Freeze food now. Avoid shopping and cooking later.
“Can I freeze….” It’s the trending Google search in the UK right now. At first I thought Londoners were having a cold snap hunting down ski coats.
Not so. They’re freezing food. With people on lockdown and supply chains stressed– “Amazon NOW!” is currently “Amazon two weeks from now” like it was in the old days when my mom ordered from catalogs.
People don’t want to waste food.
If you’re a no-leftovers-eat-out kind of person, or even someone who hasn’t done a lot of food preservation–you just go to the store, buy things, and eat them–the freezer’s the perfect place to start. It’s not just for ice cream–there’s a lot you can preserve long-term you might not have thought to freeze.
You can’t freeze everything.
Some things don’t freeze well, or have a bit of a prep rick to them. Learn this, and you can not only avoid stores and still outlast the zombie apocalypse without running out of your favorite foods, you’ll be able to prep and freeze meals (Once a month or “freezer” cooking) so you won’t have to cook all the time or order takeout.
My favorite–you can grow or gather some foods in season–then freeze them when they taste their best. Eating seasonally saves money, true. The reason I do it, is because it’s delicious. I can’t compare an out-of-season clammshell-shipped strawberry to the ones I pick and freeze in June.
Let’s get freezing!
Pick clean berries in season. For blueberries, pick out the stems. For strawberries, hull them (or use a knife to pick off the green leaves). Lie flat on a cookie sheet in one layer. Freeze, and bag in a freezer-safe container or ziplock bag. If you’re doing a lot, then use one ziplock bag, and put the rest of the frozen berries in sealed Foodsaver bags, and return to the freezer. This avoids freezer burn.
A Non-freezer option: learn to can. Make jam, juice, or pack them in syrup, and can in half-pints and pint jars. You can also put them on a single layer and dehydrate them.
Milk and dairy
My grandmother froze milk all the time. If you buy it in half-gallon cartons, you can pop it in the freezer, and take it out as needed–it’ll take a couple days to completely thaw in the fridge. Do not freeze half-gallon or gallon jugs straight away. Milk expands when it freezes, and you’ll split your jug. Cartons have enough room to expand–you’ll see this when you take your carton out of the freezer–it’ll be bowed out.
If you’ve got jugs, use recycled quart deli containers or freezer-safe containers, leaving about an inch in for expansion room. This lets you take out your milk a quart at a time. You can also use the half-gallon jug if you open it, and pour out a couple inches of milk first. This will give the milk the room it needs to expand.
Mason-jar lovers: these are freezer safe. I never use them because I bash things around in my freezer when I’m cleaning or hunting, and I always seem to smash any glass in there.
You have to blanch veggies before you put them in the freezer. You cannot randomly freeze the extra five pounds of green beans you scored or asparagus you grew. It’ll come out like mush. You must “blanch” them first. To blanch: boil the veggie for a couple minutes, then when the time’s up, take it out and put it in an ice bath or pot of cold water to stop the cooking immediately. Then, you’ll follow the same process to freeze as you did with the berries. Freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. When frozen, bag up in ziplocks and FoodSaver bags. This keeps them all loose and separate so you can use what you need rather than fighting ice blocks with a pick axe.
Most veggies only need to be blanched a couple minutes. Here is the National Center for Home Food Preservation site with all the official times. Any time you’re in doubt, consult this site. Food preservation and food safety go hand in hand. [Click “Blanching Veggies” below for a free printable cheat sheet].
Do not freeze:
Potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, radishes, cucumbers and Jerusalem artichokes either don’t freeze well or can’t be frozen. There are a couple of exceptions. I make shepherd’s pie topped with potatoes, and freeze in meal-sized portions. But, starchy things don’t freeze well. And cucumbers turn into a watery mush.
You can freeze most fruits. Slice peaches, apples, pears, and melons. Freeze overripe bananas in groups of 3–exactly the amount you’ll need for a loaf of banana bread. Or, cube fruits, freeze in single layers as with berries, and bag up–then scoop out for smoothies.
Prepared foods and leftovers
This is where the freezer shines. You can make casseroles, quiches, stuffed shells, pre-make peanut butter sandwiches, make and freeze muffins, loaves of bread, cakes, quick breads, and soups. Freeze in well-wrapped single meal sizes, label, and date.
These are “prepared foods” but they get a special mention here. Leave out any pasta, barley, or starch if you’re freezing. Pasta will thaw like little clumps of starchy glue. Excessive potatoes, barley, and rice will too. You can pre-cook barley or rice and freeze them separately, then add to the soup when you thaw it. Or, just cook those things from scratch as you reheat the soup. Add in before serving.
This is what the freezer was made for. We get meats in bulk and repackage into FoodSaver bags for meal sizes–often single-serve since we have a vegetarian, a carnivore, and a kid. When you see your favorite meats available, buy double or triple what you want–or more, then break that up and freeze it, or do once-a-month cooking to make recipes out of it first, then freeze the finished meals.
If your poser homestead’s not so “poser” you may even have a cow, pig, or homestead chicken frozen. If not, you can order meat from farmers in half or quarter animal quantities. Call ahead and ask for “half a cow” or “quarter cow,” (or pig, sheep, etc). If you’re ordering ahead, you can sometimes get your meat prepackaged in smaller cuts or custom butchered, but this will cost extra. We’ve met farmers who let customers order half or quarter cow but specify cuts–if I were ordering a quarter cow, I could say “lesser cuts” meaning I’d be happy to take the less desirable or cheaper cuts and let someone else have the prime cuts. This lets me get a better deal–they’ll be paying top dollar for those steaks and roasts we recognize, but I’m getting meats I know are farm-quality and I know how to cook those cuts so I don’t need the easy-to-grill steak.
Stay tuned for an expanded feature on farm-raised meats. If you plan on venturing into large quantity meat production or ordering, you might want to pick yourself up an extra freezer or two–you can buy a new one but people are constantly getting rid of these, especially drop freezers, online.
Do This Today
If you only use your freezer for boxes of food and cartons of Ben & Jerry’s, start today. Get extra of something in season or on sale and freeze it. Whether you meal prep it out and label it for lunch, or try to make your own frozen veggies in season, start thinking of the freezer as giving you a good food storage and preservation head start, so you can stay out of the stores and kitchen and still eat homestead and chef quality food.