Last week I talked a bit about food preservation basics. If you’re going to eat organic local food year around, or work toward that goal, you’ll need some strategies in place.
Food Preservation: Freezing
Today we’ll talk about freezers. You probably have a freezer compartment in your refrigerator. Some of us have chest freezers, like the one in the photo. A few people have vertical freezers with shelves, similar in looks to a fridge.
The freezer compartment:
Pro: everyone has one.
Con: It’s often tiny. By the time you get a container of ice cream in there, some ice cubes, a tv dinner or two, or some packages of frozen vegetables, you’re about done. It’s hard to get serious about storing food when all you have is a fridge freezer.
The chest freezer:
Pro: They’re relatively inexpensive and last for decades. They come in multiple sizes.
Con: They take up valuable floor space, they’re basically ugly, and it’s easy to lose things in their cavernous depths.
The upright freezer:
Pro: Much easier to keep organized
Con: Quite expensive to purchase, and more costly to operate than a chest freezer.
We own two chest freezers. One was the item we spent our wedding gift money on in 1980, and the other, older one was given to us by someone moving to a smaller home. Last summer our kids were given two more used chest freezers for farm use. They hold up well over the years, not using undue amounts of electricity. And they don’t need to be plugged in when not in use.
Here’s an overview of what we keep in our freezers:
Meat: Beef, lamb, chicken, pork. We either grow these ourselves or purchase direct from a local farm. Some we cut and wrap ourselves. We choose to do that in freezer wrap, which comes as a roll of brown paper with one waxed side (kept toward the meat).
We tear off a suitable size of wrap, place the cut of meat on it at an angle, fold the short corner over it, fold the two sides in, roll over until the length is used up, and secure the open edges with freezer tape (similar to masking tape, able to withstand cold temperatures).
Uncooked frozen meat, in general, can be safely stored for 4-12 months without losing quality. More details can be found on the USDA Food Safety pages. If you’re freezing store-bought meat packages (plastic-wrapped meat over Styrofoam trays) the shelf life is on the shorter end of the spectrum.
Herbs and Spices:
Frozen herbs are so much tastier than dry! Tear out the thickest, woodiest stems, then bag oregano, thyme, dill, mint, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, or other herbs. Make sure you label them. Just snip off the amount needed for a recipe and return the rest. I usually keep these in the fridge freezer.
I also buy fresh ginger, zip-loc it, and keep it in my fridge freezer. When I need some, I grate it with my micro-plane and stick the rest back.
Whether I freeze or can fruit depends on what it will be used for later. We like to drink fruit smoothies, and frozen fruit is perfect for that. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, halved apricots, sliced peaches, and whole pitted cherries all freeze well. I wash them if necessary, drain them, and spread them on cookie sheets and other pans to freeze. When frozen, I transfer to zip-loc bags and stack. Freezing them in shallow pans first means I can use as many as I want later, as they’re not frozen into large solid chunks.
I often freeze strawberries sliced in two-cup packages, with a sprinkle of sugar. These are great for desserts later, but must be thawed completely before use. I also freeze fruit juice when we have lots: apple and cherry.
Frozen fruit can be stored up to one year. That’s perfect, because you’ll want to freeze fresh produce for the next winter anyway.
Garden fresh vegetables are awesome frozen. Peas, beans, corn, asparagus, and tomatoes are all good candidates. I won’t cover tomatoes here as the prep is different (and I usually can mine). In general, vegetables need to be blanched then chilled before freezing in order to stop the enzymes from continuing to ripen. This means that you plunge the vegetables into boiling water for a few seconds to a minute (depending on the vegetable). If you use a holey pasta pot, you can lift it right out of the boiling water and dump the contents into ice water. The faster the vegetables cool down, the better. When fully cool and drained, spread on shallow pans and stick in the freezer as above, zip-locking when frozen.
Bread and Baked Goods:
I bake five loaves of whole-grain bread at a time then slice and freeze four of them. When the kids were young and we all took lunches, we could go through a loaf a day. Now we’re down to a loaf a week! If you slice bread before freezing, you can (carefully) break slices off of the still-frozen loaf. You can stick it straight in the toaster, or lay it on the counter a few minutes to thaw enough to eat.
Cookies, cakes, muffins, etc, store well in the freezer for a few weeks or so.
Leftovers and Planned-Aheads
Although I usually pressure-can homemade soup or stew, sometimes a recipe will not yield enough for a canning day. Then I freeze the leftovers instead. Label with contents and date.
If you want to cook ahead, get out as many casserole dishes as you have of a suitable size, layer your casserole ingredients into them, and cook for about 2/3-3/4 of the recommended time. Cool to room temperature, then freeze. When frozen through, remove them from the casserole dish, wrap and bag the food. Label with contents and date. The day you want to serve the meal, take it out of the freezer in the morning and back into the original dish. Allow to thaw throughout the day, then finish the baking time when you get home.
When you’re looking at food preservation freezing is a great option. As far as I’m concerned, a well-stocked freezer has more value than gold. Did I miss any categories of freezables? Any tips you’d like to add?
Next week: Dehydrating.
Nancy Comer says
This is EXACTLY what I have been doing for years & your instructions were very good. I have lived in a BUS CONVERSION with a VERY BIG fridg/freezer & I do ALL of the above except want to try the frozen herb as buying FRESH is getting more EXPENSIVE & just NEVER thought to freeze them to keep them? We have made morel mushroom picking,the real wild blackberries,huckleberry picking Family FUN activities for over 30 yrs.; but I have never realized how many people don’t take advantage of what grows WILD near them? Thanks!
Thanks for sharing, Nancy! I’m glad I had ONE tip you could use! I agree, picking wild mushrooms, berries, etc, are a part of our rituals, too.