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How relaxing it is to sitting here, watching the snow falling gently to the ground, dreaming of next summer, all the beautiful flowers and great tasting vegetables I am going to grow.

Let’s get real for a minute. Gardening is a great pastime, healthy exercise and it does have it’s material rewards, but it is work to grow, use and store all those vegetables. Then, why do so many vegetables wind up in the compost pile when spring arrives?

Last Wednesday, after an e-mail from a frustrated young couple, who were watching their hard work rot away, it became clear how overwhelming it can be to face so many vegetables at once and not know what to do.

You may have stored them in a cold cellar or room, under straw, sawdust, peat moss or sand, but wherever they are stored they will not keep forever. Some vegetables get soft, other sprout, while a few just shrivel up and disappear, many  times  vegetables have to go through two storage processes before reaching the table.

Over the years, I have set aside the first week of February as the time to check out what remains from last fall, and take whatever is still in good condition and start processing it before it’s to late.

Most carrots should just be beginning to grow little hairs, they are still crisp and fairly sweet. Prepare them the same as you would when cooking them for a meal, but don’t cut them, this takes a lot of time for nothing. Fill a large pot, cover with water and cook till slightly tender.

Once drained and cool, you can chop away.  In fact chopping up all those cooked carrots will take you only a couple of minutes compared to doing it when they are raw.

Take 2 lb. freezer bags, fill them with your chopped carrots and lay them flat and freeze. Repeat the entire process until all your winter carrots are used up. You’ll have plenty of carrots for stews, soups or pot pies until next year’s harvest is ready.

By doing this slowly, say one pot full a day, you will never feel, anyone can squeeze this amount into their schedule and in no time the carrots will be neatly tucked in your freezer.

You can do the same with potatoes, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips and parsnips. Again after they are boiled, chop them for soups and stews or you can boil them, mash them and freeze them like that. Mashed potatoes can be used for quick hash browns, potato pancakes or added to soups.

Are you overwhelmed by the size of some of those winter squash? Most people saw them in half, scoop out the seeds and bake, but with this technique you only have enough room in the oven for one half at a time, each half will have to be cooked separately.

Being a hubbard squash fanatic, I usually store quite a few of these giants, but I’d never think of wasting the time and energy, not to mention the danger of sawing through one of these thick skinned cucurbita maxima’s. Instead I find a shallow pan, set the entire squash inside and bake slowly 250 F. until tender, rotating every hour.

Once cooked and cooled, slice open, remove seeds and fibrous tissue, scoop out the pulp and freeze. No, leaving the seeds inside during the cooking does not change the flavor or hurt the squash in any way.
The naturally sweet, dry hubbard pulp does not only make the greatest pumpkin pies, but it’s wonderful as a mashed vegetable, in pancakes, muffins, cookies and especially tasty when added to tomato sauce. I can’t think of a better way to add vitamins and minerals to a fussy person’s diet.

Onions can also start going bad at this time of the year, and if you have a large supply you might like to know that they freeze nicely. 
What I like to do is to finely mince some for things like tuna or salmon salad and freeze in 2 oz. bags. I chop quite a lot for soups, stews and other dishes and freeze these in 1 lb. bags.  For sliced onion, place thin slices on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, once frozen, bag them. They go great on pizza or any dish calling for sliced onion.

You can call me a bit extreme, but my extra garlic goes into the freezer with everything else. Skin, wash and bag, that’s all you have to do and you will never be stuck with sprouting, useless garlic cloves.

As the freezer goes down this is also a great time to fill it back up with prepared meals.   Most people do more cooking in the winter than they do in the summer, and often as soon as summer rolls around it is easy to become a fast food junky.

Many foods like soups, stews, meat pies, pot pies, casseroles, baked beans and many desserts are considered winter food, they not only warm up the tummy when we eat them, but they heat up the house while they cook. It’s not that we don’t like these things in the summer, we just want them conveniently out of a can or freezer.

This is the time of the year that I also begin freezing meals for summer. My little family eat loads of dried beans, so I cook them in 3 gallon pots and freeze them in small plastic containers. Cooked white beans can be transformed into baked beans, mashed, mixed with red and green pepper, onions, garlic and spices for refried beans, or added to soups and salads for extra nutrition. You can even conveniently add them to your favorite canned or instant soup.

There is another advantage to preparing next summer’s food ahead of time, your freezer will not wind up empty during the hottest months of the year.  As your meals come out one by one, next year’s harvest starts going in. It’s a constant rotation, a great way of using all that we have. Organic gardening IS a way of life, one lives the best they can while making as little impact as possible on the environment . That means reducing waste in everyway.