Friday, May 6, 2011

Top 5 Things to Preserve in Your Freezer

Everyone knows that buying produce locally is better. You use fewer fossil fuels, money is kept in your community, its easier and cheaper to buy organic, and it’s reputed that produce ripened in place is better for you. If you live in California, you can probably buy your produce locally year round. But as you know, living in the northeast, we have several months of plenty followed by many months of scarcity. If you are working toward getting more of your food locally, how can the average person realistically do that year round?

The answer of course, is preserving food. Preserving food is simple in theory, harder in practice. When most people think of preserving food, they think of canning and drying food and just shut down. Although neither of these methods are hard to master, they are less daunting when doing them with someone who has experience. But, even someone who can’t boil water can freeze something. Take a look at the Top 5 below and think about the amount of freezer space (really, how many old kinds of ice cream do you need on hand?) and the amount of time and pick one thing to preserve this year. I promise, if you do it, you’ll feel like a rock star. You might even start shopping for an energy efficient chest freezer! Instructions for how I freeze all produce below is at the bottom:

1. Blueberries: Right when school lets out and into July, blueberries are in season. There are a bunch of U-pick places (and even a fabulous free place by Grafton), we usually pick at Indian Ladder. It’s a fantastic family outing and as a parent, nothing is more satisfying than making your children work for their food. Remember that at least one quart should be for family consumption, but if you aim to have each older child pick their own quart and you pick two, you’ll have a good start. Do this twice and you’ll be silly with blueberries for the season. You can make muffins, snack on them, make pies, toss them in salads, they are delicious, local, and good for you.
2. Corn: This is my favorite thing to freeze because freezing your own is so much better than what you buy in the freezer section. My frozen corn tastes like summer corn and is so delicious in just about everything. I continually freeze the corn through the summer, I always buy a dozen ears of corn from the farmer’s market. The ones we don’t use, I cut the kernels off the cob and then do the preserving method below. If you are a big soup maker and have the space, I’d recommend hanging onto the cobs as well, toss them in the bottom of the soup pot and the winter soups will have an amazing sweet corn taste. Now, you can easily toss handfuls of corn in soups, stir frys, or even just cook it to serve as a side. It’s local, delicious, and again, good for you.
3. Broccoli: Awful confession. I began preserving broccoli because I can’t seem to use a whole bunch without it going bad. But, it’s led to an easy stir fry and omlette companion. Buy your broccoli at the farm stand, chop it up, freeze what you don’t use. My kids prefer fresh broccoli so I haven’t been able to switch us completely off of buying it year round, but having those bags of broccoli has made weeknight dinners easier to make and easier on my conscience.
4. Spinach: I buy this when in season in the early summer and late summer from the farmers market. The thing I love about preserving spinach is that when cooking, it’s so much easier to use frozen than fresh. I am a very lazy spinach preserver as well. Yes, it’s best to pick all those stems out, but I’d rather just get it done and swear at myself later. I just wash the spinach off, spin it, toss it in the gallon sized bag and freeze it. When I want to use it, I slice off chunks and toss them in whatever I’m cooking. Spinach sneaks its way into most things I make this way because of its ease.
5. Meat: Okay, I warmed you up with the above. But if your family eats meat, you should consider buying it in bulk. We got a portion of a grass fed cow and it’s really fantastic. I’m not a meat eater myself so I can’t speak to the taste, but the ease of having a freezer full of healthier options makes life so much better. There are many places locally to get grass fed meats, and it’s well worth looking into.
Some other ideas: beans: just cap them and freeze like below, peppers: chop them first, onions: chop then freeze, garlic scape pesto or basil pesto: don’t add the cheese and roll it into logs to slice off the needed pesto, tomatoes: I prefer to can mine, but I know some who peel and seed their tomatoes and then freeze them for winter sauces. Feeling adventurous? Make a bunch of breaded Eggplant (pictured) and freeze for year round easy dinners.
Remember, start small! Pick one thing above and decide that is the produce or fruit you want to try out preserving this year. If you do get heavily into freezing, I’d recommend a small dry erase board to keep track of things, you think you will remember what’s in there, but you won’t and really, you do have better things to keep track of in your life.
How to freeze: Please note that I never parboil any of my frozen veggies. I freeze them raw, and I find they taste a million times better (especially the corn) because of that. Make sure your produce is washed, if necessary. If your produce is wet or is juicy like corn, line the cookie sheet with waxed paper and if you are going to stack cookie sheets, put some waxed paper over your produce as well. Allow to freeze and then fill up a gallon sized bag. I prefer the ease of the gallon sized bag because I can get in and out of the bag easily and it’s a uniform size for stacking. Some people love the vacuum sealers, which definitely would keep the food fresher. Do whatever works for you. The most important step is actually doing it every year, so figure out a process that is easiest for you. The food won’t care one way or another.

1 comment:

  1. I froze blueberries, corn, and green beans last year and was truly grateful in the dour months of winter. Since I seem to need at least 3 different flavors of ice cream at any given time, think I'll investigate a chest freezer.