Summer is sizzling, and if you have a garden (or even a potted tomato plant), it’s probably growing faster than you can eat it. Or, maybe you’re an apartment dweller who loves to pick up a haul of produce at the local market. One thing is for certain: fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs are at their peak from now through early fall, and you should take advantage of that.
While you don’t want to waste your bounty, it can be hard to use it all up before it spoils. The same old smoothies and salads can get boring, so here are some ideas for maximizing all that wonderful summer produce.
1. Preserve it
Most fresh produce can be frozen or canned for your enjoyment during the dreary, cold months. Try making your own fruit preserves, pickling vegetables, or canning tomatoes to use for sauce later on.
2. Beautify it
You can make your own facial masks, hair conditioning treatments, and other beauty products with your produce. Just a few simple ingredients that you probably have in your pantry or refrigerator — like yogurt, oats, and coconut oil — can turn a simple avocado into a spa treatment. Not in the mood to mix something up? Cucumber slices de-puff your eyes, aloe vera treats minor burns and skin irritations, and flower petals pretty up a bath.
3. Chill it
Of course you have made hot soup with your veggies, but what about a chilled fruit soup, fresh salsa, relish, or gazpacho? You can find tons of recipes online for whatever you have a lot of (melon, peaches, peas, avocado, tomatoes, and corn make good chilled saucy dishes). Here is one of our favorites from Allrecipes.com.
4. Clean it
Oranges and lemons have disinfecting and deodorizing properties, so if you’re on the chemical-free bandwagon, make your own natural cleaner. Just put some citrus peels (grapefruit, lime, lemon, or orange) in a spray bottle of water plus a half cup of vinegar and keep it stored in a cool, dry place for a few weeks to get its cleaning power amped up — there, you just made all-purpose cleaner.
5. Share it
Ask around to see who might want to take some of your harvest off your hands. From your colleagues and neighbors to a shelter or food pantry, people will literally gobble up free food. And you get bonus karma points because it’s organic, healthy, and local.
6. Dehydrate it
If you like dried fruit, this is an easy way to make fresh produce last longer, easily portable, and customized to your taste (you can add seasonings like chili powder to slices of mango, or cinnamon and sugar on pears). In fact, you can dehydrate herbs, greens, and plenty of other produce beyond the usual apples and grapes. How about a colorful batch of kale, beet, yam, and radish chips?
7. Snack on it
Nothing is better than picking something you’ve grown right off the plant and eating it right then and there. Just be sure not to use chemicals when you fertilize or guard against pests (if you do, wash before eating). Some favorite raw summer produce to eat as is: berries, cherry tomatoes, peas, lettuces, stone fruits, and cherries.
8. Admire it
Not a fan of eating all the things you grow? Photograph that deep purple heirloom tomato, or paint that pomegranate. You might also make a colorful, fragrant centerpiece out of things like berries, leaves, twigs, blossoms, and peels or seeds.
9. Garnish it
Almost any kind of summer produce can be used as a beautiful, tasty garnish in cocktails, on top of a salad or dessert, or even just to pretty up a plate. From flowers to herbs to slices of fruit or slices of peppers, get creative. Mint, basil, and rosemary are surprisingly versatile.