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Monday, August 6, 2012

How to Make Summer's Bounty Last Through Winter

Whether you pick up a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, frequent the farmers' market, or buy your produce at a grocery store, you may have wondered if it is possible to save and savor the harvest through the winter. Can I have fresh-picked shelling peas on Thanksgiving? Farm-fresh Swiss chard in December? Fresh green bean amandine in the new year?

The answer, for the most part, is: Yes.

After my last CSA pick-up, I came home with two sacks brimming with farm-fresh wonders only to realize that I couldn't possibly eat it all myself. My husband was away on a business trip that entire week, my fellow ROCmomma Julie - who splits my share - was away with her family for a week and a half, and my family was leaving that weekend to visit family for 10 days. Plus, I had taken my kids blueberry picking and, without any foresight, had come home with two giant buckets' worth of plump, juicy berries.

What in the world would I do with all this food?

After some quick searches on the Internet, I decided to freeze just about all of it. Of course, I had to make some blueberry crisp immediately.

Freezing does not require much equipment; it just requires some time. After the kids were asleep, I set up an assembly line in the kitchen:

  • On the stove: boil a large pot of water with a pasta insert 
  • In the sink: a large bowl filled with ice water, with a slightly smaller colander on top of the ice
  • On the counter: salad spinner (optional) or clean kitchen towels or paper towels; zip-top freezer storage bags and/or freezer-safe bowls; plus a Sharpie marker to label everything
  • In the freezer: more ice cubes, already popped out of the trays and into a bowl (for easy access)
Most green and leafy vegetables require a little preparation. First, clean everything thoroughly, then trim and chop. Broccoli is one exception.

To prepare broccoli before freezing, first soak in a large pot filled with 1 gallon of water and 5 teaspoons of salt. Let the broccoli soak for 30 minutes, and then rinse well. This will eliminate any bugs that might have been hiding in the florets. (Yuck!)

Once your veggies are clean, trimmed, and chopped, you're ready to blanch them.

  1. Drop one type of vegetable into the boiling water. Leafy greens and smaller-cut veggies should boil for 2 minutes; green beans, broccoli, and larger-cut veggies for 3 minutes.
  2. When time is up, use the pasta insert to lift the veggies out of the boiling water, and pour into the colander that is in your sink. The ice water will stop the cooking process.
  3. Return the pasta insert to the pot on the stove. Once water returns to a boil, add the next veggie.
  4. Meanwhile, drain the first veggie by removing the colander from the ice bath. Shake out excess water and pat dry with clean kitchen towels or paper towels, or dry in a salad spinner (if you have one). 
  5. Pour the blanched and dried veggies into a freezer-safe bag or container and label with the marker. Note what it is and the date you are freezing it; most vegetables will keep for one year. If using zip-top bags, try to lay them as flat as possible, and stack them to save room in the freezer.
  6. Add more cubes to the ice bath, in preparation for the next veggie. Repeat the process until you've gone through all leafy and green vegetables.
Vegetables such as onions, scallions, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, zucchini and summer squash can be cleaned, trimmed, chopped, and frozen while raw. However, they become soft once thawed. They are perfect in sautés, stir fries, stews, and casseroles...but not-so-great in salads or raw dishes. If you have extra time, I recommend sautéing or roasting them first, then cooling and freezing. This is by no means necessary, but it imparts a little extra flavor, and saves you time when you are ready to use them.

Right now, our CSA farm's pick-your-own garden is overflowing with basil, purple basil, thyme, oregano, savory, cilantro, parsley, sage, marjoram, and lots of other herbs that I hadn't even heard of. I probably won't use thyme or sage until the fall (mmm...Pumpkin & Sage Balls!), but why not stock up now?

To prepare fresh herbs for their time in the freezer, first wash and dry (a salad spinner works well), then trim and chop. Fill the wells of an ice cube tray with the chopped herbs, then carefully add water to fill the tray. Cover with plastic wrap - unless you have trays with covers - and label with masking tape and a permanent marker. Once the cubes are frozen, they can be transferred to a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag.

When you're ready to use your herb-cubes, simply drop into your sauce, soup, skillet, et cetera. The flavor isn't quite the same as fresh, but it's way better than dried.

You can also make a batch of pesto, freeze it in ice cube trays, and store the cubes for up to a year.


Twenty cups of blueberries. That is the amount from one bucket of berries. And we picked two. (what was I thinking?!?)

For any fresh berries, you'll want a salad spinner (or a colander inside a larger bowl) in the sink, a bowl for the clean berries, a measuring cup, freezer-safe bowls or bags, and a permanent marker.

First, soak the berries in cold water using a salad spinner or a colander and large bowl. Then remove a handful at a time: for smaller berries such as blueberries, pick off the stems; for larger berries such as strawberries, hull them. Place them in the bowl for clean berries, and continue with the process until the salad spinner is empty.

Rinse the salad spinner or colander, and then use it to dry the cleaned berries. Next, use the measuring cup to keep track of the quantity of berries as you fill the container or bag. Label with the type of berry, quantity, and date. Noting the quantity will make it easier when you want to use them in a recipe later on. Frozen berries will keep for at least one year.

Hopefully, these tips and instructions have helped you. I know I'm looking forward to making the most out of this season's berries, herbs, and vegetables for months to come. As always, thanks for reading!

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