Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer in the Dead of Winter.

I love cold weather – so much in fact that in making the decision to live in The ‘Shire, weather was a pro, not a con for Spouse and me. But what I miss in the colder months is the variety of fruits and vegetables one can readily buy/grow in the warmer months. Things like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, sweet corn, etc.

I spend a lot of time in the warmer months, washing, drying, chopping and freezing these items so I have them to enjoy in the colder months. It’s so flarking easy, I thought I’d share with y’all how to do it.

It is really easy and yet, the first summer I froze my veggies and fruit, I did a super poo-poor job – which I’d rather you not have to suffer through. What did I do, you ask? Well, I didn’t dry the items very well and instead of freezing them on a cookie sheet, just stuck the wet items in a freezer bag.

Yeah, everything froze into one fruit/veggie-sicle to the point that everything was badly freezer burnt and gross/unusable when defrosted. Had I found this blog post before I went hog wild on my own, it probably would have saved me the time and money I basically wasted. Owel.

I’ll use blueberries and cherries as my fruit examples and corn as my veggie example.

What sorts of items do I need for this project?
First, you want the freshest, organic kinds of fruits and veggies you can find. Fifty points to Gryffindor if they are local products too (hard with cherries here in the Middle West).

You want to wash them thoroughly and dry them as best you can (even though it’s wasteful, I do like to use paper towels, so there’s no cross-contamination like there might be using your regular kitchen towels).

You need to have a baking sheet with a lip at least, about as big as you feel you have fruit to freeze on it without totally overlapping (or whichever sheet will actually fit in your freezer). You need to have some space between each piece of fruit.

Pre-freeze, you will also need a nice cutting board, good knife and post-freeze, heavy-duty freezer bag and a spatula.

If your fruit has pits or hulls, I use my strawberry huller tool to take care of those. You don’t need a special tool to get this job done but I have one, so I like to get use out of it.

You can make the call if your veggies have a skin or husk or whatever. I prefer to leave the skin on my potatoes but definitely husk & desilk my corn cobs.

With something like blueberries, all I do after washing and drying is make sure there aren’t any little stems on the berries. But really you can just throw them on the baking sheet and put in the freezer to freeze. Easy peasy.

After hulling my strawberries, I prefer to slice them into not-super-thin-yet-not-super-thick slices.

After pitting cherries, I prefer to cut them in quarters using the cut in half, then cut each half in half method.
Whole fruit on far left; pitted fruit waiting to be cut to left of huller tool; pits and stems at top right
When I’ve chopped up all that I have of that fruit, I put the chopped up pieces in a single layer on my baking sheet.
Cherries, ready to freeze!

Blueberries, ready to freeze!
With vegetables, there is one added step, which is you want to blanch them before you freeze them. I know you are thinking, “What the hell does blanch mean?”.

The concept behind freezing is kinda gross – you are basically busting the cell wall when you freeze anything. This is why when you defrost frozen fruits and veggies, they are really moist, even to the point of mushiness. The water can’t be held inside an intact wall anymore so the “meat” of the fruit or veggie spills out and mixes with the water crystals to make a mush. Make my rookie mistake - the one large fruit- or veggie-sicle - and you get even more wetness, moisture and mush, also freezer burn. <gross>

So to not lose the benefits of the vegetables nutrition, you want to lightly blanch them so you keep that all in.

Best way to do it is to chop them up if say you have beans or peppers or whatever, or if you have a cob of corn, pop the cob into the water. Bring a nice pot of water to boil and add the veggies. Let them simmer away for 3-4 minutes tops, then take them out and immediately dunk them into cold water and if you have them, ice cubes. This way, you stop the cooking process.

After your veggies have chilled out, dry them off and lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet. With corn, you decide when you want to decob it. There's something to be said for doing it while it is raw, but no harm if you blanch it first, cool it down and cut the cooked kernels off the cob. 
Benefit of working at a land grant university: fresh Ohio sweet corn delivered from our Farm Science Review. SCORE!
FOR BOTH, post-cleaning, chopping/blanching, and drying
So to review, you have your fruits and veggies prepared to freeze and in a single layer on the baking sheet. Again, close enough to maximize my efforts, but not totally overlapping. The idea behind freezing them this way, is they will freeze individually and NOT stick to each other, even after you’ve bagged them and put them in the deep freeze for cold weather yumminess. Note, this is the major step I missed on my first try. 

You can freeze your items for 30 minutes or if you are lazy like me, and forget they are in there until the next day, leave them in there longer. Once frozen, take the baking sheet out of the freezer and use a spatula to pry them up. I tend to use gallon-sized heavy duty freezer bags for things like blueberries, strawberries & cherries because those are my fave fruits in my yogurt and even if I only have one pint at first, trust me, I’ll be filling up that bag by the end of the summer.

Even full, my bags won’t last six months. But theoretically, frozen fruit will keep in a regular freezer for up to a year and veggies for 18 months.  

With the frozen fruit, I toss a handful into my homemade yogurt in the morning and by lunchtime, the fruit has unfrozen and stirs up nicely in my yogurt.

With the frozen veggies, you can do whatever you want with them. Defrost them, steam them up – add them to sauces, soups, stews.

But it’s a nice semi-fresh touch when you can’t get that item in your grocery, farmer’s market, etc. Brings summer back when you need it – and without the hair-ruining humidity. #EpicWin

Random pic: I love the color of the cherry juice when I chop them up. It's just so pretty!
What do you do in the winter, to get “fresh” fruits and veggies?
Subscription to something like Harry and David?
Secret pipeline of oranges from your blue-haired aunt in Palm Beach?

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