Posted By Vicki McClure Davidson on May 21, 2015
Living in the Sonoran desert of Arizona, with its subtropical desert climate, we aren’t faced with the shorter growing seasons of fruits and vegetables as many other parts of the country/world are. But no matter where you live, you’ll find that you’ll save a significant amount of money at the grocery store if buying produce that’s in season and is grown locally. Not to mention that fruits and veggies taste so much better when they grow naturally, when they aren’t forced to grow out of season in a greenhouse or when shipped from across the globe.
However, what do you do when tomatoes are cheaper than cheap, when citrus trees are groaning from the massive weight of their bounties? You can only eat so many potatoes or zucchinis or Brussels sprouts or lemons from a home garden or the farmer’s market before getting sick and tired of them or before they go bad.
One tried and true method is preserving them so as to eat them later — preserving fruits and vegetables has never gone out of vogue with farmers’ wives and frugal homemakers, or as your grandmother did in the days of yore. As more people are educating themselves about how and what they eat, the old-school methods of canning, pickling, drying, blanching-then-freezing, and other methods of preserving foods are gaining in popularity once again.
For several years now, I’ve been making a kick-ass Russian salsa called ikra that uses roasted eggplant and tomatoes and apple cider vinegar. I make jars of it when tomatoes are plentiful and eggplants are priced at less than a dollar apiece. I’ve even given jars of it as Christmas gifts. Ikra is called “the poor man’s caviar” in Russia; I use it on eggs, in homemade burritos and tacos and casseroles. It is also a bursting-with-flavor, low-fat snack to eat with crackers, tortilla chips, or small pieces of rye bread. A colleague whose parents are both Russian gave me the recipe a few years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since. I’ll post the recipe on the website in the upcoming weeks.
Check out this short and sage article posted at Bon Appetit, Demystify That Whole ‘Seasonal Cooking’ Thing With These 5 Simple Guidelines – here are the section headers:
1. Start by Thinking Local
2. Preserve Whenever Possible
3. Stock Up on All-Season Staples
4. Doctor Up Preserved Ingredients
5. Cut Yourself a Break, Already
Knowing when fruits and vegetables are readily available locally, as well as when they are less expensive and more flavorful, is important when planning meals and saving on food budgets. But the growing seasons of foods can be challenging to memorize. For an excellent state-by-state/month-by-month food guide for your area, check out this Seasonal Food Guide posted at Sustainable Table.
Another way to save money on fresh produce has to do with the growing trend of buying more expensive, organically grown foods. This tip comes from the website Moms Every Day:
Organic products are becoming more and more popular. However, the lack of pesticides used in the production of the food means that this produce costs more to grow. That cost is passed on to the consumer. As a rule of thumb, produce with thick, inedible skins which protect the fruit generally contain the smallest amount of pesticides. Don’t waste your dollars on the “Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15,” for example. (just google that). Please do your own research, but if you are shopping on a budget, you might strongly consider which organic produce items are not worth the premium cost. Some organic products can be nearly double the cost. The good news is that if you are saving large amounts of money on all your other items thanks to some coupons and smart technology like SavingsAngel.com, you will have much more money to buy the products that matter most to you.
While canning/jarring tomatoes is an effective way to stock up on and preserve those versatile red beauties, I also use a lot of sun-dried tomatoes in my cooking year ’round. I love the intense flavor of sun-dried tomatoes and often prefer their chewier texture in various dishes. Rather than spending a small fortune on a zip-locked baggie of dehydrated tomatoes from the market, you can make your own when tomatoes go on sale or when your neighbor wants to unload a bushel or two on you. BIG savings doing it yourself.
Only regions that have extremely low humidity can literally (and safely) “sun dry” tomatoes outdoors in the sun (for some unknown reason, the adjective “sun-dried” is allowed legally to be applied to any dried tomato). Most sun-dried tomatoes, store-bought or homemade, are dehydrated indoors in an oven or a food dehydrator. Before running out and buying a dehydrator, try drying them in the oven, which is super easy. Because they have less water and thicker skins and walls, Roma tomatoes are one of the best choices for drying. Other tomatoes can be used, but for the very best results, go for Roma, baby.
It’s a slow, time-intensive process, taking hours or even all day, but it’s not labor intensive. You’ll be stunned, perhaps even giddy over just how easy it is to dry tomatoes, and you’ll wonder why you weren’t doing this all along. A 3-ounce packet of Trader Joe’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes is currently on sale on Amazon for $8.17. That’s $2.72 an ounce, which is more than 43 dollars a pound.
I ask you, when was the last time you paid $43 a pound for any food, including steak? Me neither.