By Elena Gustavson
In a matter of weeks, farmers and gardeners alike will be harvesting tender greens and other early season produce. Before you know it, we’ll have fresh eating vegetables and fruits on the table. In the anticipation of all the good things the growing season brings us, we thought it was time to do a bit of housekeeping in our freezers - A “spring cleaning”, if you will, of one of the hardest working tools in our kitchens.
One of the most useful and important helpers, a freezer allows you to store farm and fresh picked vegetables and fruits, keeping their nutritional integrity, well into the winter and early spring months. For many, the freezer has become a mish-mosh of bits and pieces left from last season’s harvest - languishing ends of rhubarb, frosted over berries, blanched greens that are looking a bit black from age, meats frosted with patterns of ice. What better way to get ready for spring than by getting your freezer cleared out and organized? Last spring, Everyday Chef did a three part series on how to organize and clean your freezer along with recipes, hints and tips. You can find the posts on our website at www.rutlandfarmandfood.org/everydaychef.
What You Will Need:
- 1 hour (or more if you need to defrost)
- Freezer friendly bags and/or containers
- Permanent marker
- Painter’s tape or masking tape (optional)
- Compost bin or trash bag
- Cooler, large enough to hold your frozen food for an hour or more
- For cleaning: Spong, dish rag and paper towels; mild dishsoap (I like Dr. Bronners casile soap); hot water and white vinegar
The Spring Clean, Step-by-Step:
1. Unplug/turn off your freezer. It’s just safer that way.
2. Purge. As you pull things out, compost food that is freezer burned, inedible or questionable in origin. Put everything else in the cooler.
3. Defrost. If necessary, defrost your freezer.
4. Clean. Pull out ice trays, bins, etc and get them in the sink for washing. Using warm water, a sponge and mild soap, wipe out the freezer and let air dry. In a bowl or spray bottle, mix water and a splash of vinegar and wipe down the inside of the freezer walls, seals and floor. Wipe down with paper towels and plug the freezer back in.
5. Consolidate, Label, Inventory. As your freezer cools down to temperature, begin consolidating open packages of the same foods of similar in age or repackage open bags into freezer bags. Using your marker and painter’s tape, label packages and bags with food name and dates. Fully embrace your inner nerd and make a list of what you have! I keep my freezer list right on the fridge so that I can use it to make dinner plans or shopping for groceries.
6. Organize and Plan. Organize your freezer in a way that you can access your food without thinking too much. For some, that means oldest food in the front, newest in the back. For others, that might mean similar foods grouped together. For someone like me, it means veggies and fruits on the top shelf, meats and proteins on the bottom, with ice and treats in the door. Then, using that inventory list, make a mental or write a plan to use that freezer food. It saves time, money and like my mama always said, “waste not, want not”.
Recipe Ideas for frozen fruits and vegetables:
● Veggies- Use for stir-fry, fried rice, stews or soups. Try tossing frozen veggies into a sauce or lasagna. If you have greens or another fresh eating vegetable like carrots, throw them into your morning smoothie.
● Fruits - Make a sauce perfect for ice cream and yogurt by simmering with a bit of sugar and a splash of orange juice. Bake into a quick bread after tossing with a bit of flour or puree and pour into ice molds with a bit of sweetened yogurt for a fresh, healthy treat.
Elena Gustavson runs the Everyday Chef program for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). She eats, cooks, writes and half-heartedly calls herself a runner. You can find her Everyday Chef posts at www.rutlandfarmandfood.org or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Published in the Rutland Herald on May 10th, 2016.