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Broccoli bonanza

By Margaret Hartley
Thursday, October 3, 2013

It’s that time of year when certain vegetables are showing up with almost humorous abandon, in our own garden and other gardens we know.

The winter squash are migrating into the house in boxes, baskets and burlap bags. There’s a crate of Roma tomatoes in the back of the station wagon. I’m leaving the late planting of kale in the garden for now, because it’s still young and growing and won’t mind a frost. But I have to pick the broccoli at least once a week or it turns to flowers.

The day I picked almost a half-bushel — side shoots, mostly — my husband brought home a bushel of broccoli heads from somewhere in Schoharie County. So I spent several hours processing broccoli for the freezer over the weekend.

I did it two ways: cut up plain and as mixed vegetables.

For the mixed vegetables, I took a big stock pot (eight quarts) and started with a splash of olive oil and four onions, thinly sliced. (Our onions are midsized, and my family likes onions. You could do more, less or none at all.)

While the onions were sautéing, I sliced carrots, because we have carrots in abundance too. Big, sweet carrots, some with interesting shapes where we didn’t thin them well enough. The bunny ate the greens.

While the carrots were cooking with the onions, I cut up a red pepper, one so big and thick-fleshed it yielded two cups.

That’s when my system broke down. The onions and carrots were already half cooked and I hadn’t chopped the broccoli yet. I took the pot off the stove so I wouldn’t have to rush.

I chopped up four big heads of broccoli. Where the stem sections were too thick or woody, I sliced them and put them into a bucket, with the pepper pith and seeds, to feed the chickens. (And yes, there I was slicing and dicing veggies for the chickens. But the rabbit can’t eat everything, and if the stalks are too thick, the chickens will just throw them around the coop instead of eating them.) The thinner stems and branches I cut up and tossed into the bowl with the florets.

I was ready to turn the heat back on, medium low. I added a half-cup of water, then the broccoli and dumped the peppers on top. Then I put on the lid, taking it off to stir every five minutes. It took about 15 minutes to steam the broccoli so that it was bright green and just a little soft.

Then I dumped the whole pot into my biggest bread-making bowl and measured it out into quart freezer bags, labeled and dated. My potful yielded five quarts.

I would like to find an alternative to plastic bags, but I haven’t yet and the bags are very easy to deal with. Once I put four cups of veggies in, I shake the bag so the veggies are in the lower half, fold it over and press out all the excess air, and seal the bag. I pop it in the refrigerator freezer temporarily until I have a pause in the kitchen work, then I move the bags to the chest freezer in the basement.

I made a second batch, timing things better by chopping more before I started the pot.

The plain broccoli was even easier. I chopped broccoli, stems and florets, four heads at a time.

Then I steamed them in the same big pot, with a cup of water in the bottom. I stirred every 5 minutes, and had to add another cup of water.

Then I packed it in quart bags, the same way as before. One potful yielded four quart bags.

By the time I was tired of the project for the day, I had 10 quarts of mixed vegetables and 8 quarts of broccoli — and still had about 10 huge heads of broccoli, plus my own half bushel of side shoots.

I gave two heads to my neighbor. We ate a lot of our own broccoli with dinner, and I had a steamed broccoli salad for lunch the next day.

And the next day, I made a huge pot of cream of broccoli soup, and put about half of it in the freezer.

Good thing we all love broccoli.

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