It isn't easy being green - especially when you're urban and love Thai take out. But I'm sure gonna try.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

For Your Consideration: Preserve Peppers

I love red peppers. I could eat them fresh or cooked every day. But peppers are part of the dirty dozen - the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide levels according to the Environmental Working Group; so I only buy organic or from farmers I know.

Once the farmer's markets end, I'm in trouble. Grocery store organic peppers are expensive, and they are imported from all over the world raising energy consumption and purity issues (depending on the country of origin). A small organic pepper from Holland may cost $6.00 and is a painful purchase.

Last year I decided to see if I could stretch my farmer's market purchases. I bought all my favorite vegetables in bulk: Green beans, broccoli, spinach, peppers, zucchini and even pumpkin. I knew that I wasn't interested in the canning process, which felt both cumbersome and labor intensive. Instead I experimented with blanching and freezing. I had mixed results.

Broccoli: My frozen broccoli was disgusting. I didn't blanch it first, so I just chopped and froze it. After a month, the broccoli smelled and tasted horrible in addition to being smooshy.

Green Beans:
I blanched and froze green and yellow beans. These tasted fine, but the consistency was too soft for us. Ultimately I chopped the frozen beans and added them to other foods. It wasn't really worth the effort, though.

Spinach: Spinach is a little labor intensive because you need to thoroughly wash off all the sand before you do anything. Also, a lot goes a little way. Still, this was one of my more successful attempts. After blanching the leaves, I scooped them onto a cookie sheet using a measuring cup and froze the mounds. The spinach tasted great and was easy to prepare.

Zucchini: We love zucchini bread in our home! Are you surprised? I try to bake a batch every other week so the girls can take it to school for snack. It's hard to track down organic zucchini in the winter, but naturally grown zucchini is now in abundance at the farmer's market. I buy about ten and shred them all in the food processor. I scoop the shreds into measuring cups and freeze these mounds on a cookie sheets. Then I store the mounds, and they are premeasured for baking.

Pumpkin is probably the most labor intensive of all, but we love baked pumpkin products, and it's almost impossible to find bpa-free cans. I bought sugar pumpkins, which are used for baking, but I needed my husband's help to cut them in half. I scooped out the seeds, roasted the halves, scraped out the edible center, pureed the flesh with a little water, and froze it in measured cups. My favorite farmer has assured me that I can replace pumpkin with certain winter squashes for baking. I may give it a shot because much labor yielded small results.

Peppers: Of all the vegetables, these are hands down the easiest to preserve. Just rinse, slice, freeze on cookie sheets and then move to freezer bags. Frozen peppers don't quite crisp up in a stir-fry or saute, but we used them in all sorts of foods and we thoroughly enjoyed them.

Buying in bulk at the farmer's market in season turned out to be a great way to save money on organic grocery produce. I don't love using all those freezer bags, but they are the most space efficient, and I wash and reuse them until they crack. I've also found myself freezing fresh domestic organic strawberries and peaches, both of which are on the dirty dozen and become virtually impossible to find come November.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Happy shopping, chopping, and freezing!