by Nicole Wines
Now is the time here in Central NJ when we have an abundant amount of fall greens and veggies growing, but there may be a worrisome thought in the back of our heads; perhaps our gardens and local farmers may not be producing veggies in just a few weeks. Instead, many of us will be buying greens in the produce section at the closest grocery store, from the closest warm location possible, probably California or Mexico.
But, you can preserve the bounty now for use over the winter if you have a morning or afternoon to spare and a little bit of freezer space. Now is the time to harvest and/or purchase as many locally grown, chemical-free greens and preserve them for use over the winter. It’s super simple and you will be doing your part to help reduce the transportation costs on farmers and the environment that eating produce shipped from thousands of miles away has. Plus, if you’re buying to preserve at a local farmer’s market, you’ll be giving your local farmers a well deserved boost before their off season.
You can do this with kale, collards, chard, broccoli rabe, spinach, pac choi, mustards, broccoli, cauliflower and any type of cooking green you are growing or have in season in your region. If you’re reading this when greens are no longer in season, continue reading and then plan for next growing season!
HOW TO PRESERVE COOKING GREENS
Decide how many servings of cooking greens you will need over the course of the wintertime (or how many your freezer can realistically hold). I calculate one bunch of fresh greens for each serving of cooking greens. It looks like a lot, but it really cooks down once you process it for freezing.
- Choose which greens you want to preserve and decide whether you want to preserve them separately or as mixed greens. If you do them as mixed greens, you will save a lot of time.
- Make a lot of ice in advance if you are cooking a lot of greens, you’ll need them in the processing. Make sure to use filtered or fresh spring water, not straight chlorinated tap water.
- Gather your supplies. You will need: sealable or freezer bags or a vacuum sealer, a large bowl of cold water, a large pot with a few inches of filtered water (for boiling), a slotted spoon or spatula, plenty of ice, a strainer, a cutting board and a sharp knife and, of course, your homegrown or locally farmed greens.
- Chop and clean your greens to the size you want them. Clean well in cool, filtered water.
- Bring the water in the large pot to a boil and add ice to the bowl of cold water.
- Put all cooking greens in the pot if you are making a large mixed batch, or just your first batch if you are preserving each type of green separately.
- Stir the greens in the boiling water (or steam) for 2-2.5 minutes for most cooking greens or 3-3.5 minutes for collards, broccoli and cauliflower. This is called blanching. It stops the enzymes from continuing to break down the food so it doesn’t rot when you freeze it, and it locks in many nutrients, especially if you follow the next step to stop them from cooking. At the end of the blanching time, turn off your burner.
- Use the slotted spoon or spatula to strain a scoop of greens out of the water and drop them immediately in the bowl of ice water. Repeat as quickly as possible until all the greens are in the ice water. Add more ice as necessary to cool it more. Leave them in the ice water for the same amount of time they were cooked.
- Strain well, shake and squeeze water out lightly to avoid damaging the greens. They should be a bright, vivid color, not dark and dull.
- Pack into a sealable bag squeeze all air out (you can suck the last bit out with a straw, like a human vacuum sealer). The less air, the less chance for freezer burn. You can make a large bag filled with preserved greens and use a serrated knife to cut off as much as you need for cooking, or you can make individual serving size packs.
- Label your bags with the date you preserved them and where the greens came from, if you plan on making many batches of preserved greens throughout the season.
- Put them in the freezer and make sure to use them up in the wintertime for soups, stews, stir-fries, frittatas, and recipes that call for cooking greens.
I started with a full grocery bag of greens (chard, pac choi, spinach and broccoli) and it cooked down to about 7 servings of greens and 2 of broccoli for the wintertime. Take into consideration when you are preserving your greens that it may look like a lot, but it will really cook down when you blanch it.
Here are a few more photos from preserving greens this week.