What to grow in the garden for Winter Baking - Top Eight Garden Plants
Here on the homestead, we love baking year round with fruits & veggies that we've grown right here in our own garden or that we've picked at a local farm. There's nothing like digging into a warm slice of apple pie or tearing open a fresh baked raspberry muffin when there's snow on the ground outside. It tastes like summer in the middle of the winter!
Often gardens are planted with fresh eating in mind. Garden salads, fresh sliced tomatoes, crisp snap peas - those are all amazing for fresh eating. But have you thought about how to incorporate more crops in your garden to use in your winter baking?
Here at Lazuli Farms, our focus in the garden this year is on growing for preserving. This is our focus both for the annual plants and for our perennial additions this year. We added in strawberries and apple trees to our food forest with a focus on preserving the crops for winter eating & baking.
Today, let's jump into the top eight crops you should grow for winter baking!
8 - Apples.
Recipes to Try: Apple cinnamon muffins (recipe inside The Kitchen Club), apple pie, apple crisp, baked apples, apple cake. Not "baking", but did you know that grated apple incorporated into ground pork for burgers is amazing! Check out this pork apple burger recipe!
Preserving: Apples can last a long time in the root cellar. Peel, core, and chop the apples to incorporate them into your baking. You can make apple sauce from the apples which works well in muffins, cakes, and even cookie recipes. You can pre-make apple pie filling and can it up for quick use in the winter. Apples dehydrate well as apple slices or chips. You can rehydrate them to use them in baking & cooking.
7 - Blueberries.
Recipes to Try: Blueberry muffins, blueberry crumble, blueberry cake.
Growing: Blueberry bushes are hardy to zone 4 so they aren't something we grow here in our own garden in zone 3b. Blueberry bushes will start producing fruit in the third season after you plant them, so the time to plant them is now!
Preserving: Wash your blueberries in warm water with a splash of vinegar. Let them dry on clean tea towels. Freeze in single layers on baking sheets, then transfer to zippered freezer bags in 2 cup quantities per bag.
6 - Carrots.
Recipes to Try: Carrot muffins or carrot cake.
Preserving: You can preserve your garden carrots in a number of ways. You can blanch & freeze carrots, you can pickle them, you can pressure can them, you can store them root-cellar style, and you can dehydrate them. Baking with carrots calls for fresh, raw carrots to be shredded and incorporated into the batter so pulling carrots from the root-cellar is going to be the best way to bake with carrots in the winter months.
Tuck those carrots, stems removed, into damp saw dust, sand, or straw into boxes or containers. Store at temperatures just above freezing with high humidity. Carrots can store this way for up to 4 to 6 months.
5 - Rhubarb
This tart perennial vegetable is amazingly easy to grow. You literally can't kill a rhubarb plant even if you tried! There are so many incredible ways to use rhubarb in your baking & cooking, all throughout the year.
Things to Consider: Rhubarb is hardy from zones 3 to 8. It can tolerate shade but prefers full sun.
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous! So make sure a) you don't eat them and b) throw away the leaves after you harvest the stalks so that humans and animals alike can't access the leaves. Don't throw them into your outdoor compost pile.
Preserving: Rhubarb can be preserved in multiple ways - freezing is by far, the easiest to do and the frozen rhubarb can easily be incorporated into baking. No need to blanch your rhubarb before freezing it. Wash your rhubarb stalks in warm water. Chop the rhubarb into small pieces (the smaller, the better for incorporating into baking). Then freeze on a baking sheet in a single layer. Once frozen, transfer the rhubarb to zippered freezer bags. I like to freezer rhubarb in 2 cup quantities so they are perfect for most recipes.
4 - Zucchini
Recipes to Try: Zucchini chocolate muffins (recipe inside The Kitchen Club) & zucchini cake.
Things to Consider: Less is more when growing zucchini! Growing just 1 to 3 plants of zucchini will likely provide you with enough zucchini for fresh eating & winter preserving.
Preserving: For baking with zucchini, I find that shredded frozen zucchini works best. You can thaw the zucchini, drain it, and toss it right into the batter.
To freeze your zucchini, wash & peel the zucchini. Cut the zucchini into smaller chunks (maybe eighths) and remove the seeds & stringy inside. Using a cheese grater, grate the flesh. Transfer 2 cups of the shredded zucchini into each zippered freezer bag, label, and freeze.
3 - Raspberries
Things to Consider: Raspberry bushes take 3 years until the produce a crop so now is the time to plant raspberries for your future self! Raspberry bushes take a bit of work to prune and keep from getting unruly.
Preserving: To use raspberries for baking, freezing them works best. Wash your raspberries in lukewarm water with a splash of vinegar. Lay them out to dry in a single layer on paper towel or clean tea towels. Once dry, freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to zippered freezer bags. Freezing them in 2 cup quantities will work well for most recipes.
2 - Pumpkins
Recipes to Try: Pumpkin raisin muffins, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, pumpkin pie.
Things to Consider: Pumpkins take up a lot of growing space in the garden. Unless you have a lot of room, you may want to visit a local vegetable farm in the early fall to pick up a handful of pumpkins to cure and store for your winter baking.
Preserving: Pumpkins can store really well in a root cellar space if they are cured well. Curing involves allowing the pumpkins to "dry" and the outside skin to harden up for storage. Cut your pumpkins from the vine by leaving a few inches of stem attached. Set the pumpkins to cure in a warm, dry location for at least 2 weeks. This might be in the garden or in a window. Avoid leaving them on a concrete floor as the moisture from the concrete can affect the pumpkins curing. Cured pumpkins can last for months.
For baking, you'll need pumpkin puree. You make pumpkin puree by baking the whole pumpkin in the oven, letting it cool to handle, then cutting them open, discarding the seeds & strings, then scooping out the baked flesh. The flesh is then mashed or pureed to make the pumpkin puree. We dig more into this inside The Kitchen Club.
1 - Strawberries
Recipes to Try: Strawberry jam in jam bars, strawberry muffins & cake, strawberry ice cream.
Things to Consider: Strawberries are a perennial plant. The easiest way to add them to your garden is by purchasing bareroot plants and planting them in the spring.
There are two types of strawberries: everbearing & june-bearing. Everbearing strawberry plants will produce continually over the growing season with 2 to 3 big flushes of berries. June-bearing strawberry plants produce one large harvest of berries (typically June, hence the namesake) and then are done for the year.
Your ever-bearing varieties may produce a small amount of strawberries the first year and then will become more abundant in the second year. For june-bearing strawberry varieties, the flowers should be picked off of the strawberry plants during the first year so that the plant can put it's energy into growing & establishing the plant before bearing fruit. (The berries form out of the flower.) The june-bearing plants will produce strawberries in the second year.
Not sure which variety to choose? The best advice for choosing a variety to grow is choosing one that you love the flavour of! If you are just starting out, choose 2 to 4 different varieties to add to your garden so you can taste test them to find the ones you like most.
Preserving: Freezing strawberries is a great choice when planning to use them for baking & smoothies. Like other berries, wash & dry your strawberries, then freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Transfer them to zippered freezer bags in 2 cup quantities.
Online Sources for Purchasing Seeds & Perennials:
Check out your local greenhouses & garden centres first as they will carry varieties that are best suited for your local area. But if you don't have nearby, consider checking out the following online seed & plant suppliers.
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