup of cooked vegetables each day and he loves a dollop of the pumpkin puree. But I think he likes everything we put in his bowl.
  • Fried potatoes – An abundance of fingerling potatoes last summer so I fried up a couple of pounds with onion and green pepper, mostly used for the occasional Sunday morning farm-style breakfast.
  • Roasted Tomatoes – Five 1- quart bags – Slow-baked with olive oil, onion, and lots of garlic (recipe here). I add these to soups, stirfries, pasta dishes, scrambled eggs and include them in my kale cakes. So useful that they are my top priority for tomato preservation.
  • Kale Cakes – Two bags of kale cakes made with the end-of-the-season kale (recipe here
  • Cream of Tomato soup concentrate & tomato sauce – Made from the bounty of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and basil last summer. Handy for a quick grill cheese and tomato soup dinner. (Recipe here)
  • Jalapeno salsa – I made a big batch last September and froze it in pint mason jars. I have one left. I get creative with salsa recipes, adjusting amounts, and adding other things. That’s a no-no for safe canning practices so I freeze my salsas.
  • Pesto cubes – I made two herbal pestos: cilantro and basil. Cilantro is delicious on salmon and drizzled on tacos. Basil pesto goes into everything else. (Recipe here)

Dried Herbs 

Oregano, dill, lemon balm, thyme, lemon thyme, elderberry, sage, poppy seed, rosemary, licorice mint, marjoram, calendula, celery leaves

Mid-summer herb harvest
Mid-summer herb harvest (photo: SK)

Meat & Seafood

Each year, I purchase a 24 lb box of Alaskan wild-caught sockeye salmon and keep it in the freezer.

For health and financial reasons, I have greatly reduced the amount of meat I eat. Once a month I buy about 5 lbs of pasture-raised chicken, pork, and ground beef from a local rancher and store it in the freezer.

Bottom Line

Is it worth the work? I think so. The recent increases in food prices have affected many of us so having this abundance of preserved food long after the garden gone dormant has been a real blessing. I don’t see prices coming down as the cost of everything has increased. So I am now thinking more like my friend and growing more for winter. 

Based on my shoulder season inventory, I am planning to grow more winter squash, a lot more carrots, celery, onion, and sweet potatoes, and definitely need to double the amount of salsa.

Are you inspired but don’t yet have a garden or a lot of extra time? Start with one or two of these ideas:

  • Pick up flats of berries from local growers, freeze them on a baking sheet, and package them in plastic bags takes at most a couple of hours. (Berries are one of the healthiest foods you can eat.) 
  • Apple butter and apple sauce are easy to make in a slow cooker and freezing them in canning jars saves a lot of time. 
  • Grow a bed of greens and harvest throughout the summer and make kale cakes. (One organic kale bunch at my local store was almost $4 last week.) 
  • Toward the end of the summer, visit a farmers market and buy 20 lbs of tomatoes, some garlic, onions, and make roasted tomatoes. Delicious, healthy, and useful in so many ways.

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