When I was little, I remember my grandmother and great grandmother putting up fruits and vegetables for the winter. We had a root cellar in the basement, lined with wooden plywood shelves that held the jars of tomatoes, beans, jams and jellies, and a couple random bottle of sparkling grape juice, that I would try to negotiate out of the cellar and into my cup.
My mom reminisces that her parents would always put up pears and peaches in simple syrup, which was their dessert every night after dinner.
We now live in a world where you can get any vegetable or fruit year-round, and the need to can or "put up" seems unnecessary. So why should you do this and how do you even begin?
In Arizona, most of us lack a root cellar or an even consistently cool room in our house, so I purchased a chest freezer. When I get an abundance of local, organic and seasonal fruit and veg, I scoop it up, and put some up for later. For me, it means I know where my food is coming from and allows me to support local farmers. Plus, the fresher your fruit and veg are when you put them up, the better.
The primary use for our chest freezer is for meat. Most of our meat, we buy from a friend who raises it for us. This means that we buy 6-10 chickens at a time or half a hog. The meat is organic, grass-fed and grain feed (non-soy, non-corn, non-GMO), and pastured. Bones are used to make large batches of stock, which is then, you guessed it, put up in our freezer.
Another reason I put up food is because of food waste. I am notorious for forgetting about veg in the fridge, as we head out for a meal or event during the week, and then those green beans I just bought (actually probably bought 4 days prior) are already going bad. If I know I won't be using something the next day or two, I will now prep up my veg and freeze it.
The number one reason we put food up in my home is to save time. I'm not pitching you this idea thinking we should all put up a stockpile for winter, but my family is incredibly busy, and using the freezer allows me to feed them delicious home cooked meals, waste less food, and try to purchase when food is seasonal and local.
You can pickle, can, or make jams for any of these as well, just make sure that you are storing those items in a consistently cool, dark room (something my home lacks currently).
I use mason jars with white plastic BPA-free lids or Ziploc bags. Here are a few of the ways that I prep and put up some of the great local produces I'm getting right now.
-Leeks: I use a lot of leeks, so I will purchase a few, wash and slice them up, place them on a sheet pan, allow them to freeze, then bag them up in a few Ziplocs or mason jars for later use.
-Green Beans: Rinse and trim beans. Blanch beans in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Plunge into ice-cold water. Allow them to cool and dry. Place into a Ziploc or mason jar, and freeze.
-Corn: We always have leftover ears of corn. We simply cut the corn off the cob, then place in a Ziploc and freeze.
-Cabbage: Sauerkraut! I have a crock that I bought for the purpose of making sauerkraut. (Before attempting, please read up on fermenting food for all safety information, I'll give a brief overview here though.) Massage salt into shredded or chopped cabbage and I like to add caraway seeds. Pack into crock and weigh down the cabbage with a weight or plate with water jug on top, pressing every couple hours for the first 24 hours, covered with a kitchen towel or other breathable top. Ferment in crock (temp needs to be between 65-75 degrees to ferment - I use a cooler with ice packs to keep a cooler temp than room temp and warmer temp than fridge temp), for roughly 3-10 days (check every day), we then pack it into mason jars and fridge it, eat over the next couple months.
-Blueberries: Do not rinse them before you freeze. Rinsing prior to freezing can make their skins tough. Place blueberries on a sheet pan and freeze (to allow them to freeze individually, lessening the chance of them freezing as a large clump), then pack into a container or Ziploc bag. When removing them from the freezer to use, rinse them.
-Strawberries: Rinse and dry. Remove tops. Place strawberries on a sheet pan and freeze, then pack into a container or Ziploc bag.
-Raspberries and Blackberries: Rinse and allow to dry completely on a towel (or paper towels). Place berries on a sheet pan and freeze, then pack into container or Ziploc. These are perfect to pull out and make a berry crumble or pie during the berry off-season.
-Apples: We would eat a good chunk of our freshly picked apples or put them in pies or crumbles, but our favorite thing was my mom's applesauce, spiced with those red cinnamon hearts. As she made her applesauce, my mom would melt the red hearts into the sauce. She would then cool the applesauce and freeze the applesauce in Ziploc bags. We would have applesauce for dessert throughout the winter, pulling a bag and defrosting, as we needed.
-Peaches: Smoothies are king in our house, and frozen peaches make a great addition to our frozen fruit concoctions. Blanch your peaches whole, quickly then plunge into ice water. The skin should peel right off. Chop peaches, removing the pit. Place in small Ziplocs, proportioned, and freeze.
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-Cherries: Rinse. Remove stems and pit the cherries. Place on a sheet pan and freeze, then pack into container or Ziploc.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.