5 Tips for Preserving This Season’s Bounty

We all know the feeling of panic that sets in once your garden really takes off for the summer — how on earth are you going to eat all of these tomatoes?! — but few master the art of preserving their produce so deliciously that it ends up becoming their career. Unless, of course, you happen to be Lesley Mortimer.

Lesley had a career in accounting when she began Know Your Roots (formally known as Healthy by Design) in 2016. What started as kitchen experiments to help preserve her overflowing garden quickly turned into sharing canned goods with friends and family, perfecting her recipes based on their feedback, and launching her product at local farmers markets.

Lesley grew up in a German family, where making sauerkraut wasn’t an unusual activity. But instead of inheriting the practice of preserving food through family tradition, Lesley learned everything she knows about pickling and fermenting foods from taking a course through Colorado State University’s Extension Office and watching YouTube videos on her own. The more she learned about fermentation, the more interesting it became. He recipes evolved into more sophisticated takes on classic fermented and pickled foods, her product list expanded, and know Know Your Roots products can be found throughout Colorado and the United States.

Learning how to preserve food is an excellent way to support local producers and keep highly nutritious, tasteful food in your pantry all year long. Cabbage can be transformed into sauerkraut and kimchi, cucumbers turn to pickles in flavorful brines, and you can create your own salsas and hot sauces out of summer tomatoes and peppers. If you enjoy bitter, tangy flavors, there are very few vegetables that cannot be preserved through the art of fermentation, but the process can seem intimidating for beginners. For those looking to make this particularly abundant produce season last even longer, Lesley shared her tips on how to get started.

Tip #1: Gather the necessary supplies

If you don’t know what you might need to start your canning journey, the internet’s got your back. Lesley recommends purchasing a canning kit, which includes everything you need to get started. There are options at all price points depending on where you look, and you can visit your local home goods store to see what they have in stock. It’s also worth investing in proper canning jars, which allow you to get the correct seal to store your food safely.

Tip #2: Start with sauerkraut

While it might not be the flashiest food, sauerkraut is a more straightforward food to begin your journey with. Typically, fermentation is safer than pickling for beginners, and all you have to do to make an excellent sauerkraut is work your cabbage and brine. Plus, fall is an excellent time to stock up on cabbage at the farmers markets while it’s in season, and if all turns out well, you’ll be well-stocked for your next cookout!

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to begin

Yes, before anyone starts experimenting with canning, you should be aware of the risks. It’s important to read up on how to safely preserve food before you start your journey. Whether you prefer learning on your own through YouTube or want to take a course like Lesley did, there is plenty of information out there that you can educate yourself with before you make your first recipe. However, don’t let the learning curve stop you from trying if it’s something you are passionate about exploring. We call it “experimenting” in the kitchen for a reason – your first try doesn’t have to be a success. When in doubt, toss it out. 

Tip #4: Use local ingredients

One of the reasons Know Your Roots’ products taste so good is that they use ingredients from local farms. Lesley believes that the freshest ingredients make for the best canned goods, especially when it comes to preserving some crunch. Know Your Roots uses produce from vendors like Rocky Mountain Fresh, Croft Family Farm, Aspen Moon Farm, Toohey and Sons, and Topp Fruits regularly, so stocking up from your favorite market vendors is an excellent way to make delicious canned food to enjoy all year.

Tip #5: Reduce waste in your kitchen

One of Lesley’s favorite parts about preserving food is that it’s a really easy way to reduce food waste. You can take nearly any hearty vegetable (including sturdy greens) and turn it into something delicious by simply working in some salt and flavors and giving it the time to transform into something new. If you aren’t sure where to start, Lesley recommends using the cores from apples to make your own apple cider vinegar!

Visit Know Your Roots’ booth at the Boulder and Longmont Farmers Markets this weekend to shop from their impressive lineup of preserved foods, which includes everything from dill pickles to kimchi and beet Kvass. If you find Lesley at the booth, she’d be thrilled to share more tips to help you preserve local food in your own kitchen. We hope to see you at the markets this weekend!

This article was written as part of the Take 5 for Local Farm to Market Masterclass. Photography by Eliza Earle.

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