3 Strategies for Clearing the Freezer

The dull lull of winter always drives the need for renewed recipe inspiration in our kitchen.

by John D. Ivanko
Clear out your freezer of last year's preserved harvest with these three tips. Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock
We make it a priority to clear out our freezer of the previous growings season’s frozen produce before the upcoming growing season.

The dull lull of winter always drives the need for renewed recipe inspiration in our kitchen. We work hard all summer to preserve and pack away so much of the harvest bounty with the good intent to feed ourselves all winter, but right around now that we need a motivational plan for using up that pint of frozen spinach in the freezer as we dream of and crave fresh greens from the spring garden.

On our Wisconsin farm and bed-and-breakfast, Inn Serendipity, we typically freeze most of our garden harvest for the method’s simplicity and efficiency. All summer long, we shred, blanch or tray-freeze our garden goodies, packing the produce into square freezer containers and lining them up in our 13-cubic-foot chest freezer in the basement. Chest freezers, when full, can run more energy efficient than vertical-type freezers, as not as much cold air escapes when you lift open the lid.

Throughout the winter, we defrost and eat through our frozen garden harvest. Ideally, we let the freezer containers slowly defrost for a few days in the refrigerator. This defrosting process helps to keep the refrigerator cool, thus run less.

But by the time mid-winter rolls around, we need a dose of culinary motivation to use up those lingering items from last year, as our plan is to always fully eat through the freezer by April so we can unplug and clean it out to start fresh the next season. We’ve learned frozen zucchini is not red wine; don’t save it past one season, as it definitely won’t improve!

Here are three strategies we use for that freezer:

1. Cook favorite recipes.
This is a good time of year to turn to classic family recipe favorites—those dishes we can’t seem to get enough of that, ideally, use up a lot of a certain stockpiled item. Spanakotpita, the Greek spinach pie dish mentioned in last week’s blog post, uses a whopping three cups of packed, frozen spinach or Swiss chard, so we’re always making that recipe this time of year as to use up the last of our frozen greens.

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2. Experiment with new recipes.
Take the slower winter months to try some new dishes, based on your leftover harvest ingredients. Sometimes all it takes is looking at an old recipe a new way. For example, our family loves egg rolls. Every summer we make a big batch of stir-fried veggies, roll the egg rolls with egg roll wrappers, fry them and freeze the rolls for winter meals. Last week we found in the freezer several containers of frozen pea pods and broccoli, along with a pack of egg roll wrappers. We never made egg rolls with frozen veggies. But a little experimentation proved delicious: We let the veggies defrost first and drained out any water. We decided they tasted better this way than my old big-batch technique.

3. Tweak next season’s preservation plan.
Take a minute and think about why you have a freezer abundance of a certain item, and readjust your preservation plan for the next growing season. For a few years, we always ended up with too much frozen zucchini. We realized we were just too enthusiastic about freezing the abundance of zukes during the summer, but didn’t have too many recipes for nor frankly liked the texture of frozen zucchini. Therefore, we didn’t cook with it much in the winter. Note to self: It’s better to share the extra fresh zucchini with friends and neighbors in the summer than over-stock the freezer.

And remember, spring and those first pea tendrils are just around the snowy corner!

Savoring the good life,

John and Lisa's Signatures

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