October is plentiful! Pumpkins and apples abound, yet so do last-chance summer produce like strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuces.
The end of summer often comes with a wave of seasonal sentimentality, and a sense of urgency to make the most of the diminishing warm days. One last garden party. One last weekend by the water. One last night under the stars. But while summer's adventures may have to wait until next year, food is a different story. Just as generations have done before us, proactively preserving summer's bounty is an excellent way to not only avoid food waste, but to savor the season for just a little longer as well. Though saving food is usually coupled with methods like canning and dehydrating, freezing is another ideal tool for storing produce at its peak, along with housing clean, ready-made meals.
The key to successful freezer storage is all in the containment. While raw or cooked produce can be simply bagged or boxed in bulk, prepared recipes are best kept in separate, single-meal portions so they defrost more quickly. Sealable plastic or silicone bags can work for short-term storage of a few weeks, but reusable glass containers offer better long-term storage, can be stacked to take up less valuable freezer real estate, and are much better for the environment. Most importantly, frozen foods should always be stored in a compartment with a tight seal, else the food will be subject to freezer burn and flavor loss.
There is no mandate of what you can and cannot freeze, and you may be surprised at just how much food you can resurrect through the simple freezer method. Over-generous raspberry bush? Freeze the berries for smoothies. Last eggplants of the season? Make a casserole for a future busy night. Purchase too many on-sale tomatoes? Make a double batch of marinara, and freeze half for a fall or winter pasta dish that will sing with flavor. Fill your freezer full of edible treasures now, and reap the rewards for months to come.
Don't let the end of grilling season deter you from enjoying a great burger. Veggie patties, made from legumes like lentils, grains like rolled oats, grated vegetables of all varieties (try beets and zucchini), and a little bit of flaxseed or chia seed powder as a binder, can be stored uncooked in the freezer for several months, then thawed and pan-seared when ready to enjoy. Be sure to wrap patties individually in plastic to keep them from freezing to one another. Or freeze in a single layer on a pan, and then move them into a container together.
Making waffles? Double down on the quantity and freeze the extra waffles in a sealable bag. For a summery touch, freeze a bag of in-season berries or chopped fruit like peaches, as well. When ready to consume, warm the waffle in a toaster until it's re-crisped, and sauté the frozen fruit with a little bit of coconut oil and maple syrup. Enjoy healthy waffles with a delectable fruit compote on a whim.
Savor every last morsel of summer fruit by making a big batch of freezer jam. The benefits to this kind of jam are many: adaptable to any type of berry or stone fruit, this jam can be made without adding any refined sugar, and instead relying on cooked mashed fruit, apple juice and pectin. (To make, bring a half of a package of pectin and 1¾ cup juice to a boil for one minute, then pour into the fruit and stir constantly for one minute longer. Transfer to jars and freeze). Store it in small sealable containers, each of which will last up to 3 weeks once defrosted.
Soup is one of the best ways to take advantage of any kind of seasonal produce, from acorn squash to zucchini. It's almost effortless to double a batch of your favorite recipe, and freeze the remainder in 16- to 32-ounce jars for a meal that can be defrosted in the morning, then warmed for dinner in just minutes. Be sure to keep at least an inch of headspace in the container to allow for expansion in the freezer.
Homemade Energy Bars
Having quick snacks on hand is a must for anyone leading a busy lifestyle, and there's no better way to ensure your ingredients match your healthy goals than to make these snacks yourself. Homemade energy bars are not only quick to prepare, but when stored in the freezer, they can last for months. Use a food processor to combine favorite nuts and seeds, like fresh pecans and flax seeds, with dried fruits and superfoods, like goji berries and blueberries. Add in a few pitted dates to help ensure the mixture sticks together, form into bars, and freeze. The bars may be enjoyed straight from the freezer, but will be softer once held at room temperature for a few minutes.
For a simple make-ahead meal, fill a large, whole-grain tortilla (or wrap of choice) with cooked beans, rice or quinoa, sautéed vegetables (such as bell peppers, carrots, yellow onion and chopped kale) and top with some walnuts and hemp seeds. Wrap into a burrito, and store in a sealed container. Rewarm in an oven or toaster oven when ready to enjoy.
While garden herbs are still at their peak, take advantage of these flavor powerhouses by batch-blending together a variety of sauces and freezing them for future meals. Basil and tarragon make magnificent pesto’s when blended with olive oil, nuts and salt; parsley, cilantro and oregano can become an epic chimichurri with a little red wine vinegar, garlic, oil, and chili; mint can be infused with olive oil, vinegar, lemon and a little sweetener to become a versatile sauce; and minced sage can be cooked with coconut oil and shallots for a wonderful addition to hearty dishes. To save, simply pour your fresh sauce into ice cube trays, a tablespoon or two at a time, and freeze. Once frozen through, pop the cubes out and transfer into a sealable container to avoid freezer burn. This way, you can defrost only the quantity of sauce you need, and have the perfect herbaceous topping for pasta, grain dishes, and even winter squash.
Farmers market favorites can be enjoyed for months to come in the form of superfood smoothies, and you can make each blend much easier by filling individual containers with pre-portioned ingredients. To each container, try a cup of bite-size or chopped fresh fruit, such as blackberries, grapes or watermelon, and add 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped smoothie-friendly vegetables, such as spinach or kale. You can even add in a scoop of your favorite protein powder or superfood boost. When ready to make a smoothie, simply pour the container contents into a blender, and add almond milk or coconut water to blend.
A ready-made casserole is a wonderful thing to look forward to, and the act of freezing actually helps enhance flavors. In a casserole dish, layer cooked super-grains, such as sorghum and farro; sautéed, chopped vegetables, such as cauliflower, chard, onion and potatoes; and envelop with a creamy sauce made from blended cashews, water, garlic and sea salt. Wrap tightly and freeze, then bake when ready to serve. Of course, casseroles are one of the most flexible recipes in the world, so feel free to add in whatever herbs, vegetables, sauces or other ingredients you want to use up!
Granitas make an incredible light dessert and palate-cleanser at the end of a hearty meal. While sophisticated in flavor, they are simple to prepare, and are ideal to make with end-of-summer fruit. Try melons, grapes and strawberries. Blend the fruit with a little liquid sweetener of choice such as maple syrup, and add in a complementary herb like basil, plus some lemon zest to brighten everything. Transfer to a sealable container, and freeze. About once every 2 hours, scrape the mixture with a fork to create a snowy texture, until fully frozen. Granita will keep for several months.
Superfoods to Stock
Keep these nutrient-dense items on hand all the time to instantly bolster the nutrient content of your reheated or freezer-fresh meals.
• Goji berries
• Hemp seeds
• Chia seeds
• Ground sumac
• Quick-cooking grains like quinoa, teff and amaranth
• Omega-rich oil, such as hemp oil or walnut oil
This (adapted) article originally appeared in Mother Earth Living as “Fall Freezer Fills,” written by Julie Morris.