Though no one wants to turn a gardening column into a food story, the gardener inevitably finds him- or herself with a surplus of produce at certain times of the year, and this is one of those times. There's a psychological advantage to the fall garden: Finding yourself with excess green peppers or eggplants makes you feel more acutely the frosty reach of winter and the instinct to hoard. Somehow, I'm always more willing to spend hours putting up vegetables in October than I am in August. Also, getting rid of your surplus is easier in the fall. People are no longer inundated, and supermarkets are no longer cut-rate. Still, what do you do with a bushel or more of green tomatoes, a peck of apples, three dozen large eggplants and a laundry basket full of peppers? Here are some ideas of ways to use extra vegetables; recipes for most of these ideas can be found in a complete cookbook, such as The Joy of Cooking. Others can be gleaned from the pages of canning books (my husband's favorite, probably because of the author's name, is Putting Stuff Up for the Cold Time, by Crescent Dragonwagon, c 1973, Workman Publishing Co., 231 East 51st Street, New York), cooking magazines (I'm a sucker for Cuisine), or specialty books from your local bookstore.
GREEN PEPPERS: Peppers can be chopped and frozen in an ice-cube tray for small, handy amounts to add to soups, stews and the like later. After making the cubes, store them in plastic bags, like ordinary ice cubes; they don't have to be blanched before freezing. Put whole peppers into plastic bags, tuck them into the divided boxes your canning jars came in, and freeze them for stuffing later. And remember, hamburger relish is based on green peppers, and is very easy to assemble and can.
HOT PEPPERS: These should be strung together -- not touching -- and hung near the ceiling to air-dry. If they're very large and fat, freezing might be a good alternative to seeing some rot before they're fully dry. Has anyone ever tried using colorful dried hot peppers as Christmas decorations?
GREEN TOMATOES: Relish can be made with onions, carrots, mustard seeds and other spices to use on pork, lamb or hamburgers. Mincemeat involves mixing the tomatoes with apples and spices for pies later in the season. Eat green tomatoes fresh, sliced in rounds, dipped in flour, salt and pepper and fried in butter until the outer coating is crisp. Freeze them green for use in Mexican recipes later. While Mexican green tomatoes are not quite the same as ours, ours can be substituted to achieve similar taste. Don't expect them to retain much body once frozen, but they can be used in hot sauces or cooked with other ingredients, as can frozen red tomatoes.
EGGPLANTS: I have not tried this, but am told by a former Georges Bank fisherman and amateur cook that eggplant pickle is delicious and easy to make. It's probably not an easy recipe to find, but if someone has tried it or knows where to find a recipe, let me know. It sounds wonderful. Eggplant, one of those overlooked vegetables, can be a delicious substitute for meat in lasagna, makes a rich ratatouille and adds a nice note to dinner when breaded and sauteed. Eggplants must be cooked before freezing.
APPLES: Apples can be stored readily and are better used up that way, but if storage space is a problem, they are easy to can. Peel and slice them into wedges and cover them with a light sugar-and-water syrup. Later they can be resurrected in oatmeal, pies or cakes and served over ice cream. The uses for apples are endless. Chutneys -- combinations of apples, peppers, onions, celery and just about anything else that tastes good with that -- make marvelous accompaniments to curries in the winter.
CABBAGE: I've never had much luck with sauerkraut, which is, of course, a delicious and common way of storing cabbage. I have sampled friends' home-made sauerkraut, and it's always wonderful. I believe one must get the hang of this, but go out, buy a pickling crock and lots of salt, and try it if you have extra. Otherwise, blanch the cabbage and freeze it.