We had our first hard freeze a few days ago, so the past couple weeks have been all about harvesting and preserving our garden before that freeze. We finished just in the nick of time, and we’ve got nearly all of the food canned or in the freezer. Whew!
The past couple years, I’ve preserved carrots by storing them in a big plastic tote in the garage with layers of sandy soil around them. It worked pretty well, and whenever I needed carrots I just had to go dig them out of the “carrot bed” in the garage. They would last a few months like that, but by the middle of winter, the carrots that were left were looking a bit sad.
This year, I decided to do things differently. Remember the life-changing freezer-to-crockpot cookbook that I told you about a few months ago? That was the inspiration for my carrot preservation this year. Our son helped me dig up the carrot bed, and we filled a giant plastic tote 2/3 full of yummy carrots (we had been eating them straight from the bed since July as well – we had a good crop this year).
Then I washed them. It took a while, but it was nice to get it all done in one day instead of having to wash carrots all winter! I soaked them in a giant bowl first (I had to do this in batches to fit them in my biggest bowl) to loosen the dirt:
After 30 minutes of soaking, the dirt was easy to scrub off and I was left with sparkling clean carrots. I never peel carrots, so I’m careful to wash them well.
Once that was done, I started chopping. That took a while too, but it is such a great feeling once it’s done. Inspired by Stephanie’s freezer-to-crockpot cookbook, I just started adding carrots to gallon-size freezer bags:
I put about 2 – 3 cups of chopped carrots in each bag. I ended up with 18 bags, plus the veggie crisper drawer in the fridge is full of clean, unchopped carrots that we can use over the next few weeks when we need fresh carrots.
Washing and chopping that many carrots took a while, so I called it good at the end of the afternoon and just stuck the bags into the freezer as they were. The next day I washed and chopped 4 bunches of celery and added them to a bunch of the bags to make the basis for a soup that we love. I’ll chop onions and potatoes over the next couple days and add those as I chop them. And I’m going through Stephanie’s cookbook to find our favorite recipes that include carrots. I’ll use the carrot bags I’ve already frozen and add to them according to the recipe. When it’s all said and done, I’ll have 18 bags in my freezer that will each turn into at least two meals for us – with basically no work at all on the day we eat them.
Side note regarding blanching… The first time I tried Stephanie’s freezer-to-crockpot idea, I blanched the carrots and potatoes before I froze them. Then I got brave and didn’t do it the next time. And honestly? We couldn’t tell the difference. Soups and stews in the crockpot are soft and well-cooked anyway – veggies don’t retain their original color or texture that much to begin with (actually, the carrots stay nice and orange regardless of whether I blanch them, and the potatoes end up being a shade of whatever color the sauce is), so I’m fine with not blanching.
Anyway, I thought I’d share my new preservation method with you. It was more work up-front than the way I had done it in the past for carrots, but it’s so nice to have meals in the freezer that I can just dump into the crockpot and forget about. Now I won’t have to walk around a giant tub of carrots in the garage all winter, or worry about using them all up by January before they start to get a bit wilty-looking.
Stephanie’s cookbook has gotten a makeover recently too. She had it professionally edited and also had a professional chef (a locak farm-to-table chef and restaurant owner) go through the book and check out the recipes as far as flavor and spice combinations (he approved and wrote the forward too!). She also updated the grocery lists and added 15 new recipes (10 for the slow cooker, five that are one-dish freezer recipes). Stephanie has also added more pictures and more explanations in the assembly process chapter to make it easier to understand. The price of the cookbook is now $9.99. If you haven’t got it yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have tried batch cooking for the freezer in the past, and I never stuck with it. But I’ve been following Stephanie’s method since last spring, and I can’t imagine being without bags in my freezer that I can just dump into my crockpot on busy days.
Now I just have to finish processing my beet harvest and wait for the box of tomatoes on my counter to ripen so that I can preserve them too. Then the 2012 garden harvest will be done!