The bland taste of a supermarket tomato is one that Kevin Espiritu manages to avoid year-round. The expert gardener grows all of his own tomatoes—plus five dozen varieties of other fruits and vegetables—from a 7,000-square-foot plot in San Diego, then shares his hard-won growing knowledge with the 2.6 million subscribers of his YouTube video series, Epic Gardening.
This September he branched out with a food-focused series for Food52 (the next episode drops September 29), and we caught up with him as was knee-deep in preserving mode, canning his own salsa. If that feels too advanced for your skillset, there are easier ways to save your homegrown tomatoes, vegetables, and herbs for winter. Below, Kevin shares his tips for making the most of canning and preserving season with the tools you have.
Freezing is probably the easiest way to preserve your fruits and vegetables, says Kevin. Before heading on vacation, he chopped his watermelon and placed it in freezer bags to pull out for future smoothies. “Watermelons are the perfect freezing plant…You can’t really dehydrate watermelon.”
You could even freeze tomatoes, say the experts on our Hotline, though they’ll only be good for sauce at that point. Some remove the skins before freezing, others skin them afterward. One community member likes to slow-roast tomatoes and then freeze them.
Freeze drying, says Kevin, “requires a big piece of equipment” that you don’t need in all cases. “Herbs are actually really great to just hang dry. You can just tie little bundles, hang them in a cool, dry place, and then you could grind your own spices.”
You could also keep growing herbs and leafy greens like little gem lettuce indoors this winter. “I would go with any classic herbs you like—those will last through the winter for sure.”
Slowly inching upward on the complexity scale, Kevin also recommends a quick pickle to preserve your vegetables. “You can do a quick pickle, put it in the fridge, and it’ll last a couple weeks. For something like pickled red onion, that’s really all you need it for.”
Though he’s graduated from water canning to a pressure canner, Kevin considers himself at the start of his canning journey. And for anyone starting out, it’s best to go back to the bible for beginner canners, the so-called Ball Blue Book, “which has all the tried-and-tested recipes, which in this case is very important to use especially when you start out, because those ones are USDA-approved safe.”
Canning your tomatoes, of course, is the ultimate way to preserve your homegrown or locally grown tomatoes. Start with this recipe that’s been a community favorite for years. (Just note that current canning guidelines now recommend two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice per quart, versus fresh lemon juice.)
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Do you do any preserving at home? What’s your favorite method? Let us know in the comments below!