Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time Saving

My plan was to have this blog out earlier. Obviously my plan fell through. Though appropriate considering this blog is well....about not having enough time. Whether now or next year, I hope you find the tips useful as you manage your own busy life.

I hate to admit it, but I don't have the time or inclination to can and freeze food like I used to. I used to spend hours canning almost anything at anytime (ask my husband about the midnight tomato canning fest). I couldn't resist bottling up summer and saving it for a snowy day. My approach and attitude have changed as years have passed. This does not mean I don't can and freeze food anymore. It just means my priorities and tactics have been refined.

If you are like most families I know, you are very busy. Many feel they can't fit in freezing and canning food into their schedule. I hope to alleviate some of the stress that comes from wanting to preserve food but not having the time. Below are a list of ways I “cheat” when it comes to canning and freezing. I call it cheating because it differs from how I used to do it. I used to not use time-saving gadgets and would hand chop and grind everything. I used to can more than freeze and spend much time inside by the stove. Not anymore. I love to have the home processed food and I love to cook. However, I don't love spending our short summers in my kitchen. After all this time, I think I have figured out how to make it all work.

Now, I rarely endorse products. However, there are two items I would list as incredible time saving tools. They are a deep freezer (either upright or chest) and a Vitamix. What is a Vitamix anyway? A Vitamix is a high powered blending machine. They are expensive. If the time comes for a generous soul to ask you what you want for Christmas this year, ask for one. If a Vitamix is not in your future, you can do some of the tasks in a regular food processor. If you are a chef of any sorts, you will also appreciate one of these machines. You can make tahini, hummus, peanut butter, and a host of other items quickly.

In my idealistic mind, I love the thought of hand processing all my fruits and vegetables with a few close friends. However, in the real world and for most just isn't always possible. For much of us, time is taken up by children's activities, family responsibilities, professions and the like. Yet, it is possible for the modern family to store fresh local food with minimal effort. You will be able to refine your approach as time goes on to give you the food your family needs.

Ways to save time on food preservation (or “cheat” as I call it!):

1. Sit down with a notebook. Make a list of produce you will use most in the winter. Many times people can or freeze their abundance of vegetables only for the produce to still be in the freezer a year later. Think hard about what you actually will use. I realize this can be a challenge, but you do learn you won't actually use the 50 bags of zucchini you froze over the summer. Once you decide what you will need, decide if you will can or freeze the item. Many of the items you do use can be frozen. Freezing is a much faster process than canning. Freezing and canning produce different textures, so you will need to sort out which one is right for you. Over the years, I have fine tuned my list so that by spring, my freezer is about empty save for frozen meat. Don't spend time preserving if you won't use it.

2. A freezer is critical. Try to freeze items first as not only is it less time consuming, it helps preserve some of the nutrients. Heat destroys nutrients and so you will lose some as you preserve foods through canning. Here is a great easy to read guide about freezing some of the more common vegetables, I prefer an upright freezer over a chest freezer, but you can decide what might work for you. Some families share a freezer, so that might be a viable option for you with less expense.

3. I don't remove skins anymore when it comes to applesauce and tomatoes. Removing skin can be time consuming and also removes valuable nutrients. If you own a crock-pot or high powered blender, you can finely chop the produce and blend up the skin so it is not noticeable. I even leave skins on when freezing apples.

4. I have processed many apples in record time by doing two things. First, I make crock-pot applesauce. I chop apples (do not remove skins), throw them in the crock pot with a bit of water and eight hours later, I have applesauce. Then I freeze it. I do not can applesauce anymore. I shudder to think of my old way which consisted of: cooking apples, pushing apples through my hand grinder to remove skins, re-heating, and then canning. I just don't have that kind of time anymore. Another super quick process for apples is to chop apples in slices, place in a freezer bag and into the freezer. In the winter, I use them for crisps and pies. I also simmer them with a bit of cinnamon for a wonderful oatmeal topping.

5. Think about your technique. I used to take the top off strawberries and slice them all before freezing. Then I realized I was just dumping the bag into the blender for smoothies or cooking them down for pancake sauce – so why was I spending all this time chopping? Not necessary! I now top the strawberries, throw them into a container or bag, and done. I also met someone this summer who takes the tops off the strawberries in the field before weighing and paying (like at a U-pick farm). if you have the time while you are out picking. She told me she saves a few pounds in the cost of berries and the tops are already done when she gets home. All she needs to do once home is rinse the berries and throw into containers and into the freezer.

6. This summer, I had 40lbs of peaches to deal with. My daughters love canned peaches for eating out of the jar. it necessary for smoothie peaches to be canned? No! I canned 20lbs of the peaches and froze the other 20lbs for cobblers and smoothies. You don't have to decide between freezing and canning, but can use each together to maximize time and taste.

7. I could kiss my Vitamix when it comes to processing tomatoes. I used to spend time taking the skins off, cooking down and then canning. Now I wash tomatoes, cut the end off, chop in half and throw them into the machine. I blend them all into a chunky puree, skins and all. Frozen tomatoes with skins gives my family the highest nutrient value possible. I pour the puree into a freezer bag or container and viola! I have 50lbs of tomatoes frozen in no time. I primarily use my frozen tomatoes for soups, chili and the like. The skins are not noticeable.

8. If you use many jars of salsa and have the opportunity to can it (it isn't good frozen), by all means do it to save costs (good salsa can be expensive). I used to can salsa, but realized....we just don't eat that much and so right now, it isn't worth my time. I would rather store the onions, oil pack the peppers and freeze the tomatoes and sweet peppers for use in other recipes (all of these ingredients are in salsa, but storing this way requires less time than actually making and canning salsa). It makes more sense for me to spend a bit on the occasional jar of salsa than to spend time making and canning it. It is okay to let go of some things! Plus, it is possible to find wonderful locally made salsas and the entrepreneurs always need business. You can do this type of time/cost analysis for any item.

9. Give items away you don't need! Here is a prime example. I used to make a whole bunch of pesto because I had so much basil. However, I didn't use it all (I froze it) and then it went to waste. Talk about expensive waste (pesto contains nuts, cheese, olive oil – expensive ingredients)! Now, I freeze exactly what I think we will use and give the rest of the basil to friends. Believe me, they will appreciate it. Just because you grow it, doesn't mean you have to preserve it. Give it to the food pantry, neighbors and others if you won't use it.

10. My family can't have much sugar, so I don't make much jam. Again, tailor your food preservation to what you have, what you will use, what might save you money, and what your family enjoys. It is more important for my family to have the 40lbs of strawberries frozen, not made into jam. I'd rather support a local entrepreneur with my occasional purchase of jam than turn my berries into something my family can't eat much of.

11. Use your time in the kitchen efficiently. Maybe you have a CSA and not a garden and you have only a little produce here and there to freeze. Do it while you are making dinner. I mean, you are in the kitchen anyway, so make good use of your time. Many times I will only have 3-4 heads of broccoli or cauliflower to freeze. While my soup is simmering, I'll take to washing, blanching, and packaging it up. When dinner is cleaned up, I am all done! I might miss reading the newspaper article I would have read while the soup is simmering – but at least my kitchen work is done.

My neighbor tells me her sons preserve food, but not her grandchildren and this makes me sad. It is a good skill to know and can save a money family. I saw the other day that a small jar of pickled beets is $1.79. Not only do you not know anything about where the beets were grown, but I know I can preserve many more beets than that for $1.79. My weak spot of food preservation is dehydration and I would love to know if someone finds this a time saving technique.

Remember also to put your family to work! Even small children can wash apples and tomatoes. My girls and I had quite the chain of production this year from washing to chopping and bagging. I have sat my mother down on our nice porch and put her to work pitting cherries and peaches and other time consuming chores. The I "paid" her with a pint of cherries or a bag of strawberries.

Happy preserving! As for the next blog, I have a big trip coming up so I won't be writing for awhile. I won't give anything away, but this trip is sure to include a culinary adventure of a lifetime. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back.

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