Quebec's most abundant harvests are in August and September, when fruits and vegetables have been filled with sunshine and flavour. This bounty, though great for our taste buds, can also cause a (delicious) problem: almost everything ripens at the same time. So what can we do to enjoy our local produce all year round? Here's an overview of various techniques for preserving seasonal fruits and vegetables, and why you should try them.
Why preserve local fruits and vegetables?
To give your taste buds a treat
Once we're in the depths of February, it's pretty nice to be able to enjoy the sweet taste of freshly picked strawberries or juicy tomatoes from August. Stock up now to be able to add them to your meals later.
To save money
According to a 2022 Dalhousie University study, over 70% of local foods are either competitive (no price difference) or more competitively priced than food trucked in from elsewhere. Given that the cost of groceries rose by almost 10% in 2022, the choice is clear.
To gain the maximum nutritional benefitPicking fruits and vegetables when they're perfectly ripe enhances their nutritional value, giving us the most benefits from their nutrients and vitamins. Most imported fruit and vegetables must be picked before they're fully ripe, in order to compensate for transportation time. They therefore ripen in transit rather than on the plant in the sun, and sometimes ripening agents have to be added!
To reduce food waste
Unfortunately, fruits and vegetables are the most wasted foods in Quebec! You can help address this food waste trend by preserving your fruits and vegetables and by making the most of your leftovers, including those that are less appealing, ridged or wilted, and may otherwise end up in the compost. Use all your vegetables from root to leaf!
To reduce packaging
Since local fruits and vegetables don't have to travel as far, they don't need to be overpackaged. What's more, when you use reusable bags or baskets when you buy local fruits and vegetables, you reduce the amount of residual waste.
To avoid producing greenhouse gasesBuy directly from local farmers and cut out the middleman to avoid transport-related greenhouse gas emissions. Even better: grow your own vegetables at home!
🌎 Did you know?
The average Quebec household wastes the equivalent of $1,200 worth of food every year. (source: Recyc-Québec)
Where to start?
It's helpful to know when Quebec fruits and vegetables are in season. Though it has become commonplace to see tomatoes, asparagus, strawberries, corn and other seasonal vegetables on local store shelves year-round, it's only possible because of greenhouses and because of importing crops from all over the world. The fact is, fruits and vegetables have specific harvest windows, depending on where they are grown. And since their origin is not always clearly indicated, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep track.
🌎 Good to know!
Carrots, beets, mushrooms, cabbage, onions, leeks, rutabagas, apples and potatoes are available in Quebec all year long.
Sign up for a winter basket from a Quebec family farmer for your supply of organic root vegetables. They'll make the best soups and casseroles this winter!
The best way to eat seasonal fruit and vegetables is quite simply ... to cook them! It sounds so simple when you put it that way, but culinary knowledge is in fact declining. The popularity of ready-to-eat boxed meals doesn't help, nor does the abundance of processed, ultra-processed and convenience foods available in grocery stores. Nevertheless, cooking shows are all the rage, and recipes describing brilliant ways to cook seasonal fruits and vegetables are everywhere on the internet. Here are a few of our favourite cooking references:
There are a number of different ways to preserve food, some simpler than others. Canning, dehydrating, marinating, freezing - whatever the technique used, the important thing is to follow the rules of hygiene and healthiness and, above all, have fun doing it. In addition to experimenting at home, you can also try your hand with friends, in a collective kitchen or with family members who may have more experience. But beware: this could quickly become a much-anticipated seasonal activity. Let's take it one step at a time, starting with the fridge.
Managing your fridge
Not all drawers, shelves and other compartments are created equal! Temperatures fluctuate greatly from one area to another, and affect how well food keeps over the short term. That's why it's best to store most vegetables in the drawers provided. Note that onions, garlic, potatoes, winter squash, melons, cantaloupe and tomatoes do not like humidity and should be stored outside of the fridge.
Tip: To avoid spoilage, always place fruits and vegetables to be eaten first at the front of the fridge, like they do in grocery stores.
The art of freezing
This is the easiest way to store surplus fruits and vegetables. Most can be frozen, except for raw vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes and lettuce. It's best to blanch them for a few minutes beforehand - i.e., plunge them for about a minute into boiling water, then cool them down under cold running water - to preserve their colour, texture and taste. Almost any fruit can be frozen. Simply spread them out on a baking sheet to freeze individually, then pack them in an airtight container.
Did you know? Freezing is a particularly effective method for preserving the taste of herbs. Here's a quick and easy tip: finely chop your herbs, mix them with oil and pour into an ice cube tray. Use liberally in your favourite recipes.
Have you considered dehydration?
Using this method, any fruit or vegetable can be preserved for about a year, under proper conditions. Whatever the technique used—open air in the sun, traditional oven or dehydrator—the principle remains the same: to remove moisture from the food. The main advantage is that most vitamins, minerals and proteins are preserved.
Want to try your hand at canning? It's not that complicated or dangerous. However, it requires suitable equipment and a few basic precautions. There are two methods, depending on the level of acidity in the food to be preserved: under pressure (autoclave) or in boiling water. To get started, find a recipe that inspires you and follow the preparation instructions carefully.
To your marinades!
Really easy to do, marinades are made using vinegar, salt and sugar poured over vegetables and seasonings. They fall into two categories: simple (like our grandmothers' marinades) and sweet. Use your imagination to find the best combinations of foods and herbs to use in your preparations.
Tip from the pros: Cut fruits and vegetables into uniform-sized pieces to ensure they cook uniformly and that the final product is safe to eat.
Comment faire face à la hausse des aliments? Radio-Canada, déc 2022
Manger local peut réduire la facture d’épicerie, Le Journal de Montréal, June 2022
Nouvelles hausses de prix à l’automne, Radio-Canada, July 2022
Comment conserver les fruits et légumes récoltés à la fin de l’été, Noovo, July 2022
Bien conserver pour éviter le gaspillage, Jardins de l’écoumène, September 2022
Avez-vous mangé plus d’aliments québécois cet été ?, Équiterre, 2022
Trucs et astuces pour jeter moins et manger mieux, Sauve ta bouffe, 2019
Congélation 101, Ricardo
Déshydratation, conserve, marinade, comment conserver fruits et légumes, Protégez-vous, 2020