Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taking Stock

The NaBloPoMo July theme of "food" is drawing to a close, and there is still lots I want to discuss, and I will--partly because I want your input, and partly because, for me, these blog entries may someday be to Bella what the yellowing index cards with recipes written out in my mother's handwriting are to me.

I went pretty hard during the month of July as far as getting food "put away" for later, and I'll continue on into August, I'm sure. I wish I'd started much sooner, but I just didn't realize how early and fleeting the season is here for certain things (spinach, oh, spinach, I missed you altogether). I'm better informed for next year, though. Let's take stock (pun intended, sorry) of what I've managed to store away so far, mostly from well-timed large buys at farmer's markets and from local growers.

By far, the most important tool in my personal food-storage kit is the freezer. We're fortunate to have plentiful freezer space, largely thanks to an amazing gem of a giant used upright freezer that Alex found in a newspaper ad, and for which we paid $95. That's not likely to happen again, I'm sure. Maybe by next year I'll be ready to try pressure-canning, which would allow me to jar up a wider variety of vegetables, but for now, I'm really comfortable with frozen food. I'm also not convinced that all the blanching advised for most vegetables is really necessary--in some cases, I know it's not, because I've skipped it successfully in the past, and in other cases, I'm relying on a trusted source to tell me that they've done the same things. Also, every single vegetable or fruit item I've frozen has first been "flash-frozen," by which I mean the individual pieces were spread out on trays and frozen on a well-ventilated rack in the freezer, before being packed into vacuum-sealed bags or freezer containers. I like to do it that way, because then when it's time to cook the frozen food, it isn't clumped together, and I can simply take out however many pieces I want, instead of having to thaw a whole package. I don't have a Food-Saver system (though I'd love one), but I've been pretty happy with my $9 Reynolds Handi-Vac, and the bags that go with it don't cost any more than regular freezer bags. And of course, with the Handi-Vac, you can open a bag, take out what you want, then re-vacuum-seal it again. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean, in the form of trays of blackberries and blueberries being flash-frozen before being put into sealed containers:

tray of blackberries flash freezing

freezing a tray full of fresh blueberries

So, to make this entry even more mind-numbingly boring, here's a list of what I have "put up" so far, all from local, chemical-free sources:

Okra--flash-frozen. Small pods frozen whole, larger pods sliced for gumbo, and thanks to a co-worker's tip, more slices that I've already dredged in a seasoned flour/cornmeal mixture, ready to be pan-fried. Not blanched.

Green Beans--blanched, patted dry, flash-frozen, and sealed in various sizes of freezer bags. A Twitter-bud told me that she doesn't blanch her green beans prior to freezing, and they turn out just fine, so I'll probably skip it next time, too.

Yellow Straightneck Squash--slices and chunks flash-frozen, some slices pre-breaded for pan-frying, just like the okra. Not blanched.

Zucchini--slices, plain and breaded, flash-frozen. Sticks, flash-frozen. Shredded, for use in breads, cakes, or fritters, vacuum-sealed in one and two-cup portions. Not blanched. (You can steam-blanch shredded zucchini if you like. I didn't wanna. The word I got on using raw-frozen zucchini shreds in breads or cakes is that you DO want to incorporate all the liquid that thaws with the zucchini, unless the recipe specifically calls for draining it.)

Bell Peppers, green and red--Chopped or cut into strips, flash-frozen. Not blanched. A tip I got from the grower of the peppers was to just freeze bell peppers whole if you don't want to take the time to chop or slice them, because that would protect the moist inside from forming ice-crystals. The only reason I didn't do that is because of how much space it would take up in the freezer. This is probably THE single most cost-effective item to buy NOW at a farmer's market, and freeze, if you're not growing them yourself. Good GOSH, a grocery-store bell pepper is expensive!

Carrots--Slices or sticks, blanched and flash-frozen.

Sweet Corn--Blanched on the cob, then cut off the cob and frozen in a sealed container.

Sweet Corn ON THE COB--Flash-frozen. Not blanched. To cook, toss frozen ears directly into boiling water for 15 minutes.

Onions--Chopped and flash-frozen. Even the "official" freezing sources don't act like you have to blanch onions, thank heavens.

Broccoli--Blanched and flash-frozen.

Purple-Hull Peas (if you're not from the South, think Black-Eyed Peas, Lady Peas, or other "field" peas)--shelled, blanched, patted dry with paper towels, flash-frozen.

Fairy-Tale Eggplant--sliced and flash-frozen. Not blanched.

Pattypan Squash--sliced and cubed, flash-frozen.

Cucumbers--pickled.

Watermelon--pickled.

"Fake Grape" jelly--made from the hulls of purple-hull peas.

Sweet Banana Peppers--pickled.

Tomatoes--cooked down into sauce, canned. Still angry.

Blueberries--flash-frozen.

Strawberries--flash-frozen.

Wild-harvested Blackberries--flash frozen. May make jam from these, since Alex and Bella both object to the seeds.

Beets--so far, just hanging around. Suggestions?

Wild-Harvested Turkey--meat wrapped up tight in freezer paper and freezer bags, broth portioned in quart-size freezer bags, frozen.

Wild-Harvested Venison--processed and packaged by our local butcher, in paper and plastic, frozen.

Bread--thoroughly cooled and sealed in plastic, frozen.

What about you? Are you the grasshopper, or the ant? Frankly, this is my first ant year, and I'm darned tired already. There's lots more coming up that I want to hoard like crazy, but can't figure out quite how to do it, like root vegetables. What are you waiting for where you live?

17 comments:

  1. Question for you: Does the sweet corn frozen on the cob have a "cobby" taste when cooked? Do you shuck it, rinse, dry and freeze on a tray and then place in freezer Zip-Lock bags? I've not frozen it this way and it sure seems it would be easier than blanching, cutting off and freezing.

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  2. Dear girl! Pickled beets! One of my most favorite things ever. I also adore Harvard beets. Mom takes canned beets and puts them in a sauce pan with cloves and some other stuff and cornstarch to thicken. Yummy!

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  3. Just a note for the back of your brain (if you don't mind using a microwave). You can take corn on the cob right off the stalk, put in in a bag to freeze, and like your flash frozen stuff, take out what you need when you need it. Then you can microwave it 6 minutes, give or take, and enjoy. no blanching, no canning, and it takes *exactly* as it would have if cooked right off the stalk.

    Enjoying your food posts,
    kate

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  4. hey, b., blanching IS necessary for some things -- it destroys the enzyme that keeps things ripening, even in slo-mo, in the freezer. unblanched things freeze fine, but deteriorate in quality more quickly than blanched things. thus, if you want corn to last you until next corn season, you really ought to blanch. so use up your unblanched stuff first.
    it sounds like you're doing a great job in your first year of food preserving. congrats! it's a lot of work, but it's so-so-so satisfying.

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  5. Yowza. I thought I was doing good this year until I read this post. I need to get busy! Lots of information here...thanks!

    I love my Handi-Vac too, so much cheaper than a food saver.

    So far, we've put up strawberries, blueberries, leeks, green onions, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers. We also joined a winter CSA that will supply us with 28 packages of frozen, locally grown food. It won't last us through the winter, but it's a start.

    Call me grasshopper, I guess :)!

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  6. on the corn: I forgot to say that you do not shuck the corn. It's frozen as it comes off the stalk. And I called mom, you can grill or boil it too.

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  7. I'm not the ant or the grasshopper. I'm not even in the race. I'm all, um, okay, no freezer, no idear what's in season, pickle what part of the watermelon? Fake grape jelly? 50 POUNDS of tomatoes?! Then I fall over dead.

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  8. we did the pickled watermelon rind this week, YUM! It wasn't exactly the same as I remembered from a friend whose mom made it, but it was sure tasty! Now I want to can some local peaches this weekend. I might have to try the peppers too!

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  9. I've been lurking & enjoying your journal for a long time now, but I have to speak up finally to say I'M SO IMPRESSED! I, too, loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (so much so that I read it aloud to my husband & gave it to my daughter for Christmas). But I haven't done anything to emulate Kingsolver's ideas (except to shop at farmers' markets, but that's just plain fun). Of course, we did just move into a new house & are in the process of combining three households (mine, my mother's & my husband's (who came to California three years ago to care for his parents--we are FINALLY living together again full time (had to wait for the youngest to graduate from high school)). Anyhow--always such fun to read about your life. Thanks very much for sharing it. -- Linda

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  10. Julie--what you describe is exactly what I did, and it tastes perfect upon cooking. Also, see kate's comment, below yours, on freezing the corn IN the shuck! Even easier! When I cut the kernels off, I did blanch first. If you want to freeze a cream-style corn, you're supposed to cut the kernels off the raw cob, then scrape off the liquid from the cob into the container with the kernels.

    Monica--I know, I need to learn that! I'd also like to learn to roast them like ex.libris does.

    kate--thanks for the tips! I'm all for easy, obviously.

    robin--thanks! I know, I read "Preserving the Harvest" (and still waiting on your book), but it seemed like if you only need things to last a few months, you could skip the blanching in many cases. I am blanching some stuff that I want to put up more of, or have last longer. I blanched the corn that I cut OFF the cob, just not the whole cobs. I am supremely lazy.

    her grace--I would GLADLY join a CSA that provided frozen local food! I wish we had one here.

    papernapkin--you can rest assured that, if *I* can do it? It is NOT HARD. Except the tomato sauce. That sucked.

    gretchen--I remember them with mustard seeds, almost like bread & butter pickles...is that what you remember? This recipe is different, and wonderfully sweet and sour, but I LOVE it. I'm putting the pepper recipe up now...it was CRAZY easy.

    lindalba--I love that book. What is funny is that by the time I read the book, I'd already gotten my chickens, and had chosen and ordered my turkeys, and had the cheesemaking kit...so it was pretty neat seeing that she'd come to many of the same conclusions I had! And I was IMMENSELY grateful for some of the stuff she wrote about raising her turkeys, because I haven't run across some of those details ANYWHERE else! ;-)

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  11. Have you thought about harvesting seeds so that you can plant year after year. I know you are buying from farmers market now, but hey its an option!

    By the way we are adding you to our blogroll, I love your blog. Whats funny is I found you on a blog no where near Arkansas, and to find out your one of us...this is great!

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  12. I'm just reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle now and I long for an acreage! You're one busy mofo!! It's going to pay off so much in a few months when you're whipping up some yummies with all of the stuff you have going on there, babe. And Bella, wow, she's so lucky to be able to learn and appreciate it all, too!

    I hope that makes sense, my brain is fried. :)
    XO

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  13. Thanks for the suggestions about freezing - I was wondering about a couple of veggies I'm just trying this year.

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  14. By the way, we just freeze our tomatoes whole. They're good for sauces and such, and you can take out as many as you need when you're ready. SO much easier than canning - just wash, dry, and bag them.

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  15. Hi, sorry to drive by like this, but I failed at finding your email.

    I'm sure you don't know me from Adam, but someone at blogher told me that you had some sort of chicken essay or collective thingie open to bloggers? Pardon if I am on crack here. If you could send me a link or info I would be interested. I see your posts on BYC.

    Thanks,

    SJ
    sj at iasshole.org

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  16. I'm more ant than grasshopper. we have a smaller and more energy efficient freezer now, so I'm not freezing as much as I have in the past. We'll see how that goes after the tomatoes start ripening; I'll make room for tomato sauce and/or tomato soup somehow!

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  17. We just have a fridge/freezer, so I've been canning like mad. I'm out of cupboard space but still have pickles to put up.

    First words out of DBF's mouth this morning were "The house smells like pickles". I had gotten up early drain the pickle, boil the brine, and pour it back over the cukes. His comment made me laugh wildly!!

    BTW, I loved the Kingsolver book, too.

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