Thursday, January 27, 2011

Red Hog Food: Winter Edition Part I.

Okay, so I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but wintertime eating starts in the summer. Yes, that's right...if you want to eat seasonally, you're going to have to do some prep work while local produce is abundant and cheap.
Eggs, apricots, and raspberries.

I tend to compulsively freeze everything I can get my hands on during spring, summer and fall...which is why my family thinks I'm crazy. Why yes, I do have 22 quart sized bags of rhubarb in my freezer. And no, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with it.

However, two summers ago we had a truly bumper crop of tomatoes. And since we were members of a CSA in our area, we also had bumper boxes of tomatoes.

I went nuts. I froze tomatoes daily (I don't can tomatoes.  We'll get to that later.) and by the end of the summer we had an entire upright freezer full of tomatoes.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. It got to be about April, we were cleaning out freezers and my mother actually wanted to throw the remaining bags out.  She said,

"It's already April. We'll have more tomatoes in August. There's no way we're going to use this many tomatoes in four months! Let's just give them to the pigs."

Man, am I glad that I said no. Because August came and went. Then September came and went. No tomatoes. None of our neighbors had any either. I talked to some of my most trusted farmer friends (who, like, grow tomatoes professionally) and their crops were bad too. You could find tomatoes at some of the farmers' markets, but they were mushy, flavorless, and expensive. In other words, not a great year for preserving any tomatoes.

We were okay, though. In fact, it's now late January and we are just opening our last bag of 2009 tomatoes. We've enjoyed barbecue sauce, soups, and on Christmas Eve we had the yummiest meat sauce over pasta (well, the rest of the fam had it on pasta and I had it over broccoli).
Here it is.  The LAST bag.

Here's the moral of that story: you really can't freeze/can/preserve too much.  One of these days rhubarb is going to be dearer than diamonds and I will be all set.

So over the course of the next few posts, let's talk about the four basic methods that I use to preserve stuff here on Red Hog Farm: freezing, fermenting, drying and canning. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional, just a homemaker, and the opinions expressed here should be taken with a few grains of minimally processed sea salt.

Freezing comes first because it's my favorite. It is easy, you can keep fruits and veggies mostly raw, and the flavor is awesome. Plus it's beyond're not likely to give anyone botulism from improperly frozen cauliflower. But the main reason why I love freezing fruits and veggies? Because I would much rather hang out with my family and friends during the summer than be stuck in the kitchen making jam.
Sure, it's beautiful and delicious. But wouldn't you rather go on a hike?

Here are some of my favorite things to freeze, and how I do it:
Tomatoes/Peppers:  Freeze whole. When you cook them, just skim the skins off the top. No one will notice the seeds. I promise.
Broccoli/cauliflower/kale/cabbage:  Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop in veggies (chopped if you like, or not) and cook for no more than three minutes. Then shock them in a sink full of ice water. When all your veggies are done, dry them off and put them in containers.
Green beans/peas:  Treat like cruciferous veggies. I blanch mine for about a minute because I like my veggies crispy, but feel free to cook for a little longer.
Summer squash:  I know that this one is controversial (or as controversial as you can get when you're talking about a vegetable,) but I think summer squash freezes just fine. I don't saute them in the winter (save that for the fresh stuff in summer) but they make marvelous thickeners for soups and stews, and make a fantastic chowder with some frozen corn and a dollop of sour cream.
Berries:  Don't do anything to them...just freeze them. Small batches work best so you don't end up with a big block of frozen, useless goo. All berries flash freeze well, meaning that you spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze individually. Strawberries work whole or sliced.
Other veggies/fruits:  Use your imagination. I've frozen just about everything except apples, and lettuce doesn't work very well. Other than that, go crazy!  Walk on the wild side! Freeze everything!

The key to freezing seems to be to acknowledge that some things change in the freezer. Moisture rich fruits and veggies (strawberries, watermelon, cucumbers, spinach) will become a little mushy. Don't let that stop you! Just learn to work within the limitations of your product. If your strawberries are squishy, turn them into a smoothie. If your squash is chewy, use a stick blender to turn it into an amazing puree for gluten free soup.

I freeze wintertime produce as well. Too many lemons? Juice them and freeze the juice in 2 ounce paper cups. Your buying club got a stellar deal on winter squash? Peel, chop, freeze.
Can you really have too many of these?

You can also freeze dairy products like butter (although I like ghee better...we'll talk about that in another post) and cheese. Eggs, which are abundant in spring, freeze beautifully too. Make sure to crack them first.
Freeze me, Seymour!
There is a lot more to be said about freezing food, but I'll just leave you with this:  don't be intimidated. If you think something might freeze well, try it! If it doesn't, don't fret. There's always next year.

Next week:  fermentation!  I'm also not an expert in this area, but I'll walk you through what I'm doing in my kitchen right now, and recommend some amazing resources for anyone who wants to make their own sauerkraut, pickles and ketchup.  Yum!


  1. Great tips!! How do you freeze your eggs? And what about milk? I'd love to buy extra and freeze it to make cheese later, but I'm unsure if that will work.
    And I guess I'm one of those crazy people that LOVES to can food. I find it peaceful work.

  2. Nichol, when I freeze eggs I crack them and put them, one per slot, in an ice cube tray. When they are frozen, pop them out and stick them in a freezer bag.

    I don't hate canning, but the summer goes by soooo fast around here and a lot of times I feel like I'm missing out on the fun by being stuck in the kitchen. That's one of the reasons that I freeze stuff...because you can always can later. Frozen fruit cans quite well, and if you're going to make something like jam, who cares if your berries are a little mushy?

  3. "the opinions expressed here should be taken with a few grains of minimally processed sea salt." LOL! That is the funniest thing I have read in a LONG time! Stacy

  4. I just had a big bowl of blackberries for dinner. Picked 'em last summer when they were ripe and juicy and froze them. I love having fruit for dinner when dinner comes late (7:30pm tonight) but I still need something. Great post.

  5. Freezing eggs. That is something I would have never thought of. Great info. I am loving your blog! Can't wait for the next lesson... :-)

  6. Glad you guys are enjoying it! Susan, that sounds divine. I had a coconut milk and cherry smoothie from cherries that I pitted and froze last summer. Mmmmm....