Friday, August 10, 2012

storing up for winter // tips

Summer is filled with loads of fresh produce.  Whether you grow your own, visit a farmers market, or just shop at the grocery, there's something wonderful about the look, smell, and taste of fresh produce in the summertime. In order to savor those smells and flavors and enjoy them all year long, it's important to store them up for winter. 

Over the coming weeks, I'll be sharing a new series "Storing up for winter" which will focus on a different fruit/veggie each week and share the process(s) that I'm using to store up for winter.  

Before we get started, I thought I'd share a few tips that I've learned thus far in the process.
Growing up my parents always kept a large garden {read more about it here}  and I remember spending hours and hours helping mom snap beans, shuck corn, and chop cabbage all in preparation for winter storage.  I remember how long it took, how mom would be up until all hours of the night finishing a batch of canned beans.  The amount of work necessary to prepare and package this produce can seem a little intimidating.  Don't let this stop you...I guarantee it will totally be worth it in the end!!

1. Don't do it all at once.
You don't have to have loads of produce to store for winter.  Instead of 100 ears of corn, try a dozen.  The amount of produce sitting on your counter is usually the first thing to discourage you from pealing, chopping, blanching, bagging, or canning.  Start small and just go for it!  Every little bit is worth it when you go to the freezer in January to find a bag of frozen fresh veggies to add to dinner.

2. Do it all at once.
Okay, so I know I just said not to, but if you're going to make a mess, make it worth it.  I usually have a variety of produce from our CSA or the garden to put up at once so I set it all out on the table and designate the kitchen off limits to hubs for the evening and I just go to town.  It's a lot easier to make one big mess, one night a week, than to make a little mess each night and feel like I'm always cleaning up.

3. Save that water.
When freezing vegetables it's recommended that you blanch them before freezing.  So I fill up a large stockpot and boil my corn.  When it's done I use tongs to pull it out and throw in my tomatoes, when they're done, my peppers, zucchini, squash, etc.  Blanching is a very quick process {usually less than 5 minutes}, if I were to dump that water and start with fresh each time I blanched a new vegetable I'd be stuck in the kitchen all night.  

Take it one step further and use that water to make some rice or pasta, can/freeze it as vegetable stock, or throw it on your compost when cool.

5. Mix and match, or don't.
I freeze zucchini and squash together, one because they have similar flavors and are interchangeable in most recipes, and two it saves time in the process.  We freeze a mix of peppers and onions because we like them together and almost always use them together in recipes.  I also choose to can/freeze tomatoes by themselves because we like to use tomatoes in a variety of recipes and like to make our own fresh tomato sauce.  There is so much versatility in canning and freezing, but it's important to check with a reliable source for a recipe before canning as there are a number of foods that are not recommended for canning due to acidity.  One resource I use often is Ball canning recipes, they're a top selling canning jar brand and have tested and approved recipes.

4. Only save what you will eat.
If you're not going to eat it fresh, what makes you think you'll eat it in the winter?  Canning/Freezing is only recommended for storage for a year, so don't go overboard and can/freeze more than you can eat in the coming year.  This can take a couple of years to figure out.  For example, last summer when my parents gave us 100 ears of corn to freeze I thought they were crazy, there was no way we were going to be able to eat all of that over the coming year.  But we did, we finished the last bag the same week this year's fresh corn was ready.  

So try it, save what you can and keep track of what you eat more of and how fast you eat it, then next year adjust.

5. Get creative.
Because we are members of a CSA, we have little say in what we get in our share each week.  Some weeks we have an abundance of vegetables like zucchini and squash that we just can't seem to use up before the next week.  While making tomato sauce the other day I decided to throw some summer squash into the mix.  We're not big fans of summer squash, but we had it, and to be honest you can't even taste in over the tomatoes - but we get the added nutritional value.  Also, while prepping some freezer meals {see below}, we decided to mix some shredded zucchini into our bean and cheese burritos, again, you can't even taste it.

6. Know what you have, and use it!
Before you start to store up for winter, take inventory of what you have left over from the previous year.  If you have a ton of saurkraut from last year, you probably don't want to waste your time with making another batch this year.  Also, you should find a way to use up what was stored the previous year - meal planning anyone?

Start some sort of list or organizational system to keep track of what you have and add to/cross off as necessary.  We recently invested in a deep freeze to help with our winter storage and when loading it realized just how easy it would be to lose items in the freezer and forget about them completely.  We decided to start a list to keep on our refrigerator for easy reference.  We list items by category for easy reading and add/cross off as necessary.  This would make a great reference for those meal planners out there!

7. Make some meals.
One of the biggest excuses for not eating right is that it takes too much time.  Often after a long day of work, it seems easier to just grab take out on the way home rather than have to think about cooking dinner.  The reality is that though this make seem like the quicker option, having pre-made freezer meals or using your crockpot {best kitchen appliance investment to date} is actually just as quick and tastes a million times better {not to mention is better for you!}.  There are a million resources out there for recipes and ideas, but if you're looking for somewhere to start Once A Month Mom is a fantastic place.

Up next : storing onions

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