Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: June, Week 2

Only one week of both the CSA and the farmers' market have passed, and already I feel a little overwhelmed! I'm no longer green with envy at others' earlier access to fresh produce -- I'm just green from an overload of greens!

A number of the vegetables I've bought or grown so far have been well worth enjoying right away: radishes in sandwiches, asparagus in rice paper rolls and pasta, mizuna in pasta, and pac choi in fried rice. I'm surely getting my fill of salads, too, with plenty of leaf lettuce from my garden and my CSA, mizuna and baby pac choi and amaranth from my garden, spinach from the farmers' market, and the occasional wild edible green, too.

But even that hasn't made a significant dent in my collection of rapidly wilting greens. So it's time for me to kick into preservation mode.

Most greens, except for lettuce and some other salad greens, can be frozen very easily, and some might even be worth trying dried. I'm learning to put away a few packages of frozen spinach each year, though I hope to pack away more this year, as the pre-cooked chopped spinach ends up being very useful in recipes like lasagna, stuffed pasta, or spanokopita. In fact, I'm also working on freezing a lot of the pac choi from my garden because I simply can't eat it all right now.

Freezing greens is even something I can do in about half an hour or so -- easily squeezed in between breakfast and heading out the door to work. It's an incredibly easy process, so I'll outline it here.

First, rinse your greens. Take out any leaves that look too wilted or otherwise not quite up to snuff. You choose whether you want the stems trimmed off or not. (Obviously I wasn't too bothered about that.)

Prepare a large saucepan with a steamer basket set in the bottom and water up to the bottom of the steamer basket. Set the greens inside, cover, and bring to a boil. Greens should be steamed for 4 to 6 minutes, so that all the greens are limp but still a bright dark green. (Check them halfway through the cooking time.)

Hold a colander over the sink or a bucket or dishpan. Drain the greens. (If you really want, you could save the drained water for soup stock, a vegetable bread, or simply for watering your houseplants.) Then immerse the colander and greens in ice cold water (or rinse with same) until the greens are cold to the touch. You'll want to swish the greens around a bit to work the heat out and to keep them from becoming too compacted.

Squeeze excess liquid out of the greens. I mean it. Squeeze 'em!

Loosen the greens with your fingers and pile them on a cutting board. Chop the greens, working both across and along the stem's axis. Scoop the greens into a zipper freezer bag, squeeze and/or suck the excess air out of the bag, and seal.

Don't forget to label the bag (kind of produce and date), and if you're serious about your food preservation, add the quantity to your inventory of this year's pantry.

I have yet to try drying greens (perhaps later this week?), but apparently the process is the same up through rinsing and squeezing the greens. After that, stack the greens on paper or cloth towels to absorb more moisture, and then dry the greens -- either in a dehydrator or on a baking sheet in the oven -- until they are dry and brittle. (You can learn more about the process of drying in either Putting Things By or Stocking Up.)

Other produce from this month that you might try freezing includes: peas, beans, asparagus, broccoli, strawberries. With the vegetables, chop them before or after blanching. Strawberries (and other berries) do not need to be pre-cooked, but you might consider spreading them on a baking sheet to put them in the freezer, then bagging the frozen individual berries. (That makes it easier to scoop out what you need later.)

I often focus on freezing in the earlier part of summer, though this year I hope to try more drying. And coming soon: making the first preserves (strawberry jam!) and possibly pickles.

What are you putting up this week?

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At 6/11/2008 2:09 PM, Blogger Alyssa said...

It's been a while since I've left you a comment! Last year I froze my bok choy (which I believe is the same thing) raw and then just threw it in soup or any other time you might use cooked cabbage. Every spring and summer I make a couple of batches of almost completely local egg rolls (minus the shrimp, spices and egg roll wrappers) to freeze and eat on the fly. Also, I've found you can use wilted lettuce for veggie stock. I made some this last weekend by tossing a bunch of wilted lettuce (from my CSA), asparagus ends, mushrooms that had dried and mushroom stems and some carrots and onions.

I'm also working on freezing strawberries, I guess I need to buy a bunch more this week to have enough to last me a while. I only bought an extra pint last week.

Oh and garden update! I have tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers and a bunch of herbs. My broccoli is wilting though, any guesses about the problem?

At 6/11/2008 2:19 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks for the information, Alyssa -- it's good to hear from you!

Yes, pac choi and bok choy are the same, just different translations, I think. Good to know that will work well in soups! And your egg rolls sound GREAT.

Good to know about the lettuce, too. I plan to use pac choi stems in making vegetable stock this week, but I hadn't thought about lettuce.

Your garden sounds great! I have never grown broccoli, though, so aside from the recent heat, I don't have any offhand guesses as to what the problem might be. Maybe some disease? Dear Readers, do you have any ideas?


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