Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Psychology of Freezing Garden Produce

A few years back, I had a mammoth tomato harvest...

OK more like a ridiculous tomato harvest - this was only about a third of the total haul. Anyhow, that was the thing that made me decide that the time had come to buy a chest freezer.

Now, I totally LOVE having the freezer, but after several seasons of use, I have come to the conclusion that there is a definite psychology to using the thing effectively.

You see, while it's easy for me to get all excited about preserving my surplus veggies...

I find that when the time comes to use the frozen bounty, my enthusiasm tends to wane a bit.

In fact, I've discovered that each year as the gardening season approaches, I'm in a mad dash to use up all of last year's take...
...before the new harvest starts to arrive.

The thing is, when it's garden season I tend to cook with what I have on hand. So during the winter, I kind of like to explore other options. Plus... it's just WAY more fun to cook with fresh veggies than frozen.

BUT - I have made a very interesting and useful discovery. If I actually prepare something from my garden abundance, and freeze the prepared dish, I am utterly delighted to gobble it right up in a hungry moment... even if it is a zucchini quiche.

I guess it's like the Norwegians say: Sult er det beste krydder!  And for all of you non-Norsk speakers out there, that translates to Hunger is the best Spice.

So this year, instead of blanching and freezing, and blanching and freezing some more, I'm cooking my little brains out.

I'm finding that it really isn't much more time or hassle to actually prepare the food than it is to just prepare the veggies for freezing. Of course this year's harvest is a bit on the meager side thanks to the hail storm, but nevertheless, I'm looking forward to a winter full of casseroles, soups and zucchini/pumpkin bread.

It will be SOOOO nice to have something I can just warm up when I don't feel like cooking. 

And maybe next year I'll actually head into the gardening season with an empty freezer just waiting to be filled.


  1. I've tried freezing the excess with meh results too - they really don't taste as good as the fresh stuff. I like your idea - maybe some broccoli soup is in order (we have lots at the moment), I reckon broccoli florets are yuck from the freezer.

  2. Kristy - I've never actually tried freezing broccoli because we rarely have an excess... in fact this was the first year I actually got some edible florets. It doesn't grow well in our climate. But broccoli soup sounds delicious!

  3. We're on our second freezer: first time a front opening, this time a chest. The first we gave away when we went solar as we felt it sucked more energy than any perceived savings. This time, I convinced myself it was worth it. ha!
    Thing is, gardening is a bust for us. We have Scale and other beasties who consistently cover everything. Eck, eck, eck. Living where we do, it just doesn't make economical or mental health sense! So freezing is really for hoarding store bought goodies, and I gotta say, I've totally lost my enthusiasm. It is a major pain to paw though the stuff to find a frozen "nugget"!
    That said, I applaud and am in awe of your gardening efforts! I suspect your plan will be successful, and a lot more fun. Congrats, and great pictoral -- cats are so, .... cat-ish!

  4. Sadly, I've not had enough leftover garden produce to freeze. This year's harvest was pathetic actually, and I have no hail to blame. :( I did try freezing salsa, but that was a dismal failure. But having meals you can just heat and eat? Brilliant!

  5. Jay - I honestly have no idea if I come out ahead in terms of money or not, but I fear my gardening goals are much more frivolous than saving money. Mostly, I just like having an excuse to be outside and play in the dirt. Plus, I get totally jazzed by seeing food actually growing in my yard... don't know what that's about. I was raised on junk food, so I guess in some funny way it's an act of rebellion for me.

    Candi - I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to come to this conclusion. When I used to work full time I worked the 2-10pm shift, so I never got to eat dinner at home. I took to making things and freezing them in meal sized portions so I could easily bring something to work for dinner... so really, I should have thought of this years ago!

  6. Good looking stuff! You are wise to do it this way, as I have several freezer bags full of tomatoes that I don't know what to do with anymore. I did try dehydrating this year and had decent success .

    You may already know this trick, but to save on pans I line them with foil (overlapping the sides), freeze the casseroles in them, then pull the frozen casseroles out of the pans, freeze them in blocks in large plastic bags, then just pop them into a pan when I'm ready to eat them.

  7. Janeen - That's a very neat trick! But actually I'm sort of trying to do all of my freezing without the use of disposable anything - foil, wax paper, plastic bags etc. It's part of my crazy environmentalist stuff. I do re-use some old plastic bags that I've had since the neolithic period for some things, but I'm trying SOOOO hard not to waste anything. To that end, I constantly scour the thrift stores for Pyrex containers with lids, and I just scored big time the other day!

    But your trick does sound very intriguing. I may have to give it a shot if I end up running out of dishes. But if you do it that way you can't defrost it in the microwave can you? Or does the foil come off easily while it's still frozen? I do cover some casseroles with foil, but then I wash and re-use it, maybe that trick would work here too... Or perhaps I should just let go and accept some trash as part of the deal. I'll have to think about it.

  8. There really is no greater contrast than the one between the 'Oooo, I'm going to freeze all my fresh veggies and enjoy them later.' feeling and the reality a few months down the line of 'I really don't want to do anything with this freezer full of veg.'

    By the way, I saw your comment today on 'Down To Earth' (Homemaking - the power career)and thought it was intelligently written and very true.

  9. Hi Crafty - Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind words. I am heartened to know that I'm not the only person who suffers from "garden produce remorse."

  10. @EcoCatLady
    I think the foil might peel off so you can defrost... not sure though, as I've always just popped them into the oven.

  11. @Crafty and @EcoCatLady
    I followed you both over to 'Down to Earth' and read your comments. Thanks for nudging others to think more creatively about what making a home is all about. My husband and I are 40-50ish, and don't (won't have children). Still, I have struggled throughout my professional life with the tug between my career (which has often required long hours and commutes) and the desire to nest. There's a definite bias in our society that says that a "family" is only people with kids. I bristle when I get the question, "So, do you have a family?" Well, actually I do... we each have sisters, parents,nephews, friends, and a number of other peoples' kids we like to spend time with and mentor. To me, creating a home in which we are comfortable and can live creative, fulfilling lives and have the time and energy to spend with important others is making a home. At various times I have actually desired to take a sabbatical or downshift because I'm burned out. There's a real stigma for people who want to do that who don't have kids -- like we want to shop all the time, or that we're brain dead -- or other unflattering attributions.

  12. Oh Janeen, I can so TOTALLY relate to your comment. People think that if you don't have kids, and don't work, then you must be sitting around eating bonbons all day long. I even had one woman call me a "hedonistic narcissist" once - well, it was someone I encountered on line, but still...

    Personally, I think that all of the negative stuff comes out of people's ambivalence with their own roles as parents. I think most people tend to seriously "misunderestimate" (to use a term coined by our beloved former president) the all encompassing commitment that having a child involves. Plus, people get SOOO caught up in what they're getting from having kids, that they seem to forget that having kids isn't about them, it's about the kids. A woman named Chris made some excellent comments on this topic in that same Down To Earth post.

    It's been five years since I "gave up" my career - that phrase always strikes me as funny because it was sort of like "giving up" a prison sentence as far as I was concerned... OK that's a bit too harsh, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, I've really grown tired of trying to justify my existence to all of the people who really just don't "get it" about my life. So at this point when people ask me what I do I just say that I'm "self employed." And this isn't a lie - I do run a business from my home - it just isn't the focus of my life.

    With the passing of Steve Jobs, I've been hearing his Stanford Commencement address played over and over. I think this quote pretty much sums it up:

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

  13. Hmm...wish I had your vegetable overabundance! Since I don't have a garden, I'm never drowning in fresh produce. I think cooking your own microwave (or oven) dinners ahead of time is a great idea, though. I don't feel like cooking every night and go through phases in which I don't feel like cooking at all, and those trays of vegetable lasagna I stashed away in the freezer really come in handy then. I'm also a fan of frozen pizza dough (make ahead, freeze between sheets of wax paper, defrost one at a time) and frozen homemade tomato sauce. I made a lovely roast tomato and garlic sauce earlier this summer and stashed a few jars in the freezer. I wish I'd made more!

  14. Oh... and on the aluminum foil front... I suppose I could just pop them into the oven, it just takes so darned long when they start from a frozen state, and I fear I lack the patience gene. When you start with something frozen, do you just leave it at 350, or do you up the temperature a bit so it doesn't take hours and hours?

  15. Hi Jennifer - I have a question on the pizza dough... is it made with yeast or baking powder? I'm allergic to baker's yeast (as opposed to nutritional yeast or natural yeast that you find in sourdough) so I haven't had pizza in many, many years, and I miss it dearly. But lately I read something that implied that home made pizza dough actually worked better when made with baking powder instead of yeast (something about home oven temperatures being cooler than a commercial setup?) Anyhow, it gave me a glimmer or hope on the pizza front, but I haven't had the energy to find out more. Any thoughts?

  16. Gonna jump in here, re: yeast/pizzas. Have you tried sourdough? Makes a great pizza crust if you can tolerate the yeastie beasties in the SD....

  17. I need to go check out "Down to Earth" now. I only read her occasionally, but knowing my favorite peeps are making comments--I must see what's up!

    Do you ever make condiments and sauces? Like, ketchup and pasta sauce? Or were you just previously freezing the whole tomato?

  18. Jay - I haven't tried sourdough yet, in any capacity, but it's been on my list to try for a while now. I sort of got scared off by the process of making the starter, which, near as I could tell involved leaving a mixture of flour, water and grapes on the counter to ferment. It sort of made me nervous... maybe I could find someone who has some starter they'd be willing to share. You can't just buy sourdough starter can you?

    Demandra - Mostly in the past I've stewed the tomatoes and then frozen them. Then I generally thaw them and use them for marinara. CatMan has a thing for lasagna so we go through a LOT of marinara! But it would probably be easier to just make the marinara and freeze it as opposed to giving myself an extra step. Of course, it takes a good long time to blanch and peel the tomatoes, so we'll see how energetic I get.

    It's probably a moot point this year as the tomatoes are several months behind because of the hail and I'm just now beginning to get a few to ripen. At some point soon I'll just end up picking them green and putting them in paper bags to ripen. So, who knows, maybe there will be some marinara in my future.

    Ketchup is something I've always wanted to try, but I think if you start with fresh tomatoes you have to cook them down a mighty long time to get it thick enough. Maybe by the time the tomatoes ripen we'll have a foot of snow on the ground though, at which point simmering tomatoes on the stove all day might not be a bad idea!

  19. For sourdough, I'm not sure you really need the grapes, but there are lots of sources for the starter (usually dehydrated) or you can check on your local Craigslist, etc. to see if a local has some to spare.
    Online, my first thought was Cultures for Health as they have great videos and reliable product.

  20. Jay - Thanks SOOO much for the info! I had no idea one could buy the starter. I will check Craigslist too, but if all else fails Cultures for Health looks like a great resource. Thanks again!

  21. King Arthur Flours as well as several other sites carry it, too. KA's is a sponge, not dehydrated!
    Shipping/Handling ridiculous as usual. Read instructions before you buy as it does require maintenance :-) I got a bit tired of the feeding, so beware! 'course I live near SourDough Central (SF) so access to the finished breads too easy.
    It'd be nice to have a "circle" of friends where all the various cultured products (yeah, got em on the brain) could be shared, kind of like crop sharing.... hmm.

  22. Several comments here:
    I'm a lazy cook, so when I pop the foil line casserole (frozen) back into the dish and cook it, I just do it at 350 degrees and it takes longer. (I bake almost everything at 350... haha). If it makes you feel better about the foil, I reuse and recycle all of it.

    Fascinating bread discussion. I started a starter last year, but then got pre-empted by a family emergency. Gonna try again. I have a book by Peter Reinhart on the topic. I'm sure there are other good ones.

    And, what's your secret to great marinara? I've tried it before and it always tastes bitter and flat.

  23. Janeen - I learned to make great marinara from my Italian grandmother. There are two secrets to getting rid of the bitterness... add a little bit of sugar or honey, and add some grated parmesean or romano. Both help to counter the acid of the tomatoes.

    The other thing I've found is that it's really important not to skimp on spices - like seriously use at least 2 tablespoons of both dried basil and oregano for a big pot of sauce, and to add them in with the olive oil when you're sauteing the onions. Well, actually, you should add the dried spices then because the oil will pick up the flavors and distribute them nicely. If you're gonna use fresh spices, I generally use them in addition to dried ones and add them at the very end because they tend to get bitter and lose flavor if they cook too long - generally I don't bother with fresh spices for baked dishes like lasagna unless I'm sprinkling them on top as a garnish.

    If you're making a meat sauce, Grandma always just used Italian sausage. She'd brown it first and then add the onion, garlic and spices to it, and then everything else to the pot like normal on top of it. That way the spices and flavor of the sausage got nicely incorporated throughout the sauce.

    The other trick if you're starting from fresh tomatoes is to cook it down a long time, and put about a quarter of it through the blender. That will give it more heft and make it less runny. You can also add some tomato paste to thicken it up as long as you're not a purist.

  24. I've had good luck with Cultures for Health. Got a bunch of stuff through them for my GNOWFGLINS class. Just an FYI there.

  25. Wow EcoCatLady! Thanks for the sauce tips!!! This is the best sauce making tutorial, ever. Won't get to it this weekend or next ('cause I'm traveling), but am going to try it as soon as I can. I think everyone needs an Italian grandmother! It's very 2012! :-)

  26. Dang, now I really want to call someone a 'hedonistic narcissist.' It's a lovely turn of phrase :)

  27. You know... now that I think of it... it might have been "narcissistic hedonist." But that is much harder to say.

  28. i applaud your efforts and think you're definitely on to something here. the food looks crazy delish.


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