The Locavore in Winter … In Peoria: Freezer Edition
I’ve written, and certainly posted on Instagram, about our efforts to eat locally and organically, ideally at the same time. And while that’s easy in the summer and doable in the fall and spring, what does one do in the cold winter months in the frozen Midwest? Well, you can do organic, certainly, and you can still do local, but it takes a little more work and planning.
Herewith, part one of our story so far.
The Chest Freezer is Our Best Winter Friend
Several years ago, as we were getting into this locavore journey, we were trying to figure out the best way to increase our ability to store some of this yummy local food to eat in the winter. We eventually decided on a chest freezer, and put it in our basement.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Well, maybe not the best, but it was a very good one. One thing we do is freeze certain fruits and vegetables that we grow and/or buy at the farmer’s markets or receive from Broad Branch Farm through my website barter with them.
We pick our strawberries at Schaer’s Country Market on Spring Bay Road in East Peoria. When we started doing this our son was young enough that the tractor ride to the fields was his favorite part; now, not being forced to go with us is his favorite part. We try and make it out there at least twice a season, but strawberry season is only a couple of weeks so it doesn’t always work out.
In addition to eating them fresh in various forms we do three things to put them in the freezer. First, we slice, sugar and freeze them; second, we just put them in bags whole and freeze. Either method works; whole is good if you’re going to make smoothies with them, but I prefer the sliced and sugared for pulling out to eat for breakfast.
The third method is freezer jam, and it’s pretty fabulous & easy. You just buy some pectin, follow the recipe (and hope they don’t screw them up like Sure Jell did this year) and end up with delicious jam. It always gets rave reviews, makes great gifts for your very good friends, and in a good year we have enough for a school year’s worth for our son’s pb&j sandwiches.
Experience has taught us to be a little more selective with freezing vegetables. For freezing, we usually blanch our vegetables first, which involves putting them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes (how many depends on the vegetable), then transferring them to a bowl of ice water for a similar amount of time before drying and freezing.
Different vegetables hold up to this process better than others. After several years of trying, we’ve given up on beans, they just end up soggy and gross. Actually I think I did some this year as we had a great bean year, with the plan to only use them in stews, chilis & possibly soups.
Corn does well, but corn barely even counts as a vegetable. I mean, when we’re desperate it counts, but if we’re being honest, corn is more of a starch than a veggie. Summer squashes can handle blanching, but as with any other soft vegetable, once frozen you’re only going to want to use them in other dishes, not eaten on their own. Broccoli and cauliflower can handle the process, but we usually don’t have much so it’s more of a treat than anything.
In addition stuffing ourselves with fresh slicing tomatoes, we also grow tomatoes for sauces, which we make and freeze; tomato sauce, salsa, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste(ish) all work for freezing and pulling out in the winter for fresh tomato sauces for your various tomato sauce-needing dishes. Very satisfying.
Pesto. Ah, pesto. Nothing, I think, brings back the joys of summer more than pulling out a couple of cubes of pesto, letting them thaw, and having fresh pesto in the middle of winter. You can make the whole thing and freeze, but I’ve also read recommendations to leave out the cheese until you thaw it out; sometimes we also just whirl the basil and oil together to give us more flexibility when we pull it out. Once you’ve got everything blended, you fill (empty) ice cube trays with your pesto, freeze, then remove from the trays and bag.
Spinach we just cook, dry and freeze, but if you’ve ever cooked spinach you know you start with a barrel full and end with a teaspoon; we do it, but it tends to be a little frustrating. In addition to making sauces, you can simply freeze tomatoes whole, but as above, you don’t eat them by themselves, you cook them up in sauces or other dishes.