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:
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.
"Fake Grape" jelly--made from the hulls of purple-hull peas.
Sweet Banana Peppers--pickled.
Tomatoes--cooked down into sauce, canned. Still angry.
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?