To recap the weekend: My birthday, uneventful. Our yard sale, a bust. The weather? HOT.
Yes, we’ve had quite the heatwave this week. My mom and I practically melted during our 2-day yard sale. And I’ll bet the local pizza joints were hopping, because it was way too hot to cook.
But even in the middle of the summer heat, my thoughts are zeroing in on winter. This will be our first winter living on 1/3 of our old household income, and I can’t say I’m not a little concerned. So, in the spirit of preparedness, I’m spending the summer months stocking our freezer with every fresh fruit and veggie I can get my hands on.
I’m taking it week by week, harvesting things from our garden as they’re ready and buying extra from the farmer’s market each time we go. Our first round of peas is already frozen, onions, lots of sweet and sour cherries, a few beets (we ate a bunch, so the next crop will be bigger for freezing). This week and next, I’m all about the fresh summer peaches.
As the season progresses, I’m learning more and more about food storage. How you go about storing your food really is of the utmost importance, since you’re spending money to do it, and if you don’t do it right, you’ll end up wasting your stash and heading out to the grocery store anyway.
I’ve canned food in the past, but this year I’ve opted to do more freezing than canning. Why?
• I find it easier, less time-consuming, and cheaper.
• I like the fact that it’s easy to freeze big batches or small, so even odds and ends don’t have to go to waste.
• There’s less worry about food safety and bacteria than you’ll find with canning.
• When you freeze just-picked fruits and vegetables, they maintain their peak-season nutrient value.
So here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far:
- A FoodSaver just might be a great investment. I got the FoodSaver T000-08004 V3460 SmartSeal Vacuum-Sealing Appliance, Black for Christmas last year, and I’ve been using it a lot more than I expected. No matter how hard I try, regular freezer bags just don’t seem to keep the air out. That’s OK for short-term freezing, but we need this food to keep for quite a few months (an estimate of 8-12 months is pretty safe for most frozen foods.) The materials needed for vacuum sealing in the FoodSaver are a little bit costly, but I still figure that there will be a great cost savings in the long run since they won’t be ruined by freezer burn. Watch for sales and use one of those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons (you know you have one in your car…) and you’re golden.
- Don’t use your FoodSaver for the first time when your baby is sleeping. Naptime will be over. Those things are LOUD.
- Blanching is not always necessary. What?! It’s true. The process of blanching – chopping vegetables into uniformly sized pieces, briefly boiling, then plunging into cold water to stop the cooking process – is done to stop enzyme activity, halt the deterioration of nutrients, and maintain quality. But, in a pinch, blanching might not be an absolute “must”, and if you Google around, you’ll find lots of folks who say that it just doesn’t matter. I blanched my chard, but did not blanch my spinach. Of course, those greens will be for soups and casseroles, not salads, so the texture isn’t too big of a deal. I also experimented with the peas, blanching some and not others. We’ll see how that goes. I’m going to bet now that I can’t tell the difference. (Whatever you do, just don’t fully cook your veggies before freezing. Since you’re likely to be cooking them a bit once they’re thawed, you’ll want to freeze them as far from cooked as possible so they don’t end up mushy.)
- Blanching does make peeling a lot easier. Beets, peaches, plums, tomatoes…anything with a skin, really. A quick, hot boil followed by a cold bath, and the skins practically fall off.
- Freeze in a single layer first, then bag. This is especially true for things like berries and smoothie fruits. I would prefer not to freeze individual portions of anything, since that uses up a ton of bags and/or FoodSaver wrap, so our cherries, blueberries, blackberries and peach slices were all frozen in a single layer on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet prior to bagging. Just wash, pat dry, spread out, and freeze. That way, they are frozen separately and won’t stick in a big clump. When you freeze this way, it’s easy to open the bag, shake out what you need, and close the bag back up in the freezer. With the portions I divided, I should be able to open a new bag about once a week. Yay for using fewer resources!
- Be your own BFF and do your prep ahead of time. Whether it’s your work schedule, extracurricular activities, or just the earlier sunset that leaves you feeling pressed for time during the winter, you’ll be glad to find ingredients at-the-ready in your freezer. Have a favorite soup recipe? Freeze the veggies, beans, etc. together in pre-measured bags. Add fresh herbs to your freezer bags for easy, infused flavor later. Or just portion out chopped onions or mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots) to get your meals off to a quick start. Going meatless? Cook beans in bulk and freeze. You’ll be so glad you did.
- Label everything! I’ve only been at it a few weeks, and my stash is already piling up! I’m realizing that this project is no small task, and organization is key. Those bags that become a mystery because they aren’t labeled wind up at the bottom of the pile, unused, and that does nothing to help your budget. Label, and rotate every time!
I wish I had some better photos for you (I know I’ve been slacking), but I’ve been doing all my food prep between 11pm and 2am! With the kids in bed, it’s just so much easier (…but the lighting is terrible.) Those hours have become my “me” time, but I need a new plan because the littles don’t seem to want to sleep past 6am.
I still have lots of freezing to do this year, and I’d love your help. Do you have any food storage tips or tricks to share? Please leave them in a comment below!
*Disclosure: While this post does contain an Amazon affiliate link, I was not compensated in any way for writing it and I am in no way affiliated with FoodSaver. But I do love mine.