To Share or Not To Share, Is that the Question?

Molly Bradford This week we have a guest blog from Molly Bradford – a grubshed winter share member at River Road Farm and a master food preserver.  This woman knows how to keep eating locally all winter long. She also is the co-owner of GatherBoard, one of the makers of MissoulaEvents.net and Missoula Indoor Ads. She is a connector of people, products and ideas and a self-taught marketer who finds inspiration where art and business intersect. In her spare time, Molly is an avid yet amateur gardener, cook, skier, and hunter. Oh, yeah… add: busy mom and wife.
This summer is my first CSA.  For those of you who know me, this might seem unbelievable.

The fact is, I’ve had a winter share, or Grubshed, at Garden City Harvest’s River Road Farm since our oldest was an infant.  However, this summer is indeed my first weekly summer CSA.  As with our Grubshed, we share our share with another family. Both this sharing of shares, and the amount of food preservation I’ve learned over the past 9-years has made this a fairly fun summer CSA.

I’ll admit it, though, there have been times this summer where I have been intimidated by the amount of food I was getting on my “on” weeks.  And sometimes I’ve shared my share of the share with a neighbor or used it as an excuse to invite friends for dinner.  Mostly we’ve had more mornings of the best green smoothies ever, my kids (now 2 and 9) have eaten more vegetables both hidden and obvious than ever before, and my toddler’s garden variety identification and vocabulary are certainly voracious.

By looking at my Summer Share with Grubshed glasses, things quickly became less intimidating and more manageable.  Last week Genevieve shared about soup, stew, bone broth, aromatics, and mirepoix.  She must have had Grubshed lenses in her onion glasses when she told you about cooking up a bunch of mirepoix, letting it cool to room temp and freezing in ice cube trays for later. This is where you and I are going – preserving summer’s share for winter.  Get out your vacuum sealers, clear some space in your freezer and start your stove top.  What follows are the most common things I do to freeze summer.

In most cases I find a recipe I like, and then I start substituting with items from my CSA or Grubshed that seem similar, sound good, or just have to get used up STAT.

BLANCHING

I really like blanching.  It’s not nearly as time or resource consuming as canning.  And it tends to start happening when the days are a bit cooler and shorter, so having a pot of boiling water going for a while doesn’t seem oppressive. Don’t get me wrong, this mama likes to can and pickle like a mad-woman. But sometimes I prefer a quicker option for food preservation with what I have on hand.

The basic concept of blanching is to plunge fresh vegetables into boiling water, scalding them for a short period of time, then shock them in a bath of ice water until cool. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  The length of time is key – under-blanching doesn’t stop the enzyme.  Over-blanching causes loss of color, flavor and texture.  A simple internet search for “vegetable blanching chart” will bring up many great sites from home food preservation to extension services.   (NOTE: as I’ve learned about putting up mass quantities of food for winter, I always read two or three sites through to determine consistency of message and technique before I begin.  And to make sure I have all the equipment on hand.)

Before you begin, make sure you have at least a few big bags of cubed ice – you’re going to need it. (Thankfully this can be attained at nearly any hour from a gas station.) Also, some sort of blanching set up is preferred to scooping veggies from boiling water with a slotted spoon or wire basket spoon.  For water blanching I do large batches with my pasta insert in my stock pot. For steam blanching I go with smaller batches with a metal colander balanced over my stock pot.

Here are the basics:

Chop stuff up into manageable pieces. (Corn is the exception, I keep it on the cob.)  I normally err on the side of mid-chunky, assuming I’ll be cooking them into stew, soup, potpie, pizza topping, pureeing, quiche, etc… later in winter.

Get water boiling.  Follow the blanching chart from above.  Blanch.  Ice bath.  Spin dry in a salad spinner or roll in an absorbent towel (wet veggies = freezer burn).

After they are dry enough, I like to seal my veggies with the vacuum sealer in 2 to 4-serving sized pouches.  Too small, waste of plastic.  Too big, won’t use them after I thaw them, what a waste.

Veggies I like to water blanch and freeze:

  • Corn on the cob
  • Beans – like string, wax, green
  • Greens – hearty types like kale, chard, collards
  • Peas – in edible pods

BUTTER BLANCHING

I’m not sure if this is even a real term… basically, it’s the same technique Genevieve used with the mirepoix. (After a quick internet search for “butter blanching,” I could not find anything of the sort. I learned this term and technique from an old foodie friend, Chef Boy Ari.)

The goal is the same as water blanching: stop the enzymatic process of breaking down the food so it will last longer – and preserve some color and texture in the process – but with butter! (I’m sure you could substitute an oil of your choice that stands up to sauteing – canola, olive, coconut.)

Here are the basics: chop up the stuff you want to butter blanch into bite sized pieces.  Melt some butter in a pan until the foaming subsides.  Add in some onion and saute at least until translucent — I like a deeper flavor and go for golden and starting to caramelize. Add in the things you want to preserve.  Saute until al dente – not mushy, a little under cooked.

Transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool more quickly.

Then freeze in one of these options:

  • ice cube trays – pop frozen cubes in a ziplock – suck the air out before finishing sealing;
  • little reusable plastic baggies – suck the air out before sealing; make tiny vacuum sealed pouches;
  • I like to freeze on the cookie sheet – break or cut into cubes – put in ziplock – suck air out.

When you’re ready to make soup or quiche or pizza or stew, pull out a few cubes, let stand on the counter to thaw or throw in the pan to thaw, and go!  No chopping and sauteing needed.

Foods I like to butter blanch:

  • Morel mushrooms with onion, garlic and sage
  • Mushroom mixes w/ herbs, onion, garlic
  • Mixed bell peppers
  • Mirepoix Caramelized onions
  • Shredded potatoes (potato pancakes- yum!)

FREEZER PESTO

One of the easiest and most satisfying things to do with excessive greens is make pesto or a pesto alternative. The basic pesto recipe calls for basil, olive oil, salt & pepper, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

The substitution possibilities here are endless.  Want a smear for sandwiches, substitute butter for oil.  Looking for more of a spicy, green herb type sauce, think chimichurri.  Not sure about pine nuts? Try toasted walnuts, pecans or cashews.  Allergic to nuts? Go with seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, or skip it.  Same for cheese – Parm, Asiago, and Romano are the Italian trio but any hard cheese will do.  Experiment with oils, herbs, seasonings.

My mother-in-law recommended adding a little lemon juice and grated lemon peel to classic pesto to preserve the green color and fresh flavor.  Since I like to freeze mine in blocks, this was an especially great step.

Just tonight our toddler and I picked the leaves from 2-huge basil bushes from our Grubshed. Right now the leaves are plumping in a bath of cold water over night.  Tomorrow, after I dry the leaves, we’ll make pesto.  We have about 8-cups of leaves, so I expect to have about 10-cups of pesto when it’s all said and done.

Pesto kids -- these are my two kiddos after last year's pesto making extraveganza.

For large batches I go with tried and true recipes like the one I linked to above, plus the aforementioned lemon addition.  After it’s done I’ll line a brownie pan with parchment in both directions and pour in all the pesto.  Set it in the freezer overnight with another sheet pressed on top. The next day, pull out the parchment sling or flip over the pan.  If you let it sit a moment the oil on the sides will loosen up and it slides out.  Moving quickly, cut this big slab into small cubes – about 2” by 2” by the height of your slab.  Put all the cubes in a ziplock freezer bag, seal 90% of the way, suck out the air and finish sealing.  Making pasta, pizza, soup, quiche, sandwiches, dip, etc… pull out a cube per 2-servings.  Yum.

SALSAS, SLAWS & KRAUT

Have just a few too many tomatoes, tomatillos and jimmy nardello peppers? Or what about that third head of cabbage, those huge carrots and another round of brightly colored cauliflower? Bottom line on salsa: it can be with tomatoes, tomatillos, fruits, beans, corn, onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, zucchini, cucumber, etc… And slaw is great with cabbage, kale, chard, leeks, shredded carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, apples, pear, onion, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, etc…

Wait just a second – most of the items on both lists are the same – how can that be?  It’s all in the sauce.  Find a recipe you like, get the basics of the seasonings/sauce down, and then completely mix it up with the fruits and veggies. But for me, the finale is the sauerkraut, or in my case, it’s more of a süβkraut – a sweet apple cider braised cabbage.  This time of year I make a huge batch from this recipe my mom gave me a decade ago.  I expand it enough to accommodate 3-5 heads of cabbage, and I use green and purple for color.

After braising all afternoon, we put some in a separate put to enjoy with delicious sausages — the recipe calls for Knockwurst.  The rest I put in sterilized jars and give a 15-min water bath.  Your mouth will say Danke all winter long.

————-

By thinking ahead just a bit, trial and error, and a little bit of reckless abandon corralled with a recipe here and there for good measure, managing the weekly CSA and/or a Grubshed are not just doable, they are edible all winter long.  Freezing tomatoes, braiding onions, packing root vegetables in damp sawdust… I’ll get to that another time.  For now – pick a few things that taste so much better now than they do in January and prepare them for a revival in winter. Then share.