Not Afraid of the Freezer
- Tuesday, December 27, 2011
As a young girl, I spent summer days with my grandmother. We enjoyed many hours together in her hot, steamy kitchen putting up fresh fruits and vegetables: green beans from her garden, blackberries picked the night before from my uncle’s back field, corn picked from friends’ fields, and more. One of my jobs was to seal and label the bags. After I had prepared a stack, Granny would tell me to take them to the back room, where she had two large chest freezers, and put them away. I’d trudge back there with a laundry basket full of bagged food and open a freezer, trying to find a home for each bag. Inevitably, I’d head back to the kitchen where she was busy blanching corn or sugaring berries and tell her that I’d found room only for a half-dozen or so bags and that I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to put the remaining bags and those forthcoming. She’d march back there with me, open the freezer, and start digging around. I would cringe and wrinkle my nose at the freezer-burned beans, long-forgotten beef, leftovers from meals past, and almost-emptied cartons of ice cream that she tossed out into a garbage can. To my young self, it seemed that there was a never-ending supply of ancient food in those freezers. Somehow, though, she always found room for that year’s bounty.
Having grown up in the shadows of the Great Depression, my grandparents understood the importance of being good stewards of what they’d been given (as a reward for their own hard work in the garden and through the hard work of others), but I still sometimes wondered why she and my grandfather went through the hassle of putting up all that food when a good portion wasn’t used before its expiration date. I think it was just that some food got pushed to the bottom and wasn’t noticed until it was too late to make use of it.
Fear of their deep freezers aside, I loved having dinner with my grandparents, especially if it was during the summer when she’d pick fresh tomatoes and okra from the garden. Oh, how I loved fried okra and thick, juicy slices of still-warm tomatoes. But on those days when she would retreat to the freezer, I’d always wonder just how old that food really was that she had pulled out. Nevertheless, it was always delicious. Those green beans and creamed corn still tasted really good in January when the best you could get at the grocery store was a hard tomato or imported green beans. I didn’t know it then, but their summer garden was beginning to make an impression on me, not just about the importance of learning how to garden but also about the economic advantages and time-saving techniques of putting up local or homegrown food.
After I moved away from home and settled with my husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I started to find ways to enjoy the summer’s bounty when the food was at its tastiest and cheapest. I found out about u-pick farms and started harvesting fresh, sun-ripened fruits. Suddenly that built-in freezer that I had just assumed would always be big enough to suit our needs for ice cubes and frozen vegetables was no longer large enough to store all the fruit I’d picked over summer. So I began to look for more creative ways to store food. Armed with a stash of canning jars and a small pressure cooker, I learned how to can and filled several shelves in our pantry with preserves and pie fillings. I was beginning to understand why my grandparents had made use of chest freezers: it takes a good bit less time to freeze than it does to can food for preservation.
As I spent more time in the kitchen and had a growing stack of favorite recipes, I began to experiment with freezing leftovers to save time. In the process, I discovered which dishes would freeze well. I learned, for example, that certain soups and chili were still delicious after being reheated from frozen. On the other hand, I tried freezing potato soup only once, because I discovered that the freezing process caused the potatoes to turn into unpalatable mush.
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