Tag Archives: freezer

$40 Beets

Several years ago, my husband grew beets and decided to pickle and can them.  He had jar-lids-photo-Dorothy-Stewartwatched me bottle relish and tomatoes and thought ‘I can do that.’  So he set to it.  He made one canner full, eight pint jars.  Then he printed labels for the jars:  $40 Beets.  He said he’d calculated that, at shop labour rates, that is what each jar cost him in time spent.  Thus ended his canning career.

Garden melons-with-cat-photo-D-StewartBut this year he moved on, with a new garden, to freezing.  We even bought a new freezer to hold the abundance of produce we have (insert slightly ironic smiley-face here).  Bok choy and zucchini have done splendidly.  There are melons of all types growing larger each day.  Four kinds of beans and three kinds of peas, all thriving and delicious.  And corn – truly the most wonderful tasting corn ever.

The only person I’ve ever known who grew corn in a small garden was my grandfather.  Garden corn-photo-Dorothy-StewartBut I was too little to remember the taste of it, if I ever ate any.  It takes a lot of room, considering you get only two ears per stalk.  I had thought it was a bit odd to grow it, maybe even that we were revisiting the $40 beets experiment.  In season, it’s easy enough to buy corn fresh from farmers’ markets.  But it doesn’t taste as good as ours.  I learned, taking those ears straight from the stalk to the cooking pot, that they justify any amount of space taken up.

No matter how delicious it is, a person can only eat so much corn.  So he is freezing it, following Corn-blanching-photo-D-Stewartsuggestions found online.  After preparing several cobs for blanching, he read that the best way to freeze corn straight out of the field is in the husk.  If it was picked longer before than that, like that you get from a store, it should be husked and blanched before freezing.  We will try both ways.*

We’ve had little luck with the pepper plants, tomatoes and spinach.  Too much rain this spring caused a delay in planting the garden.  Garden plowing-photo-Dorothy-StewartLettuce is only now starting to look leafy.  They may be vegetables not suited to the Maritimes or our soil is not right for them.

The garden was plowed then rototilled in what had been field, so the soil was clods of dense earth.  Topsoil had to be added.  With the rain, it was a very mucky mess for a long time.  But then the seedlings (started from seed in the house under grow lights) gained strength in Garden beans-peas-Dorothy-Stewarttheir little stalks.  Along with the weeds, they flourished.

Now we are reaping the harvest.  The chickens love the corn and cobs.  Zucchini and beans get a ‘meh’ from them.  I’m hoping that when – if – the lettuce comes in that they will like it.

Because, still, the biggest thrill for them is the mixed salad greens that chickens-photo-Dorothy-Stewartcome in plastic containers from the supermarket.  Within seconds, they completely devour them and look expectantly for more.  I’m sure there is an object lesson for us somewhere in that.

* Neither way worked.  This year we grew corn again, but less, and cut the kernels off the cob after a couple minutes of blanching.  They taste just fine.  There is a round tool you can use or just use a large, sharp knife – carefully.  It tastes much better.  The frozen corn on the cob went to the chickens.

 

Rhubarb

rhubarb in garden photo D StewartIf, like me, you’ve been watching your rhubarb plant get bigger and bigger but you don’t feel like making a pie or jam, here’s what you can do. Just cook the rhubarb. The resulting stewed fruit can be eaten as is, as a topping for ice cream or with granola and yoghurt.

rhubarb pieces in pot ready to cookWash the cut rhubarb stalks and chop into 1½ inch pieces.  The following are two ways to cook it. The first is how my mother and I have done it, to eat or freeze. The second is from a recipe for canned rhubarb that I tried, with success, this year.

Rhubarb reacts with aluminum, iron and copper and darkens both rhubarb and utensil.  Stainless steel, Teflon and enamel pots, strainers and spoons are fine to use.

stewed rhubarb in pot1st: Put rhubarb in a pot with just a bit of water so it doesn’t burn on the bottom before it starts making its own juice. Cook on low heat until it’s soft – half an hour? Depends on the amount and the consistency you want. Add sugar to taste. The amount you add depends on what your eventual use for it is. If you plan for it only to be in sweets, add more. If you might use it in a tart chutney or rhubarb in container for freezer (photo D Stewart)something, add less or none.

When it’s cooked, you can just put it in a bowl in the refrigerator right away or in plastic containers for the freezer.

2nd:  To each quart (approx. 4 cups) of chopped rhubarb, add ½ cup sugar. Let stand in pot about half an hour to draw out juice. Cook until tender. Have your jars and lids ready in boiling water. Pack rhubarb with juice in jars, leaving ½ inch headspace in jar. Put on lids and screw tops, then process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If you have never done canning before, read up on how to sterilize June-Rhubarband fill jars. In canning, it’s best to add the sugar in order to help with preserving.

If you really don’t want to do anything with it but hate seeing it go to seed, just cut it up as in the top photo, put the uncooked pieces in a freezer bag or container (don’t overcrowd) and freeze. Worry about it later. You can make pies, jams, chutneys or just cooked fruit from it whenever you want. For baking, follow recipe instructions for frozen fruit.

 

Tomatoes

bag of tomatoesFreezing is probably the easiest way to prepare a supply of tomatoes.  In season, buy a large quantity of them or grow your own.  At other times of the year, look in the reduced food bin for bags of tomatoes priced for quick sale.

If you’re a purist, heat a pot of water to boiling.  Keep it simmering and put the washed whole tomatoes in it for 20 seconds or so (blanching).  Use a big slotted spoon to put them in and take them out.  Run cold water over them to stop the blanching and cool them.  Then cut the core out and use your small knife to gently peel the skin off.  It should just slide off.  Plum tomatoes are especially easy to peel, and make the best tomato sauce.  If, like me, you’re not a purist and don’t mind pieces of tomato skin in your sauce, just wash the tomatoes and cut the core out.

Cored tomato ready to halveThen half or quarter the tomatoes or, best for flavour retention, leave them whole and cook them.  Add a tiny bit of water to your pot in order to keep the tomatoes from burning or, better yet, turn the heat on very low until they cook a bit and produce their own liquid.

You can add herbs and seasonings to the pot or just leave them so you can flavour them later when cooking the final product.  Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they are cooked down and soft.  The length of time depends on the amount of tomatoes, the size and the tomatoes cookingdegree of softness you want.  Figure on an hour to an hour and a half for a large pot.

When they’re done, open a large size freezer bag and stand it on end.  You can also put it in a container, like a tall milk pitcher.  Use your large slotted spoon to carefully spoon the tomatoes into the bag.  The pitcher averts spilled tomatoes all over your counter until you get the hang of spooning and holding the bag upright at the same time.  Two people doing this can also avoid accidents.  Fill the bag about half full.  Zip it up and it should lay almost flat.

Make sure the outside of the bags are dry so they don’t freeze together, and lay them flat on top of each other in your freezer, and presto, tomatoes ready for sauce-making.  Each bag is about freezer bags of tomatoesequivalent to a large can of tomatoes.  At harvest prices, four bags cost about the same as one can.

You’ll have tomato-flavoured water left.  You can freeze it in small containers and use it like you’d use any vegetable stock, in soups or stews.

You can freeze uncooked whole tomatoes too – blanche and peel them if you like or just pull the stem off and wash them.  Put them in the freezer on cookie sheets, making sure they are not touching.  After they’re frozen, bag them up and put them back in the freezer.  You won’t be able to use them as “fresh” tomatoes, like in salad, but they’re fine for cooking.  The only disadvantage is they take more freezer space than partially or fully cooked ones do.

Two caveats about home-made frozen tomatoes.  One:  the slight thickness of the liquid that is in canned tomatoes isn’t there.  I don’t know what is in canned tomatoes to give that, and I like it for helping the texture of your final tomato sauce.  You get the same thing from home-canned tomatoes.  Maybe it’s the heat-retention from long cooking.  Maybe that’s what “stewing in your own juices” means.  To approximate it with frozen tomatoes, I’ve added a bit of flour or cornstarch in the final sauce.  I’ve also added canned tomato soup or tomato paste thickened with a bit of flour or cornstarch.  You just want something that makes your sauce less watery.

Two:  I watched Chef at Home once when chef Michael Smith was talking about tomato sauces.  He prefers canned tomatoes over fresh because the lag time between picking and processing is less.  Canned tomatoes, he said, literally are picked in the field and canned next door, within a very short period of time.  Therefore, they are at the height of ripeness and freshness.  He also prefers canned whole plum tomatoes photo D Stewarttomatoes rather than diced.  Whole tomatoes, he said, require only one cooking process in their canning whereas halved or diced tomatoes require two.  In your cooking, you ‘process’ them yet again, and each time they lose nutrients.  So, despite the appeal of fresh tomatoes cooked slowly into a lovely pasta sauce, you’re actually better off with a can.  Who knew?

If money is as much an issue as nutrients, there is a compromise.  Supplement your store-bought can with cheap fresh (or frozen or home-canned) tomatoes.

 

Preserving: Basics

frozen food preservingIt’s not hard preserving food and doesn’t have to be especially time-consuming. You can freeze, can or dry foods for use later. It’s a good way to make use of harvest time when local foods are plentiful and cheap.

Nesco dehydrator on Amazon
Nesco dehydrator on Amazon

I know nothing about drying foods but there are plenty of books available. I’ve dried herbs with some success. Hang the plants upside in a dry place and when the leaves are fully dried, take them off (whole or crumbled) and put them in a jar. They keep pretty well as long as they are completely dry.

Freezing is probably the most fool-proof, but you need freezer space. It doesn’t have to be huge. This small chest freezer (top photo) can hold a lot of garden produce, bulk buys of meat and freezing of portions of bulk cooking projects.

Bernardin canning kit on Amazon
Bernardin canning kit on Amazon

Canning, or bottling, of vegetables and fruit is easier than you may think from reading canning books. But the books are invaluable because there are certain things you must know and precautions to take if you don’t want to lose your entire batch of pickles or get food poisoning. An advantage to canning is you only need shelf space to keep the product of your efforts. You don’t have to make vast quantities at a time. Small batches are easier to control, and once you get the hang of it, you can do a few jars of pickles or jam from start to finish while watching a movie on tv.

Canned (or bottled) meat is fabulous. If you ever have the chance to try bottled rabbit or moose, do it! Sell your soul if necessary. I have never made it and never will. It requires more knowledge to do properly and ensure its safety than I have. But the taste is to die for!

presto pressure canner Amazon link
Presto 23 qt pressure canner on Amazon


You need a sealing canner, like a big pressure cooker. The regular big canning pot works for high acid fruits, tomatoes and anything with vinegar. The sealing canner is needed for vegetables that aren’t pickled and all meats.

Be careful with meat preparation, sterilization of equipment and temperatures of cooking and bottling so you don’t risk having a tainted product. You don’t want to literally die for it. If you find someone who knows how to do it, I’d suggest learning from, and with, them. I’d never try it with only the help of a book unless you’re a Home Ec. or Chemistry student. (However, a friend who is neither a home economist or chemist told me he bottles meat all the time and it’s as easy as doing jam.) With the right equipment and care, I assume.

A theme in preserving and cooking that you will see throughout this section is: the reduced food bin is your friend. Look for what they euphemistically call “ready to use” produce, baked goods and meat in any grocery store at a discounted price. It has to be used quickly or be thrown out. Buy it. Cook or preserve it right away, and you’ve just stocked up your food supply at maybe half the regular price.