Heirlooms on Ice: Preserve the Harvest By Freezing Fresh, Whole Tomatoes …

September 4th, 2012 § 6

Frozen Heirloom Tomatoes: German Pink, Brandywine, Orange Blossom, Green Zebra & Russian Black 

Is it me, or has summer flown by a little too quickly this year? Hard to believe that Labor Day has come and gone, and there are only 2 1/2 more weeks of summer remaining. It’s been a busy season. This is good, of course, but between professional work and other obligations, I’m finding it difficult to keep up with seasonal tasks on the home front. Last year, I managed to put up a great deal of garden-fresh produce. This season, I’m in a crunch and find myself freezing more fruits and vegetables, in order to preserve them quickly and move onto other tasks …

Wheel of Wonder: Heirlooms in Various Shapes & Colors

I love cooking with fresh tomatoes and, although the killing frost is but a month away, thanks to my freezer I will be enjoying homemade tomato sauce and the flavor of fresh tomatoes in all of my cooked recipes, all winter long. Freezing raw, heirloom tomatoes is one of the quickest and simplest ways to preserve the colors and flavors of summertime. Find your garden producing more tomatoes than you have time to eat or can? Tomatoes can be frozen cooked or raw, skin on or skin off, whole, cut into sections, pureed or juiced. I preserve tomatoes in a variety of ways, but when I’m very busy  —and who isn’t?— I simply freeze tomatoes without blanching or skinning. Later, I pull the tomatoes out and then blanch them (you can remove the skin just as easily after freezing and blanching) and can them, or thaw them and use as-is in my cooking throughout the winter months (freezing does destroy the firm texture, so don’t substitute frozen tomatoes for fresh in uncooked recipes). Follow the simple steps below to freeze raw tomatoes whole, and then process or add to cooked-recipes later. This method works so beautifully, I find myself wondering… Can I find a way to zip-lock and freeze a little more summertime?

Select Only the Highest-Quality Tomatoes for Freezing; No Bruises, Gashes or Mold. Wash the Tomatoes and Gently Pat them Dry Before Freezing.

Freezing Whole, Raw Tomatoes with Skin On

1) Select firm, ripe fruits for freezing. Choose the same high-quality tomatoes that you would use for a fresh tomato salad. Avoid over-ripe fruits with bruises or holes and never freeze tomatoes with any sign of mold.

2) Wash and gently pat the tomatoes dry with a lint-free towel

3) Slice the top of each tomato with a shallow “X” to prevent bursting

4) Place tomatoes (“X” up) on a cookie sheet or in freezer-safe dish and freeze until solid

5) Remove the tomatoes from the freezer. Label and date large sized zip-lock bags (a quart sized baggie fits about 3 heirloom tomatoes). Slip the frozen tomatoes into zip-lock bags according to how you will use them: measuring by weight works well if you will be using them for sauce, or you can just fill each bag and measure later. Press out extra air and zip securely closed.

6) Return bagged tomatoes to the freezer and use within 8 months for best flavor. Try them thawed and used in sauces, stews, soups, juices and pastes. You can also blanch the still frozen tomatoes and remove skins. Use the thawed tomatoes in all cooked recipes as you would fresh tomatoes, but don’t substitute thawed, frozen tomatoes for fresh tomatoes in recipes, as the texture is ruined by freezing. See steps below for blanching and removing skins from frozen tomatoes (yes, you can postpone that step and do it later)!

Prevent Explosion Upon Re-Entry by Marking the Tomatoes with a Shallow “X”. Place with “X” Facing Up and Arrange on Cookie Sheets or Freezer-Safe Pans. Stick in the Freezer Overnight.

Remove Tomatoes from Freezer and Weigh or Bag Up According to Anticipated Use. Here, Whole Tomatoes, Bagged Up & Ready for Processing Later. Be Sure to Date and Label Your Baggies and Use Produce within 8 Months for Best Flavor.

You can also puree or juice fresh tomatoes for use in recipes later. I also like to freeze fresh, homemade tomato sauce and tomato/vegetable stock. Always use containers intended for freezing and label/date ingredients. Sun-dried tomatoes are another low-labor way to preserve these heirloom treasures. Visit this page for more ideas on preserving the harvest by freezing and drying herbs, tomatoes and other produce. And for an easy intro to canning, check out my friend Jennifer Audette’s guest post on Dilly Beans —with canning resources— here.

For important safety tips and helpful hints on the subject of food preservation —canning/freezing, etc— please visit the USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation online here.

Preserving Lightly Cooked & Pureed Sauce and Stock (Tomato Juice) in Freezer-Safe Containers

Fresh-Frozen Whole Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Puree and Homemade Sauce, All Ready for the Freezer

Beyond Freezing, Drying and Canning Tomatoes, I Also Try to Extend the Fresh Season by Utilizing Hoop-House Cold Frames. Click Here for Easy Tutorial Post & Build Your Own Mini Greenhouse!

Addendum: Yes, You Can Remove Skins After Freezing Tomatoes!

This frozen, whole tomato was blanched in boiling water for about one minute. You can see the loosened skin. As soon as the skin is loose, remove tomatoes from water with a straining ladle, as shown.

I’ve received a number of questions sent via email about removing the skins after freezing the tomatoes. Yes, you can easily remove the skins after freezing. You can do this when they are still frozen solid (works very well, actually, and is easier on your hands). Simply plunge the frozen tomatoes into boiling water for a minute or two, until the skins loosen, and then remove from boiling water with a straining ladle. Allow tomatoes to cool for a minute or two, then slip the skins off with your hands. They will come off very easily. Now, place tomatoes in a bowl and allow them to continue thawing in the refrigerator until you are ready to make dinner! You can now add them to your favorite recipe (use them for stews, tomato sauce, etc), or follow USDA instructions for canning (linked below).

Skin easily slips from the still-frozen, blanched tomato (see it there, all wrinkly and cleanly pulled?). Now, place the tomatoes in a bowl, in your refrigerator and continue to thaw until it’s time to make dinner! Add to your favorite cooked recipes. The texture of thawed tomatoes is too mushy for salsa or salad… But great for sauce. You can also can previously frozen tomatoes. Follow USDA guidelines (linked above) for safely canning food.

If you are going to preserve the tomatoes by canning, thaw them and then prepare them as you normally would. Take all of the same safety precautions. I can not stress how important it is to follow the steps for canning recommended by the USDA (linked here). This post is intended for temporarily freezing tomatoes for thawing and re-using in cooked recipes.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Dilly Dallying in the Pickled Beans: An Intro to Canning with Jennifer Audette

July 28th, 2012 § 7

Delicious Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning      Guest Author – Jennifer Audette

Here in New England, a moment exists each growing season when the stars align and your local farmstand, farmer’s market or (if you’re really amazing), own garden suddenly has all the necessary ingredients for the first batch of Dilly Beans. I have the fortune of working in the ‘stand at Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT and this past Thursday it happened. On Wednesday, the fantastic field crew picked seven bushels of beans and then four more the following day.  That means beans coming out our ears for a few days. The first, shy harvest of red chilies appeared in a small bowl, bouquets of dill heads made my mouth water in anticipation of eating pickled things and the garlic has been harvested and waiting patiently for several weeks now.  It’s time to pickle those beans!

As a kid, I spent a lot of time helping my Mom can things like peaches, pears and applesauce. I was a master of slipping skins from blanched peaches; sliding the glistening, sunrise-colored orbs into a mild vinegar bath to keep them from discoloring.  In the autumn, I looked forward to the smell of warm, cooked apples wafting up to meet me as I managed the Foley Food Mill from my perch on the stool. My mom’s palate tends toward the sweet; she’s been known to sprinkle sugar on salad greens deemed too bitter. She doesn’t do hot peppers or vinegar in large quantity and she’s only recently discovered the joys of garlic. Dilly Beans were not part of my childhood canning experience.  But I crave the savory world more than I crave the sweet world and so several years ago, after my Mom had set me up with all the paraphernalia for canning, I found the recipe for Dilly Beans in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and entered my very own world of canning…

Slender, Verdant Beauties, Await Morning Harvest

Home Grown Herbs & Spices: Hard Neck Garlic, Chili Peppers & Dill

Freshly Harvested, Washed & Trimmed Haricots Verts from the Potager

This is where I’m supposed to give you a nice tutorial about making Dilly Beans; a specific recipe, step-by-step instructions and such. Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not very good at specifics and I almost never following directions exactly and I certainly don’t do anything the same way twice. But, if you were here with me, I would be happy to show you how I do it. Side by side, you would help me find eight wide-mouth pint jars in the storage space under the stairs, wiping away cobwebs and hoping no mice scurried out.  You would fill the dishpan with hot, soapy water and then wash the jars, the brand new lids and the old screw caps. Together we would wait a long, long time for the half-full kettle of water to come to a boil, discovering while we waited that I didn’t have enough white vinegar for the recipe. I would send you to the store for that.  Thanks, it’s so nice to have a helper!

I’d want to show you how I organize my workspace so that the jars are being sterilized in the large pot of water on the left front burner, the lids are simmering for 10 minutes (not boiling!) in their own separate pan on a back burner and the pickling liquid is simmering on the other front burner.  We’d remove one jar at a time from the hot water and pack them with the beans I’d prepared the night before (washed and trimmed), garlic cloves, chili peppers and dill. We’d fill the jars to a ¼” from the top with the hot pickling solution, remove any bubbles, wipe the top, slap on a lid and load each one into the canner basket.  Likely, there are much better ways to go about packing jars with garlic, chilies, dill and beans. I’m not very good at it and it takes me way longer than it seems like it should. (Maybe if you were here you would have come up with a more efficient way to stuff all those beans into jars!)  But eventually, all 4 pounds of beans and spices would be nestled into jars and lowered into the canning pot. Once we reached a rolling boil, we’d set the timer for 10 minutes. Tick, tick, tick….ding! After a short rest, we’d use the super-cool jar tongs to remove them from the hot water. Then we’d high-five and tell the cat to clean up the mess while we sat out on the porch toasting our efforts with a cool beverage. I’d give you your very own copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and you’d eagerly look through it for your next canning project (balsamic caramelized onions, sweet and spicy pepper relish, bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, hot peppers for sandwiches, barbecue sauce), knowing how easy it is to preserve the summer’s bounty, once you learn the ropes.

Dilly Beans

Dilly Bean ingredient list*

Ingredients to be Evenly Distributed in Each Jar:

4 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed

8 cloves of garlic

8 small red chilies

8 dill heads

Pickling Solution:

5 cups white vinegar

5 cups water

½ cup pickling salt

*For all the important canning safety basics and full recipe with directions, please take the time to locate a good book from the canning canon and do your homework.  The previously mentioned Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a very approachable, easy-to-use introduction, full of inspiring recipes. It’s a reasonable $9 or so and you might even find it at your local hardware store along with all the necessary canning supplies. Have fun!

 Today’s guest blogger, the multi-talented writer Jennifer Audette, is author of the always entertaining and often humorous Cozy Toes Blogspot. When not experimenting with canning, baking, cooking, horticulture, entomology or other scientific pursuits, Jennifer can also be found hiking, making music, writing and delivering smiles to her very fortunate friends.

Thank you Jen! xo

Some Great Resources for Learning to Safely Preserve the Harvest…

Putting Food By

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving with 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes

How to Store Your Garden Produce

Tips for Growing and Harvesting Tasty Green Beans

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, deep green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure they don’t go to seed. For best flavor and texture, harvest beans when they are no thicker than the diameter of a pencil. As with most crops, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, before the heat of the day. Marigold and Summer Savory —believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles— are fantastic companion plants for haricots verts. Enrich soil with well rotted compost and provide plants with regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) of Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion to insure strong, healthy plants and a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. Green beans provide their best yield during the first three weeks of harvest. With this in mind, I like to succession plant this crop for a steady supply of tender young beans straight through the killing frost.

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette. Photographs ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette and Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden, as noted. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not use photographs without permission. Thank you! 

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The Sweetness of Summer, Saved in a Jar: Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil…

October 5th, 2010 § 4

Sun Dried Tomatoes on the Terrace

Homemade Sun Dried Tomatoes and Herbs in Olive Oil in My Pantry

Hillside in Autumn Rain…

Beautiful, misty mountain tops and grey, moody skies greeted me when I awoke this morning. It seems that the wet, unsettled weather has returned to New England this week, and I —for one— welcome it wholeheartedly. With such a dry summer and early autumn, the fields and forests need all of the rain we can get. But it’s more than that, really. I actually have a thing for fog and mist. Maybe that’s why I like New England. A bit of gloom can be rather appealing, I think. I lived in the San Francisco area for awhile, and I loved watching the damp fog move like a thick blanket across the landscape.

But what about the sunshine? Well, I suppose I must be one of those ‘absence make the heart grow fonder’ types. I find that when the sun goes into hiding —and then finally makes an appearance after three or four days of rain— I tend to appreciate it more. Ever notice how wonderful home feels, after you’ve been traveling for awhile? That is how I feel when the sun comes out after a stretch of overcast days. Of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t miss the glowing, golden orb. Oh, quite the contrary. I do miss the warm sunlight on cold, cloudy afternoons. In fact, that’s when I usually end up cooking something with orange colored winter squash, bold, yellow bell peppers or better yet – red tomatoes! Oh my, sun dried tomatoes… Of course! Sun dried tomatoes are the perfect way to bring a bit of warmth and color to the table on a cloudy day!

Fresh Tomatoes From My Garden

Tomatoes Drying on a Screen in the Sun

During the long stretch of hot, sunny weather in August and September, I decided to make sun dried tomatoes the old-fashioned way: in the sun! If you live in a hot, dry climate, sun drying fruits and vegetables is easy. But if you live in the northern reaches of the world, regular periods of sunny weather are very unusual, and can be a bit hard to predict. I took full advantage of our unusual hot-spell to dry as many tomatoes as possible in the sun. But tomatoes can also be dried in other ways —in an oven, a dehydrator or even on shelves above a hot, wood stove— with excellent results.

The process is really quite simple. I made both my seeded and seedless sun dried tomatoes the Mediterranean way. Leaving the skins on, I cored and sliced the tomatoes in half lengthwise (I cut in quarters for thinner strips, and remove seeds from those strips, as shown above), sprinkled them with sea salt, sandwiched them between two screens and placed them out on my sunny terrace to dry (I brought the trays in each night to thwart critters). One week later: presto, sun dried, leathery goodness! I put all of the dried tomatoes up in ziplock storage bags and set them in the pantry to enjoy in pasta, on pizza and in appetizers. I also enjoy sun dried tomatoes in olive oil. To make them, I just put a handful in a canning jar, add herbs like dried basil and oregano, and fill the jar to the top with good quality, extra virgin olive oil. Then, I place them in the refrigerator to use as needed. You can add garlic too, but it’s important to always store these mixes in the refrigerator for safety, and use them within a week or so.

Sun Dried Tomatoes are Great Eaten As-Is, and They Add Intense Tomato-Flavor to Appetizers, Pasta, Pizza and Many Other Dishes…

If you would like to make sun dried tomatoes, but can’t get a break in the weather, try drying them in your oven instead. They taste just as good and the process is much faster (you can also buy or borrow a dehydrator). Preheat an oven to 200 degrees fahrenheit (approximately 93.33 celsius) and prepare the tomatoes as described above. Roma tomatoes do work well, but you can use any kind, including heirloom and cherry tomatoes. If you like, you can remove the seeds, or leave them in (I prepare them both ways, depending on how I am going to use the dried tomatoes). Spread the salted tomatoes out on wire-mesh racks if you have them (or on cookie sheets if you don’t). Be sure they aren’t touching. Roast them in the oven at 200 degrees fahrenheit (or around 93.33 celsius) for about 6 hours, maybe longer if the tomatoes are extra juicy (if the tomatoes are super wet, I usually remove most of the seeds and pulp and/or cut them into wedges). Check the tomatoes frequently toward the end of roasting time. The strips should be completely dry and leathery, but not crisp. Remove the tomatoes to cool, and then seal them in ziplock bags, or store them as described above in olive oil (be sure to refrigerate to prevent botulism).

This Small Plate of Sun Dried Tomatoes Represents Approximately 6 Large Roma Tomatoes After Drying for One Week in The Sun. The Pretty Plate is by California Artist, Aletha Soule.

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina – thegardenerseden.com

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

DIRECT LINKING OR PINNING THIS PAGE TO PINTEREST IS WELCOME! HOWEVER, PLEASE DO NOT REPOST, RE-BLOG OR OTHERWISE USE PHOTOGRAPHS OR TEXT FROM THIS WEBSITE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION. 

CONTACT INFORMATION IS AT LEFT. THANK YOU! MICHAELA.

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Simple Storage Solutions with Style: Beautiful Braided Onions…

August 15th, 2010 § 8

A Sweet Onion Braid – Drying on a Late Summer Day

Warm, dry air and sparkling blue skies; here in Vermont, these are the first golden days of late summer bliss. As I swing in my big, old hammock —surrounded by the meadow-song of crickets and chattering finches— my mind drifts to nothing more important than the thought of spicy gazpacho and homemade crackers for lunch. Mmm… Gazpacho – one of my summertime favorites. I love the flavor of fresh, pungent onions, herbs and garden-ripe tomatoes. And speaking of onions, with the nights growing cooler —filled with showers of shooting stars— and the days growing shorter, it’s time to think about digging up those tasty bulbs and putting some up for winter…

Wondering when to pull? You can begin to harvest when most of the tops have flopped…

I’ve been harvesting baskets of onions from my potager this week; taking advantage of the long, dry spell to cure them on the sunny terrace. (Click here to read more about growing and harvesting onions, and find my favorite French Onion Soup recipe in a post from last year)  Cippolini, Walla Walla and Ailsa Craig —sweet members of the Allium cepa species— are my favorite garden onions. Because these mild onions are poor candidates for long-term, winter storage, I braid them and hang them in my kitchen and basement for immediate and continued use throughout late summer and fall (pungent, globe-type onions in red, white and yellow are the best long-term, winter-keepers in my root cellar). Shallots, garlic and onions are all easy to braid, and I find this short-term method of storage to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing in my kitchen…

Sweet Onion Style…

Many readers of this blog are long-time gardeners and cooks, with years of experience growing and storing produce. But for those of you who are new to putting food by —or with curious, young gardeners-in-training— onion braids are a great, creative way to begin preparing a pantry of stored produce. I start the process by gently pulling onions from the garden during a clear-weather stretch (carefully loosening them from the soil by rocking the earth with a fork positioned at least 6-8″ from the bulbs), dry-curing them on my terrace (or, if rain is in the forecast, spread out on newspaper in a protected porch or shed) for a week. As the onions dry, I gently turn, brush and shake them to remove dirt (be careful not to bruise the tender flesh). While the tops of the onions are still green and pliant, I gather bunches in groups of 6-12 for braiding. The smaller onions (especially the coin-like Cippolini) look particularly attractive in long braids with 12 or more bulbs per chain. The larger onions —such as the Walla Walla— need a bit more room, so I braid these bulbs in groups of 6-8…

Start with three onions…

Are you familiar with the classic French braid? My hair is quite long, and I often wear it pulled back in this manner when I am working. Braiding onions is quite like French braiding hair. The chain starts out like a normal braid, (see photo above) with three onions layered one on top of the other. A slight tapered angle looks nice, varying the start lengths, but this is a subtle detail and it isn’t necessary for beginners. Begin by making one braid chain from the onion greens as you would with hair, yarn or rope. Simply pull greens from the outside edge, holding them at the center to make an ‘x’, alternating sides as you go. If your onions are very large, you may want to make two or three links before you begin to add more onions…

Add onions as you go – alternating sides, just as you would with a French braid…

Now here is where the process begins to resemble the French braids that girls use to tie back their hair. Do you remember how you pull sections of hair from alternate side of the head, adding them to the main braid as you go? The same method applies when you are braiding onions or any other bulb. When you bring the onion greens toward the center to make an ‘x’, add another onion (as shown in the photo below. Hold this in place with the fingers of one hand as you bring greens from the other side, making the usual cross at the center. Once you have one link (or more or larger onions), repeat the process on the other side. To make your braid attractive, keep your link pattern even as you go…

Spacing can be one onion per link, or skip a link or two if onions are very large…

You can make your onion braids as long as you want, that part is up to you. Once you have reached your desired length, it will be easier to tie the onions with twine if you make a few links with greens only and hold the end together tightly. Once you have the hang of it, you can simply tie the onions at the base if you like, without adding extra links. That is a creative decision. You can also make your braids from different varieties of onions, or add bits of dried herbs. It’s all up to you…

Stop the braid when you have reached the desired hanging length. I usually aim for 8-12 onions per braid, depending on variety and size…

I tie the ends of my braids with garden twine. You can also use recycled rubber bands…

Tie the end of the chain tightly with twine, ribbon, string or looped rubber bands. Hold the chain by the greens and give it a good shake to be sure it’s solid and to remove any loose dirt. Hang the onions in a dry, sunny spot for another week or so to continue curing. Then bring them indoors to store in your kitchen for immediate use, or in a cool, dry spot (floor joists in cellars work well). Onions can also be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in baskets or woven bins (for airflow) once they are dry cured and their greens are removed…

The Braided Onions – Tied and Ready for Storage…

Cippolini Onion Braid – This storage method works for all kinds of onions, and for garlic as well…

Cippolini Onion Harvest and Braiding…

I think braided onions, garlic and shallots look beautiful hanging from the beams in my timber-frame home. As the harvest season continues, herbs and dried flowers will join the onion braids hanging in my kitchen, bringing wonderful, warm and pungent smells, earthy colors and attractive textures to the room. Even if you don’t grow your own onions, you can make braids for your kitchen by asking a local farmer to sell you uncured bulbs with greens attached. And, some markets sell cured onions in braids or bunches at the early part of the season. Be aware that because kitchens tend to get hot and steamy, unless you plan to use your onions and garlic immediately —and regularly— it’s best to store them out of the kitchen, in a cool, dark place.

Cippolini Onions Hanging from a Beam in the Kitchen… Ready for Roasting!

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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