My son called me at work to tell me he had bought a hopelessly hilarious family movie at the junk store in town and that we were in for some serious fun that evening.
“It says it’s laugh-out-loud funny,” he told me. “It’s going to be great.”
We did have a great evening. After work we took our daily garden tour to see what was planted while I was away for the day and to pick some greens for the next day’s lunches. Then came the year-end Scout picnic in the pavilion at the senior center. And then, after putting all the animals to bed, the boy set up chairs around the computer to screen our hilarious family movie.
It was a cartoon about wild animals trying to forage for food in a suburb that sprang up during the winter, while they were hibernating. My son found it laugh-out-loud funny. My husband and I were moved by the sound track. But what really hit home was the way the animals woke up from hibernation, then immediately announced they had just 274 days to put by food for the next winter.
That’s sort of the way we operate. We’re enjoying the first fruits of our garden, weeding and transplanting, admiring our growing plants. And thinking about whether we’re growing enough food for winter.
Last week I defrosted and cleaned out the chest freezer, noting that all that was left from last season were five quarts of corn, three of beets, four of pumpkin and one of peaches.
Just like the animals, I thought, “This year I have to do better.”
The freezer wasn’t empty. Besides jugs of water I freeze to fill up space so that the freezer runs more efficiently, there were several quarts of chicken and fish stock, some butter and frozen juice, and some bags of flours and nuts, which keep longer in a freezer.
There also were a few scary surprises, including a couple of bags of frozen rhubarb I distinctly remember taking from my friend’s freezer when she moved to Ohio about six years ago. Those and a few other extremely old bags of food I fed to the chickens.
And while I was waiting for the freezer to defrost, I cleaned out the chicken coop, too. Then I hit the edges of the garden for our favorite edible weeds.
By the end of the day the freezer was clean, dry and turned back on, and about a quarter-filled with ice jugs. The good food from last year’s garden was in the top basket and I had two fresh bags of greens in there too, the extras from what I had picked for our dinner.
That’s barely a start, as any hibernator can tell you. And unlike the animals in my son’s movie, I don’t have 274 days. I only have about half that.
But it’s early, and if I get a little bit in most days — and then a lot when the produce is really flying in from the garden — I should have that freezer full by fall.
For us, gardening is about eating and feeding others good, real and healthful food, but it’s also about moving toward self-sufficiency. But you don’t have to be so extreme — saving a little of summer for the winter is good for anyone.
Even without a garden, you can eat a lot of fresh, local food all year if you have a freezer. If you buy food at farm stands or farmers’ markets, pick up a little extra for the freezer. Or go berry picking now, and freeze half your take for winter treats.
If you have a garden, you can slice and bag some produce, a little at a time whenever you have some excess, and stick it in the freezer for the taste of summer in the middle of the winter. If you have a share in a CSA farm, you know there are times when you have more of one thing than you can handle. Sure you can give it away — or you can save for later.
Some vegetables just need a quick blanching before being wrapped or bagged for the freezer. Or if you’re cooking up some fresh beans — or squash or peas or carrots — cook a second helping and stash one in the freezer for later.
Most fruits freeze easily and keep well. You can freeze berries on a cookie sheet, then, once they are individually frozen, seal them into a bag. You can cut up peaches or cherries and put them into a bag or container. Some people say add lemon juice or salt — I’ve had no problem just chopping and freezing. And a peach cobbler at Christmas? That’s nice.
I like to cook up summer squashes with herbs and greens, or onions and garlic, and bag them up that way. They freeze better after some of the moisture is cooked out, and those young herbs make everything taste like June, which is pretty great in January.
This time of year, I’m also scouting the woods and mountaintops for good berry picking. I’m happy to see the wild blueberries are setting well — last year the late spring frost killed all the blossoms and there were hardly any berries. And the few that were there, we left for the wild critters. This year it looks like there will be enough for everyone.
The wild strawberries are ripe now, and the blackberries are in flower. My son and I can only guess at how much we’ll be able to put in the freezer — it’s never enough. But pulling out a bag of berries in the dead of winter is both a vitamin and spirit booster.
Friday was the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. For me, these long days are glorious, with time for gardens and long walks and family hilarity, even while working. For my husband, the longest day of the year only means one thing — winter’s on its way.
I just hope the freezer is full by then.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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