Fall has arrived. U-pick farms are starting to shut down their operations, some farmers markets have shut down for the year, and home gardeners are preparing their gardens for winter.
Now is a good time to get late summer produce at good quantity prices. It’s also time for locavores (people who eat locally grown food) to lay in food supplies for the winter. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can add a lot of variety to local winter eating.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been canning fruits, putting up pickles, and making jelly. However, when it comes to vegetables or other low acid foods, I prefer to store them in my freezer. Canned vegetables or meats have to be processed in a pressure cooker, and that’s more than I’m willing to do. Freezing is easier and more fun.
Different foods will need different kinds of preparation before freezing. Freezing can change food texture, color, and taste in various ways, and proper preparation can prevent loss of appeal and keep the food safe to eat after months of storage.
Some foods, such as chili peppers or meat, don’t require any cooking before freezing. With chili peppers, for example, all you need to do is remove the seeds, wash, and chop them however you like.
Most vegetables require some heating before freezing to ensure food safety. Asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and many others must be blanched before freezing. The goal of blanching is to kill any bacteria present, not to cook the vegetable.
Blanching is a two step process. First get lots of water boiling in a big pot and then prepare a large mixing bowl with ice and water. When the vegetables have been cleaned and cut to freezing size, they are put in the boiling water in small batches (so the boiling isn’t interrupted) for 2-3 minutes. Then they are removed from the pot and immediately placed in the ice water bowl to remove the heat and stop further cooking.
Once prepared, blanched vegetable slices or dices are usually spread on a cookie sheet in a single layer so they won’t stick together. Line the pans with Silpat or parchment sheets, if you like, to keep food from sticking to the pans. Place the veggies in the freezer for an hour or so until frozen solid. Then put into freezer bags, and squeeze out as much of the air as you can before sealing. Finally–and this is very important–label and mark the date on the bag. Months from now you’ll want to know how old the food is.
Some foods are best partially or fully cooked before freezing. Twice-baked potatoes, lasagna, and soups are examples of cooked foods which freeze nicely. Twice baked potatoes can be wrapped in foil and then put into freezer bags before freezing. Soup, such as the recipe below, can be poured into a reusable plastic storage container, with tape on the lid to mark the contents and date, and then placed into directly into the freezer.
To find out how to properly freeze your food, use a book or reliable online reference as a guide so your food will be safe and the quality will be well preserved. A good overview book to help you get started with canning, freezing, and other food preservation methods is Keeping the Harvest by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mead. (Find this and other books on food preservation techniques through the Whatcom Locavore online bookstore.)
This week’s menu includes a wonderful Potato Leek Soup that freezes well. Make a double batch and freeze half.
Warm and hearty food for our cooler fall weather!