Monday, July 5, 2010
Greens! Greens! Greens!
"You know they sell this stuff at the grocery store," they would say.
"Yeah, I know, but I'm trying to do this thing here. Is this cucumber?!"
This has inspired us to check out Elliot Coleman's book, Four-Season Harvest, and build ourselves some cold frames. We also chose a variety of seeds, that when planted in the late summer, should bear leaves for our munching mouths well into the winter.
But that was over the winter. Now that the lettuce is free flowing (at least for another week or so), now that there is kale, endive, tai soi, spinach, arugula, and mustard greens, well, I just can't seem to eat it all. Funny right? So I've taken the least desirable stuff, or at leas the stuff I can't eat all day long (like mustard greens) and put them in the freezer.
CSA and they just couldn't spread it around enough. We figured if we didn't eat it all we could at least give it to our chickens. But eat it we did! We chopped, washed and vacuum sealed the whole nine-thousand pounds of this slightly bitter green. We only just finished eating it this past winter, in fact. When it was thawed out it was pretty mushy and chewy. I only learned after the fact that most veggies need to be blanched before they are frozen. This is because blanching destroys the enzymes that allow the veggies to ripen and to rot. It also sets the color and preserves the nutritional content and flavor. In short, it prevents thawed greens from tasting like chewy mush fit only for pureeing and hiding in spinach bread and other such things. There is great information about blanching and freezing veggies here, at the National Center for Home Preservation including a chart with blanching times. (Here they have a chart from the Joy of Cooking, it includes some other veggies). Timing is important because under blanching just speeds up the ripening/rotting process and over blanching is actually called cooking, which you can do, but isn't the goal here.
So, now we blanch. I had pretty good luck with it last year. I dehydrated a lot of stuff, but the greens I did freeze came out better. I decided not to dehydrate as much of my greens this year because they just crumble. So, while they can be added to soups and casseroles as a seasoning, there's never any greens in them. I also froze pepper strips, blanched, but they tasted, um, like frozen peppers...so we still have some. I found they were usable only in sausage and peppers, covered in sauce. And eggplant. I froze a bunch of peeled, sliced, blanched eggplant. Yeah, we still have most of that left also.
How to blanch?
1. Wash and Chop your greens. I like to make them into the basic size I would use them in cooking. For me, part of the benefit of doing all this work in the summer is to make the winters really, really easy.
3. Put the greens in the water in batches not too big for the pot. (Isn't that helpful?) I basically blanch them one bunch at a time (this seems to be about a pound). You want to make sure the pot isn't so full that the leaves get stuck together, and so don't get blanched.
7. Label what it is with the date and freeze them in a freezer bag with as much of the air squeezed out as possible. If you're iffy about plastic you can use mason jars, just don't fill them too much. I vacuum seal them, but I do find that this is tricky because as the water gets sucked up it prevents the bag from getting a really good seal. I have found two ways of dealing with this, one press the "seal" button on the vacuum sealer before it's done really vacuuming (and so hasn't had enough time to suck the water up). I'm not sure all machines have this capability. The other thing I found works pretty well is to place some paper towels or coffee filters above the food inside the bag. This way the water gets absorbed into this and doesn't interfere with the seal.