September 5, 2011

Gardening with Mr. C. - Save money with DIY Gardening

Does your gardening investment pay off all at once with more produce than you can consume or give it away? Do your neighbors close the blinds when they see you bringing another armload of squash? It used to be that "we'd eat what we can, and what we can't, we'd can". I have since joined the majority of people who freeze instead. Freezing does not preserve food indefinitely, but greatly slows the loss of nutritional value. Some things can be frozen raw (ex. rhubarb or shredded summer squash for use in pie or bread) but should be used within 2 months. For longer storage, food must be blanched first -that is, plunged into boiling water for a brief timed interval, then removed and put in iced water or cold running water to shock and stop the cooking process. To do this easily, put them in a mesh (finer than the food) or wire strainer that fits your pan (see below). I fill this 2-1/2 quart pan with 2 quarts of water (enough to cover the food without overflowing).

                                                        Wire strainer and pan with lid

My wife and I can't consume an entire quart (the smallest freezer bag size) of anything so I freeze items like string beans, corn-off-the-cob, peas, blueberries, etc, on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper before bagging them. This makes them pourable like store bought. These are best used before next harvest. Food frozen in a solid block will keep longer (1-2 years). The enemy is "freezer-burn" which is color and texture changes due to dehydration (for more detail, click here.  It's best to date the bags before filling. I must give credit to the "Farm Journal Freezing and Canning cookbook" and Wikipedia for much of my info. Here are specific suggestions for some vegetables that are ripe in my garden now.

Tomato: Cut away any bad spots, then use one of the following methods. One way is to wrap and freeze them whole - but use within 2 months. For them to keep longer, scald tomato's for 2 minutes. Cool them in water and slip off the skins. A third way is to cook or make them into sauce, cool by putting pan in a larger pan of cold or ice-water. Bag and freeze.

Summer squash: Note: summer and zucchini squash are interchangeable in recipes. It is best to use small (5-7") squash with tender rinds and small seeds. Otherwise, peal them and remove the large seeds. If you intend to use squash for zucchini bread (or similar) within 2 months, shred, squeeze out the excess liquid, bag, and freeze. For squash to keep longer for use as a vegetable, use only the small ones. Wash but do not peel. Cut in not more than 1-1/2" pieces. Blanch for 1/4" pieces for 3 minutes (add  30 seconds for each additional 1/4") and 1-1/2" pieces for 6 minutes. Drain, bag and freeze.

Chard: Pick young tender leaves. Start a pan of water boiling. Remove large tough stems. Wash in cold running water. Steam stems for 3 to 4 minutes. Scald leaves for 2 minutes. Chill, drain and bag with the water that clings to the leaves and freeze.

Sweet corn: (The neighbors will open the blinds if they see you bringing corn). If corn is at peak of maturity (ears are full, silk is dark and dry and fallen off), start a large kettle of water boiling and then go pick.  Husk, blanch for 4-1/2 minutes. When cool, cut off kernels at 3/4 depth. Drain, bag, and freeze (loose or solid). I have tried freezing on the cob following the Farm Journal instructions (blanch 8 minutes for 1-1/4" diameter and 11 Minutes for 1-1/2" diameter - which is about how long as I cook for the table), but when I thawed and used them, they were watery.

String Beans (yellow or green): Pick young tender beans that don't look "pregnant" (ie. show the bean inside), and that snap when broken. Start water boiling. Wash beans in cold running water. Snip off tips and break into 1-1/2" pieces. and blanch for 3-1/3 minutes. Drain, bag, and freeze (loose or solid).

Partake of your bounty this winter and think of me.

Mr. C.

NOTICE: Something very special is planned for next week - don't miss it!!!