using the freezer to be more self sufficient

Every now and then I read about someone trying to live a self-sufficient life and for a fleeting moment, I wonder if we could ever try to do the same. The truth is that I have neither the dedication, willpower nor great desire to do it. Anyway, we can’t grow citrus fruits, tea or coffee and as I don’t wish to be tied to milking a cow every day, we will always have to buy our dairy produce. But, for a few weeks in summer, when we are self-sufficient in meat, fruit, vegetables and wheat it is wonderful to sit down to the table knowing that we have grown, reared or caught most of the food in front of us.

bottled raspberries with raspberry gin

Last year I made a determined effort to preserve our fruits and vegetables, which together with autumn and winter grown fruit and vegetables would make us a little more self-sufficient through the winter. I didn’t make vast quantities of jam because we still had plenty sitting on the shelves and I didn’t bottle very much because I’m never sure that I’ve done it properly. But I did freeze an enormous amount.

In the past, I haven’t been efficient at freezing, partly because I have a large chest freezer, the depths of which remain unknown territory to someone with short legs and arms like me. I was also bad at labelling. Convinced that I would remember that the stock was all in old milk cartons, two months later I removed frozen lumps of pale liquid unable to distinguish between stock, elderflower syrup or apple puree. Even when I did label, too often the writing couldn’t be read because of the folds of the plastic bag or a label transferred to something else. I used to divide the frozen bags and containers into plastic bin liners or carrier bags but inevitably a little liquid seeped out of something, the bag stuck to the freezer and split when I tried to pull it out.

So last year I organised things properly. I knew what was in the freezer and where to find it because I followed this plan:

Label everything

Obvious I know. Use a chinagraph pencil or permanent marker to write on plastic bags and containers. Sometimes it’s easier to put small packs into a larger bag, slip in a piece of paper with the details written on and seal the outer bag.

Keep similar things together

freezer storage bags

For a chest freezer, pack your frozen food into re-usable fabric shopping bags or make your own fabric bags. I have a selection of cotton bags in different colours (thanks Mum) so I know that all the tomatoes are in the light blue bag and stock is in the green bag. When the bag is emptied it can be washed and re-used. In an upright freezer, write on the drawers.

Make a list

List your freezer contents and keep it by the freezer so you can easily record when you add or remove something. Use a whiteboard or blackboard, book or clipboard. I keep a list of what’s in each bag but you might find it easier or more logical to keep an alphabetical list or divide it into categories.

Think before you freeze

oven dried tomatoes

Freeze only fruit and vegetables that you want to eat in winter. Make and freeze compotes, crumbles and pies that can be taken out and used as they are, rather than a big bag of fruit that needs making into something. It takes a little extra effort but I always make one to eat at the same time as making a batch for the freezer. I don’t like frozen strawberries so I don’t freeze them.

Because I know what’s in my freezer it’s made it much easier to use the fruit and vegetables. In the past I’ve sometimes just transferred the glut from summer to spring by picking and freezing the summer crops but not eating them until the month before the new crop needs picking. This winter we’ve worked our way methodically through the freezer: I haven’t bought any tinned tomatoes but have used oven dried tomatoes, passata and tomato & onion sauce from the freezer; frozen green beans from the garden have replaced bought frozen peas as my “veg in a hurry” and we’ve had a good selection of fruit compotes to eat.

Of course the whole plan nearly went catastrophically awry when our electricity supply went out for a few days, but luckily we overcame the problem and it made me determined to try more bottling this year.

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