How to preserve the summer squash harvest

Charla Hammonds Logan County Extension Agent-FCS

Do you have extra summer squash? If you’re like most home gardeners, you probably do. These vegetables grow abundantly, and it’s easy to find yourself with more than you know what to do with. If you’re eating a lot of it fresh, you may even get tired of it before long. The good news is there are several ways to preserve it.

Some people like to can their summer squash; however, that is no longer recommended. Squash is a low-acid vegetable which requires pressure canning for a known period to destroy the bacteria that causes botulism. While there used to be USDA-provided instructions for pressure-canning summer squash, they have been withdrawn. The reason is when they retested the old directions during a complete revision of the USDA guides, the results were not coming up consistently safe. And, when they attempted to locate the paper records holding the data behind the previously recommended processing times, the documentation could not be found.

Basically, the problem is slices or cubes of cooked summer squash get too soft and pack tightly into the jars. The amount of squash filled into a jar then may affect the heating pattern and result in inadequate processing and an unsafe product.

So, what can you do to preserve your harvest? Try freezing, drying, or pickling.

Freezing or “putting up” vegetables as we often say here in the South is one of the easiest, most convenient, and least time-consuming ways to preserve foods.

Here are instructions for freezing summer squash:

Wash, trim, and cut into ¼ inch slices.

Blanch by boiling or steaming for about 3 to 5 minutes. This destroys the enzymes and bacteria that would, over time, remove nutrients and flavor from the squash.

Cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes. Moving quickly from heat to cold ensures the squash won’t be overcooked.

Drain. This will remove excess moisture and prepare the squash for freezing.

Spread the slices in single layer on cookie sheet and freeze just until firm.

Package into freezer bags or freezer containers, leaving ½-inch headspace. Then seal, label and freeze.

To freeze squash for frying, just follow the instructions above, but before packaging, dredge in seasoned flour or cornmeal, spread in single layer on cookie sheet, and freeze until firm.

Another way to preserve summer squash is to dry it. Here’s how:

Wash, trim, and cut into ¼ inch slices. Be sure to keep slices uniform in size so they will dry at the same rate.

Blanch by boiling or steaming for about 3 minutes.

Cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes.

Drain slices and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray.

Place dryer trays into the dehydrator and dry for 10-12 hours or until slices are crisp and brittle.

Store in an airtight container.

If you’re interested in pickling, try one of these recipes that have been tested and approved for safety.

Squash Pickles I

2 pounds fresh, firm zucchini or yellow summer squash

2 small onions

¼ cup salt

2 cups white sugar

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons mustard seed

3 cups cider vinegar (5%)

Wash squash and cut in thin slices. Peel and slice onions thinly. Place onions and squash/zucchini in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Cover with cold water and stir to blend in salt. Let stand 2 hours. Drain thoroughly. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil. Pour over squash and onions. Let stand 2 hours. Bring all ingredients to a boil and heat 5 minutes. Pack vegetables into hot jars. Leave ½ inch headspace. Fill jars to ½ inch from top with boiling liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Yield: 2 pint jars.

Squash Pickles II

4 pounds fresh summer squash

¼ cup salt

1 quart vinegar (5%)

1 cup water

Dill seed (1 teaspoon per pint)

Garlic, if desired (1 clove per pint)

Wash and slice squash. Pack garlic, dill seed, and squash into jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Bring vinegar, water, and salt to a boil; simmer 5 minutes. Fill jars to ½ inch from top with boiling hot liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Yield: 5 pint jars.

If you have an abundance of squash in the garden, try one of these preservation methods. Just remember, food safety is always evolving so it’s important to use recipes that have been scientifically tested and are up to date. There’s a ton of information on canning out there, but if you want to do it safely, the sites you should refer to are So Easy to Preserve and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

For more information on preserving foods at home, feel free to contact, 479-963-2360, or follow us on Facebook @logancountyextensionservice. The Cooperative Extension Service is your source for reliable information. We connect trusted research to the adoption of best practices; we are a catalyst of prosperity for Arkansans.