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Harvesting from the freezer: cooking with frozen vegetables from your garden

Freezing is a great way to preserve garden harvests. Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

Believe it or not, as a gardener, winter is a season I look forward to all year. Sure, I don’t get to spend all my time in my garden, but I do get to take a break from the rhythms of harvesting and yard work, and instead revive summer’s bounty by cooking with frozen vegetables.

From May to September, our family’s yard, with its six 4’x8’ beds and some side areas, produces more food than we can eat. Garbage-can sized hauls of kale, parsley and spinach come out of the garden in June. We plant in large amounts specifically because the harvest volume changes so much over the months. From December to March, we only get enough fresh veggies to make a few salads each week.

By the fall, our family’s three freezers – including a big chest freezer – are completely full. In December, we begin harvesting from the freezer and discover all sorts of amazing things: redcurrants for making fresh soda, kernels of sweetcorn, delicious pesto and many, many portions of zucchini and kale.

Fast food this is not. Preparing harvests for the freezer involves a lot of washing, blanching, chopping, portioning and labelling, a commitment that can sometimes add hours to my garden days. Sometimes I wonder what I’m thinking as I sweat under a boiling pot of blanching water in July. Why not just buy the stuff? I have to remind myself that, by doing all this work, I’m connecting with the source of our food in a way that gives me a better understanding of what it actually takes to put meals on our plate. Like gardening itself, preparing food for the freezer can be a meditative and stress-reducing experience shared with family and friends.

Cooking with frozen vegetables is a bit of a lost art. While frozen veggies might seem inferior to the fresh stuff, it’s actually a great way to preserve nutrients when our garden is at its peak. Here are some of our favourite ways to prepare them.

Tips for cooking with frozen vegetables:

  • Saute an onion and toss in some frozen kale, tomatoes, zucchini, corn and dill, along with cooked beans, for a quick a minestrone soup. I usually don’t bother to pre-thaw our veggies before cooking but simply roughly chop the frozen stuff with a big knife and toss it right in. In our house, we make giant pots of soup and eat the leftovers for days.

  • Make spanakopita with frozen spinach, kale or chard. While spinach is the classic choice, kale offers a toothier and very tasty alternative. If you make it with chard, it’s called prasopita.

  • Do a quick stir-fry with freshly browned onions and frozen kale seasoned with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and a dash of maple syrup. When served with tofu and rice, the leftovers make a great packed lunch.

  • Use frozen pumpkin or other winter squash in a soup with coconut milk, ginger and Thai spices. Squash will keep for months on your countertop, but freezing cooked leftovers is a great idea when you have too much volume on your hands.

  • Get creative and explore the world’s flavours. Frozen vegetables, whether from your garden or saved from the farmer’s market, can be used in place of almost any cooked veggie. It’s a simple and accessible form of food preservation.

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