Thursday, March 15, 2012

Preserving the Harvest: Notes for Next Summer

As I watch my stock pile of summer veg and fruit dwindle, I'm trying to make a few mental notes for next summer. First, let me say that freezing local produce is something that I hope to always find the time to do. It was such a pleasure to eat local long after the CSA shares had finished and the summer farmers' markets had closed up. It also made cooking incredibly easy. Since preparing vegetables to be frozen involves much of the prep work associated with cooking (particularly the slicing and dicing), it was very easy to throw together week-day meals. So, to sum up:

Focus on the vegetables that are easiest to freeze and most likely to be eaten. A few vegetables do not need to be blanched. Sweet peppers can be diced and thrown straight into the freezer. I cook peppers in many dishes, so these are top of my list to freeze. Tomatoes are definitely easier to use if you take the time to process them, but they can be put whole into freezer bags. Greens are easy to blanch, and another very popular veg in my house. Many fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and peaches for example) can be frozen whole.

Work in quantity. There is something to freezing several pounds of something all at once. When red peppers are at their height and prices are cheapest, buy several pounds and take an hour to do them all at once.

Incorporate freezing into your cooking routine. This is really the opposite of freezing in quantity. If you are making green beans, put twice as many as you need in the steamer. Take out half at the recommended blanching point, leaving the rest to cook fully for dinner.

Freeze it before it goes bad. Some weeks with a CSA share, you may get more of something than you can possible eat before it goes bad. If you can foresee that, freeze it before it happens. This photo is from my late fall CSA share. Note the two, two-pound bags of spinach on the right. There was no way we were going to eat that before it went bad.

Freeze for specific recipes. If you like butternut squash soup, for example, cook and puree it. Then freeze it in the quantities you most use. Along the same lines, zucchini can be grated, packed into half cup measuring cups, and then frozen in individual mounds on a cookie sheet. Whether the recipe calls for a half cup or two cups you can pull out what you need. Loose vegetables (like green beans and carrots) can be frozen on a cookie sheet and then put in a freezer bag. This keeps them from freezing into one big lump.

Freeze "value-added" foods. There are recipes for sweet dill pickles and relishes that can be thrown together very quickly and thrown in the freezer. Salsa freezes very nicely if you find yourself with a glut of corn and tomatoes. These types of foods are often best canned, but if you are either not interested in canning or find yourself with five pounds of cucumbers and no time to get out the canner, there are some very good recipes intended for the freezer. Jam freezes very well and tastes exactly the same as the canned versions.

So those are my lessons learned from last year's freezing. If you have any other tips, please leave a comment.



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