Last Friday, May 1st, I decided to venture out to Costco to pick up a few items (like a large box of Cheez-It’s) that I felt I needed. I was pleased to find that they had opened up a walk-in cooler and filled it with bags of fresh produce. It was all very fresh in appearance, so I came home with a nice quantity of yellow squash, zucchini, green beans, and broccoli. The prices were very reasonable and since I only eat fresh vegetables I knew that having a freezer full of veggies would lessen the number of trips to the grocery store.
The broccoli just needed to be rinsed before it went in the pot. The squash just needed to be washed and chopped while the green beans needed a little more snapping to my liking. It took a full afternoon of boiling pots of water, preparing a big bowl of ice water repeatedly, draining, and filling zipper bags. Then, of course, the problem of arranging them in my microscopically small freezer already filled with meat and important things like frozen macaroni and cheese!
It was well worth the time and I have enough vegetables to take me through several weeks; a nice convenience when preparing meals. Yes, I will still have to go to the grocery store for things like tomatoes and lettuce, but having the frozen vegetables will reduce my shopping time in the store. No more leisurely shopping trips for me until this “rona-thing” subsides.
Throughout the process I thought about my maternal grandmother who exposed me to the art of blanching and freezing vegetables. As a small child I spent several summers with her and she taught me useful skills such as making a bed, dry mopping a floor, washing dishes in the sink, and hanging wash on a clothesline. She also taught me about gardening and preparing vegetables for the freezer.
Most mornings after my grandfather left for work we would wash the dishes, clean the kitchen, and prepare a large pitcher of tea that would cool on the table during the morning, sweet tea. The beds were quickly made and any other household chores done. There was no leisurely time in the mornings because it was prudent to get out in the garden as early as possible to avoid the Mississippi heat that would quickly descend as the day progressed.
We each took a large basket over our arm and would set to work picking the ripe produce. At seven years old I knew what was ready to pick and what wasn’t. I was also adept at picking ripe cherry tomatoes and popping them into my mouth before my grandmother saw me. I was scolded so many times about eating unwashed produce (heaven knows what pesticide she used in that garden), but it didn’t stop me. Those warm tomatoes coming from the vine into my mouth burst with flavor and I had to have them!
Back inside she started prepping vegetables before starting our noon meal, sometimes getting some of the smaller quantities of vegetables tucked in the freezer. After the lunch dishes were washed and she rested for a while we would venture outside to find a spot with a good breeze and lots of shade. Sometimes under a tree or under the carport, we would spread newspapers over our laps and busy our hands snapping beans and shelling peas and butter beans. My small hands worked quickly to keep up with hers!
As a young married woman with small children we lived in several houses that had ideal places for gardens. It was then that I learned the art of blanching vegetables. I had the gardening thing down fairly well and with a consultation in my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook I was filling our freezer. I miss not having garden space today, but the trade off are the 5 mature native oak trees that shade my yard from the brutal South Texas summer sun.
I put the final packages of broccoli in the freezer and began cleaning up. I realized that I really was a city girl now, buying vegetables in plastic (steamable, no less) bags. I had only done a small part of the process of freezing the veggies for future use. My grandmother planted the garden and cared for it. She picked the produce, prepared it for blanching, and then put the plastic boxes in her deep freeze. She also saved the seeds at the end of the season for planting the following spring. I only did the final step.
My grandmother was very frugal with her vegetables and let none of them go to waste. She wanted to make sure that she and my grandfather, and any visitors, had plenty to eat during the long winter months. She shared with others and always sent us home with brown bags of fresh produce in our trunk. For the last nine years of her life she lived in a nursing home. The deep freeze was left running during those years and when the time came to empty her house the deep freeze was discovered to still be full of plastic boxes of vegetables. I’m sure if she was still alive today that she would still be planting, harvesting, and blanching so there would be plenty to eat on her table.