Before I can fully jump into savoring all the tempting, fresh flavors of the spring garden, there’s one last chapter I need to wrap up from last year’s growing season: finishing up what’s left in the freezer. My taste buds may be craving that tender new asparagus, but my rational mind reminds me to first finish that shredded zucchini, Swiss chard and whatever else may be lingering in my freezer first.
Frozen shredded zucchini is not a bottle of nice red wine. Age does not improve the zucchini, it only ushers in freezer burn. On my family’s Wisconsin farm and B&B, Inn Serendipity, I typically freeze most of our garden harvest for the simplicity and efficiency.
All summer long I shred, blanch, or tray freeze my garden goodies, packing the produce into square freezer containers and lining them up in our thirteen cubic foot chest freezer in the basement. Chest freezers, when full, can run quite energy efficiently as not as much cold air escapes when you lift open the lid, versus the vertical type freezers. All winter long we defrost and eat through our garden harvest, ideally letting these freezer containers slowly defrost for a few days in the refrigerator, using the defrosting process to cause our refrigerator to run less. As we “eat through” the freezer and space opens up, I fill the empty space with recycled milk jugs filled with water to help the freezer run more efficiently.
By this time of year, I’m down to the last few freezer containers and a freezer in need of a good clean out, but need a dose of culinary motivation to use up those last lingering items from last year. Here are three strategies I use for that that final “freezer finale”:
1. Turn to Key Favorites
This is a good time of year to turn to classic family recipe favorites, those dishes we can’t seem to get enough of that, ideally, use up a lot of a certain stockpiled item. Spanikotpita, the Green spinach pie dish, uses a whopping five cups of packed, frozen spinach or Swiss chard, so I’m always making that dish this time of year as I always seem to freeze an abundance of greens.
Tap into the newness of spring and discover some new dishes, based on your leftover freezer ingredients. Sometimes all it takes is looking at an old recipe a new way. For example, my family loves egg rolls. Every summer I make a big batch of stir-fried veggies, roll the egg rolls with egg roll wrappers, fry them and freeze the rolls for winter meals. Last week I found in the freezer several containers of frozen pea pods and broccoli, along with a pack of egg roll wrappers. I never made egg rolls with frozen veggies (I left the veggies defrost first and drained out any water), but a little experimentation proved delicious: I quickly decided they tasted better this way than my old big batch frozen technique.
3. Tweak Next Season
Take a minute and think about why you have a freezer abundance of a certain item and readjust your preservation plan for the next growing season. For a few years I always ended up with too much frozen zucchini. I realized I was just too enthusiastic about freezing the abundance of zukes during the summer, but in reality, I didn’t have too many recipes for nor frankly liked the texture of frozen zucchini and didn’t cook with it much in the winter. Note to self: better to share the extra fresh zucchini with friends and neighbors in the summer than over-stockpile the freezer.
In about a week or so, usually right around Memorial Day, I’m ready to unplug, give the freezer a good clean and let it sit and rest for a few weeks before the strawberry harvest kicks in – again.
Photo Credit: John Ivanko