Three Ways to Preserve Greens

Based on your recent Google searches, I gather that I am not the only one drowning in beet greens, turnip greens, collar greens, chard, and kale. Earlier this week I went out to my garden and cut about 5 pounds of kale, turnip greens, and beet greens. This seemed like a manageable project. That’s when my CSA showed up with about a pound each of collards, red beet greens, yellow beet greens, spinach, and frisée. We’ll eat the spinach and frisée in salads, but realistically there are only so many hearty greens that two people can eat in a week. My solution is procrastination: preserve them and figure out how to eat them in winter.

You’ve got three basic options: freezing, dehydrating, or canning. More ambitious folks can try fermenting, like I did with my bumper crop of bok choi last year. But let’s stick with the basics here.

Freezing Greens

This is the easiest, and probably the best, solution. It’s very, very easy to freeze greens. You just blanch them, cool them in an ice bath, and freeze. I’ve got step-by-step instructions and photos here. Assuming you’ve got a good freezer, these will keep very well for a year. We used ours all winter in soups, stews, pastas, dips, and even just sauteed with garlic. They shrink dramatically when blanched—plan on about a pound of fresh greens to make about two cups.

For most people, this is the way to go. If, however, you have limited freezer space, you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages, or are planning for a future without electricity, you need other options. Alas, they’re not great. But, you asked, so here goes.

Dehydrating Greens

Are you one of those people who likes to sprinkle seaweed flakes over your rice bowl at the local health food store? Then you might like this. Steam your greens just until they’re wilted. Transfer them to dehydrator trays and dry at a low temperature (say, 110ºF) just until they’re crispy. You’ll want to keep an eye on them—within two hours, mine looked like this:

Now what, you may ask, would you do with dehydrated turnip greens? That’s an excellent question. I rehydrated some with a little bit of room temperature water, and they looked pretty good. The problem was that they had no perceptible taste. In the end, I crumbled them up and stuck them in a spice jar:

I sprinkled an entire leaf’s worth of flakes over a bowl of roasted potatoes and couldn’t tell they were there. I suspect that they’re still fairly nutritious, though, so maybe this isn’t such a bad way to incorporate hearty greens into your diet. I guess.

Canning Greens

The things I do for science.

Yes, it is possible to can hearty greens. It requires a pressure cooker and a processing time of 1 hour, 10 minutes for pints and 1 hour, 30 minutes for quarts. Yes, you read that right. And after you’ve subjected these poor, innocent vegetables to 240ºF to more than an hour, you get this appetizing product:

(And that’s the glamor shot.)

The nutritional value of all of this is questionable. They taste about like you would expect them to. If, however, you have absolutely no other options and feel strongly about having a pantry full of shelf-stable vegetables, this technique will serve you well. But Lordy, do they smell bad. Here’s how you do it.

1) Bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil. You need 2 quarts for the pressure canner, plus some extra to pour over the greens.
2) Steam the greens until wilted. Cut them into manageable pieces.

3) Stuff the greens into canning jars. Add 1/2 t. salt per jar (optional) and cover with boiling water, leaving 1″ headspace. Don’t forget to remove the air bubbles. Adjust two-piece lids.
4) Transfer the jars to a rack on a pressure canner. Pour in 2 quarts of boiling water. Lock the lid into place, but do not place the regulator on the steam vent. Turn on the heat and exhaust steam from the vent for 10 minutes. Then place the regulator on the steam vent and bring the canner to 10 pounds of pressure. Start timing once the regulator starts rocking—70 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. (If this is confusing, see the step-by-step directions, with pictures, in this post.)
5) Turn off the heat and let the pressure drop of its own accord. When the pressure has dropped, remove the regulator. Now open all your windows. After waiting a few more minutes, open the lid away from your body. The pungent aroma of overcooked turnip greens will fill your house, and you’ll have all the shelf-stable greens you want. Plan on 2 to 5 pounds per pint, depending on the kind of greens involved. Um, yum?

Other ideas?

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21 comments to Three Ways to Preserve Greens

  • I found that a quick dry saute’ works well, then vacuum sealing and freezing them. A little tip I learned from the
    Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving.

  • pam

    I do the freezing. Then in the middle of winter, dump them in a veggie soup.

  • I think freezing is def the way. Valorous of you to show us the ugly truth behind canning greens. Um, no thanks!

  • yes, i love that you showed up wuz up with canning greens. i am up to my ears in greens also and have been feeling rather rabbit like as of late. oddly, i have never even thought of freezing greens. thanks for this post! 🙂

  • anduin

    I would think that the dried version could be well incorporated into a dried soup mix with other dehydrated vegetables (onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, etc.).

  • Tara

    If you have children or picky spouses that you would like to get to eat more greens-dehydrating is a great way to do. I do this all the time. Dehydrate it, crumble it into a powder, and then put it into soups, casseroles, most anything you make for dinner. You can see the green flakes but I usually say it is some kind of seasoning, and there is almost no flavor so they don’t even know they are getting such good for them greens.

  • Rae

    SO glad I found these instructions. First time I ever plannted beets or kale and the greens are crazy thick. I will be freezing greens this weekend. Will also try it with the bumper crop of arugula and hope for the best. Happy Gardening!

  • e.d.

    I don’t suppose you’ve heard of….kale chips? Do an internet search…certainly worth a try at least and maybe a WHOLE lot easier than the canning method I am doing today-yep, at least they won’t take up freezer space, and I am not one that cares about the ugliness 🙂 They can be eaten in the winter with a cheese sauce over them, or in quiches too. And yes, I would say that drying them on low heat and then crumbling them is probably the best way to keep the nutrtion in them, even if they don’t really have a discernable taste when you sprinkle them on or in things 🙂

  • Other than the great effort that clearly went into this project and the writing of it, I’d like to say how hilarious it is. You have a way with words. I think I’ll avoid the canning!

  • Daniel

    I just cook down my greens with my seasonings, then pack them in pint or quart jars and do a water bath, found no need to pressure cook them. also have a tip to keep them fresh looking , but that’s a secret. My 82 yr Grandma was amazed of the way mine looked and tasted after even a year of being canned compared to her traditional way.

  • dorisandjilly

    Daniel: No matter how delightful your canned greens may appear, there is no safe way to water-bath can these kinds of greens. Greens are a low acid food, and 212 F (the temperature of boiling water at sea level) is not high enough to kill the kinds of bacteria that can survive in low-acid, anaerobic environments. What’s worse, these particular bacteria leave no visible trace of their presence. The botulism toxin produced by these bacteria is colorless and odorless. Please see the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s Web site for more information.

    Seriously: no messing around here. This isn’t safe.

  • Thanks for your article, you made me laugh! I think I’ll stick with freezing my greens, though a food dehydrator could be fun to play with.

  • Zusa

    What about juicing them and then freezing the juice? Would they still have to be blanched first? And could these kinds of greens be good in juice, or not?

    Thanks for the article!

  • Mel

    Thanks Zusa, I was going to ask the same question.

    I love juicing, but would LOVE to be able to juice on Sunday for the upcoming week. What are the rules for preserving vegetable (specifically Kale) juice?

  • Patty

    using pressure method, I want to season w/bacon grease, would that be safe for 90 min/15 psi?

  • Cindy

    Patty you sure can season them with meat…just know meat trumps vegetables on cooking times. If you season with the use the cooking time for the meat you used.
    I love them seasoned this way.

  • DoubleG

    Trying to uncover thomas Jefferson’s pickled lettuce anyone find it?

  • sharon

    dont forget, you can also make a fermented kraut, like kimchi, with all those greens!

  • I grind the greens (all varieties) and some radishes and kohlrabi through my gramma’s meat grinder (yes the crank type) on the coarsest grind for a relish texture…then use whey from the cheese I make to ferment it into the most lovely sour relish. Sometimes I’ll throw in caraway, dill, celery, mustard seeds and salt to taste before starting the ferment…really nice!

  • Erok

    By golly, LynnAnn, that’s what I’m going to try! Genius!

  • mark c

    At the risk of being blown out of the water here, I just would like to say that I just pack my kale tightly into freezer bags and use in soups or by itself all winter. I dont blanch or even get the leaves wet. I grow everything in covered raised beds so the leaves are always clean.