Tasty Thursday: Holding onto Summer

highcountryparent_banner_HCP1703_AppUrgent_getwell

Yes, it’s Thursday, not Tuesday. Heck, I’m glad that I can figure out WHICH day of the week it is! I spent the first two days of the week driving hundreds of miles, and I spent the last two days processing all the wonderful produce I brought home with me.

We love the taste of summer fruits and vegetables–freshly picked and bursting with flavor. In fact, we love summer’s bountiful harvest so much that we are always looking for ways to hold onto it all the way through the winter months when the produce aisles at the grocery store are downright discouraging.

bowlofcherries

So today I want to talk a little about the old craft of  “putting by” for the winter. There are a couple of ways to preserve summer’s goodness, but my favorite is freezing. In my opinion, the flavors of produce stay truer through the freezing process than through the canning process.

Freezing fruit and vegetables is very simple. Obviously, you can put everything in a container and simply stash it in the freezer. It’s sometimes necessary, however, to be able to retrieve the exact amount of fruit that you need. If the fruit is all frozen into one giant lump, it’s hard to get that exact amount.

handfulofcherries

To rectify that situation, I spread pitted cherries, for example, out in a single layer on a cookie sheet (one that has sides is important if the fruit rolls!) It’s important to have the fruit as dry as possible. I pick my cherries at a place that doesn’t use sprays on their fruit, so I don’t even wash the cherries before I freeze them.

cherriesonsheet

So I stick the tray of fruit in the freezer until the cherries are completely frozen. Once the cherries are completely frozen, I scoop them off and put them into labelled ziplock bags. Those bags go back into the freezer immediately. Voila! I have sweet, perfect cherries in my freezer that I can use all winter long. The biggest challenge is keeping my kids out of them. On the other hand, cherries are practically a miracle food and are packed with anti-oxidents, so I’m actually okay with them snacking on frozen cherries. I do the same with blueberries.

If you freeze peaches, you’ll need to use a spatula to remove the fruit from the cookie sheet after it’s frozen. I personally like to remove the skin from peaches before I freeze them because the skin doesn’t freeze well.

If you freeze cherries, you need to pit them first. I just froze 25 pounds of sweet Michigan cherries that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this winter! Blueberries are the easiest to freeze. If they’re clean and dry, you don’t even need to freeze them on a cookie sheet first. Just pour them gently into a ziplock bag and pop it in the freezer. Blackberries and raspberries shouldn’t be washed before freezing because they’ll be too wet and turn into a sodden mess. Just pick off the leaves, sticks, and other debris and spread them out on the cookie sheet.

I recommend that if you find great local fruit, buy a lot of it and freeze as much as you have room for. Some fruitstands will give you discounts if you buy a LOT of fruit. It’s a worthwhile investment of grocery dollars to buy local, seasonal fruit and freeze it.

Freezing veggies is a bit more of a process, but it’s still not hard and is definitely worth the time and the trouble. In June, my husband brought home 40 pounds of asparagus that he got for $0.70 a pound. It was delicious fresh, but 40 pounds was way more than we wanted to eat. I now have about 30 pounds of asparagus in my deep freeze!

Most of the time, you’ll need to blanch vegetables before you freeze them. The one exception to this is peppers. For some reason, you can just wash, slice, and seed peppers and then freeze them without doing anything else.

The way we processed our asparagus was this: first, we cleaned and trimmed the asparagus. Then we blanched the asparagus in batches by submerging it in boiling water for 4 minutes. After that 4 minutes of boiling water, we immediately plunged the asparagus into a pot of ice water. Then we spread out the asparagus on a clean towel to dry it off a little. We laid out the asparagus in a single layer on a cookie sheet and froze it. After it was frozen, we scooped the individual asparagus stalks off the cookie sheet into ziplock bags. We froze batches of about 1 pound each.

This same method works for most veggies. Beets must be cooked quite a bit longer before they’re frozen.

NEVER freeze potatoes unless they’re mashed.

I’ve also found that the best way to freeze summer squashes (zucchini, crook-neck, yellow, and pattypan squash) is to shred the squash in the food processor and freeze it in measured amounts in ziplocks. Don’t blanch the squash first.

I’ve saved my favorite tip for last. I learned this from a friend who is completely passionate about gardening and always has great produce during the summer months. She calls it making soup kits.

My friend Stacey writes: Ok, it’s really easy! Pick the veggies that are ripe that week and cut them into chunks. Try to keep everything the same size. I use squash, zucchini, onion, carrots, corn, beans, and possibly garlic. Put the mixture of veggies in a colander that fits inside a large empty pot. Pour boiling water over the vegetables and let them sit for 3 minutes. Then, using tongs, put them in ziplocks in 4-cup batches. Suck the air out with a straw and freeze.

Use a bag of frozen vegetables for a small batch of soup during the winter months. Use two bags to make a large batch of soup. Since each week is different in terms of what veggies are ripe, I find that the batches of soup are all unique.

Stacey also recommends lightly coating slices of onions with olive oil, grilling them, chopping them coarsely, and freezing them for use in soups and stews.

Stacey pointed out something important–getting as much air out of the ziplock bags as possible before sealing them shut. The less air the vegetables are exposed to in the freezer, the better they’ll keep for months at a time.

As with the fruit, it’s worth stocking up on fresh veggies from local growers if you can.

If you’ve never saved up the best of summer to take out and brighten up winter meals, this is definitely worth a try.

Good luck!

Barb Kelley

cherries-close1
.

About Barb


Mom of 4 boys ranging in age from 18-24, Barb cooks and writes her way through life as she explores what comes next in the life of a mom. Visit her at My Sister's Kitchen at http://mysisterskitchenonline.com. You can also find Barb on Facebook at http://facebook.com/sisterskitchen/ or follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/sisters_kitchen


Comments

  1. Oh, Barb, you have a treasure in your freezer right now! Judd just made a big batch of chow chow from our cabbage, peppers, and green tomatoes, etc. He canned about 10 jars. We are just getting in the tomato harvest (67 plants), and I’m seeing lots of salsa and spaghetti sauce in our future! Then, of course, there are the blueberries we picked in the freezer!

    I love cutting the corn off the cobs and freezing it. We actually bought one of those ziploc vacuum packers, and it works really well. We packed the lamb in it for the freezer and it has worked well!