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Freezing Vegetables: an Experiment

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Recently here at Curiously Creatively, there has been some new activity on the kitchen front, specifically, vegetable freezing. Now, before you get your hopes up that we had a bumper harvest of all kinds of wonderful green stuff, I have to admit that I am talking about purchased vegetables. As I mentioned in a previous garden post, this has not been as productive a year as we were intending. Therefore, dear reader, I am going to discuss using a supermarket’s (it shall be nameless, however) ‘reduced to clear’ vegetables or even any two for one offers available. I probably should have thought of this before, but I have realised that when supermarkets mark down large quantities of vegetables still in decent condition, then there is a brilliant opportunity to have a go at home freezing. Obviously the key thing here is that the food should be still in good condition (sometimes items are marked down simply as a way of clearing excess stock).

Home freezing is not a culinary activity, at which I am either very skilled or experienced but it seems silly not to have a go. It can be handy to have a decent supply of vegetables in the freezer to add interest or bulk to a dish. You could also easily throw together a soup or a casserole by utilizing what is in store in the freezer, together with tinned pulses from your store cupboard. That is always assuming that you are organised enough to remember what food you have frozen. Am I the only person that sometimes unearths long-forgotten containers from the back of the freezer? Sometimes unlabelled, unrecognisable items at that.

So what vegetables did I try freezing? As I had a glut of parsnips and carrots for the very good reason mentioned above, that seemed to be a good place to begin. I bought a new double handle, heavy based stockpot earlier in the year, which seemed ideal for the purposes of blanching vegetables. It is important to immerse your chopped vegetables into boiling water, not put them into water and then bring to the boil. I found a couple of useful websites with hints and tips for freezing, as I don’t have a general cookery manual (I think something like Delia Smith’s complete cookery course would be useful). The ever-reliable Good Housekeeping website has a good, succinct description of how to freeze vegetables, which I found useful.

I was not as organised during the freezing process as I should have been, in that I failed to get a supply of ice cubes ready to chill the vegetables after blanching. I have also discovered that I have an un-willingness to leave the vegetables boiling in the plan for only the required three minutes. The result is that my veg is more par-boiled than blanched, which I don’t really mind. It will cut down on cooking time anyway. I did forget to follow one tremendously useful tip, which is to spread out the cooled vegetables on a tray to enable you to freeze them without sticking together. You then bag them afterwards, for perfectly free-flowing vegetables. Sadly, I think mine will be somewhat clumped together as I packaged them straight away. You live and learn as they say! The pictures here show my finished results, including some of our miniature strawberries which we just pop into the freezer without any preparation.

Advice about what you can and cannot freeze can tend to be contradictory. For instance, on scouring the internet I have found a difference of opinion on the feasibility of freezing onions and any variety of pepper. Similarly, opinion varies about freezing chives (which I have recently done when I divided some plants). These caveats seem to be because of flavour loss rather than any more serious issues. I suppose really, it is up to you to experiment and to discover what works and what does not. Anyway, I will continue with my freezing experiments, who knows, next year I may even have my own home grown vegetables to freeze…

Let me know if you have done any home freezing!

Picture Credits: Curiously Creatively

 

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Autumn Garden Round-up

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As September draws on, I thought that I would have a quick look back at some of our gardening projects, and see what worked and what didn’t. We have been trying to keep up recording our experiences in the garden diary, but that has been a rather patchy affair. I’ve just had a peek and discovered that the last entry was in July (thankfully it was at least July 2014 so it’s not as bad as it might have been). I felt compelled to scribble a brief note for yesterday’s date so honour was reasonably satisfied.

Now for the 2014 season garden round up chez nous:

Firstly, I will get the ‘non shows’ out of the way. We bought an aubergine and a pepper plant from Homebase and potted them up for the front garden. I know that this is crazily optimistic without a heated green house, but we have had some modest success in the past. Sadly, not this year; we didn’t grow even the tiniest pepper or aubergine. Well, a couple did begin to develop but fell prey to some strange munching creature. The same creature munched many of the Livingstone Daisies and the cowslip seeds failed to germinate. Overall however, this year was much better than last year, as early in the season a rogue wind blew over the mini greenhouse, scattering and damaging the contents of several seed trays.

potatoes, carrots and mange tout

Garden Spoils

Without doubt, our best success this summer has been our two pots of runner bean plants from which we have picked several portions. Last year we did well with broad beans, so there’s a compelling argument for going almost completely over to bean production. I wouldn’t say that we have produced a gargantuan crop, but we have had plenty of beans to add to our cooking. The red flowering plants are also an attractive feature in the spring. They do need some firm tying up however and you have to watch the pots in windy weather when they get top heavy. We also sowed mange tout later in the season after reading an article in (I think) the Irish Times gardening pages. We only made up one pot but have been picking pea pods until today and still should have more to come.

Our potato variety this year as I have mentioned before was Blue Danube, bought from a very nice garden centre in Blessington. The resulting potatoes look more purple skinned than blue, but very appealing; the flesh inside is very white. In the last couple of years, we have planted potatoes in bags rather than in the border. We had three bags made up and have one left to harvest. I never feel that we do as well as we could with potatoes, but despite this, I like to grow them. We have had a go at some different varieties and we enjoy trying something new each year. Maybe next year we will manage to harvest a bumper crop.

colander of vegetables

Ready for Dinner

In troughs and pots, we have grown spinach, baby carrots and leeks. We’ve been using carrots thinnings and picking spinach leaves during the summer. The leeks are still too small to pick. We grew them in a trough, aiming for a baby leek crop but there is still a way to go yet. A couple of years ago we decided to move from standard tomatoes to the cherry varieties, and this has worked well. We had two baskets of tumbler tomatoes hung on the frame of the swing and most of them have ripened. Thankfully, I won’t need my green tomato chutney recipe this year. I did find this year that it was harder to keep the baskets moist, so I think I need to improve the linings for next year. I have previously mentioned the strawberry plants that we have had for several years. We are finally going to bite the bullet and dig up and divide them ready for next year as it’s about time that job was done. Some of the plants are looking quite tired and I can see offshoots that will pot up nicely. One of the many jobs that needs to be done before the winter!

I think that covers most of the vegetables and I hope to talk a little about our herb growing experiments another time. We’ll let you know what we‘re planning to grow in the garden next year as soon as we’ve made some plans.

How has your garden grown this year? Do tell us…

 

Strawberries in the Garden

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I’m in garden diary mode again this week for my latest contribution to Curiously, Creatively and I thought I would give an overview of what we’ve been up to in the garden this season. We have had our share (possibly more than our fair share) of slug related horticultural disasters but we are also shaping up for some successes too. The one thing that we can’t stop growing is the weeds, but then I suppose everyone has that problem. We decided not to use weed killer so it’s a labour intensive activity to keep everything under some semblance of control.

Now, you wouldn’t have noticed me slipping out for a while, but I popped out to run the mower over the grass at the front and back of the house (just in case the fine weather breaks tomorrow). Consequently I am feeling very pleased with myself and have a pleasant glow of virtuousness. It won’t last long however because I’m already spotting the bits I have missed in my sprint over the lawn. For the moment, I will refuse to dwell on my mowing technique or the lack thereof, and concentrate on the positive. One very positive thing is that the weather this evening is still warm enough to enable typing al fresco, which feels very continental indeed.

Plate of Strawberry tarts

Tea time treat…

I have just been doing a round of watering and I have picked a few more of our mini strawberries. We have a variety called ‘Sweetheart’ and strictly speaking the plants belong to my blogging partner. The seeds came in a child’s gardening kit a few years ago and we now have eight or nine plants. I think some of them have reached the stage of needing dividing now, so I need to research the best time to do this. I’m guessing early spring might be best. A strawberry plant has established itself in our bulb and wildflower patch without so much as a by your leave, but we’ve decided to leave it there as it fits in rather well.

Over the years, the main problem we have found with this type of strawberry is that the plants with their tiny fruits look very decorative, but once picked, they don’t go very far. Last year we came up with a way of solving the problem, which is really just common sense. We freeze the berries as we pick them, which is usually a small handful most days during the summer. When we have accumulated a tub full then we can make a trifle or a pudding of some sort. Most recently, we made some small strawberry starts decorated with pastry custard. I just baked some small tart cases blind and then topped them with strawberry compote, and we piped thick custard on the top when the tarts were cool. Not exactly Cordon Bleu standard, but very tasty nevertheless.

Apart from the strawberries, this week I’ve picked four of the ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes and we should have more ripening soon. After years of only having green fruit from standard varieties, we started only to grow the cherry varieties that we have more chance of ripening in an Irish summer without a green house. There are potatoes growing in bags, the ‘Blue Danube’ variety bought from a garden centre in Blessington. It’s a new sort for us so I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out. The flowers are lovely shade of lilac blue (picture to follow) and look very pretty next to the blue lobelia that grows over the side of the bay tree’s pot.

I haven’t got as far in my garden round up as I meant to do, so I’ll fill you in on our other growing projects next time. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear what you’re growing this year.

Any hints or tips for varieties to grow would be great too!

 

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