Picture yourself four months from now. It’s December. Christmas is over, and now you have a long winter to face. A lot of your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer available at the supermarket, and you won’t be seeing them until at least spring. The fresh berries, peaches, and plums are nowhere to be found, and all you can find are apples and bananas. Fresh herbs are likewise missing, or at least pale-looking and very expensive. The selection of vegetables is pathetically small, and your favorites are not there. Will you miss them?
Although there’s no way to buy most of these now and keep them fresh until December, there are a number of ways you can have them then in another form. If you’ll be using them in sauces or cooked dishes, for example, you can go ahead and prepare those now and just freeze them. Go ahead and make your favorite raw or cooked sauces, soups, casseroles, and fruit desserts and freeze them to stay fresh. Love fresh plums? Buy two bags. Eat one bag now fresh and use the other to make chia plum jam, plum cobbler, or some other treat that you can freeze for later. To ensure that your frozen food stays fresh, use a straw as shown in the video to get all the air out of the freezer bag before storing in the freezer or use a vacuum sealer to remove as much air as possible.
To preserve your herbs, snip them up and put them in the bottom of an ice cube tray, then cover with olive oil and freeze. Store the frozen cubes in a Ziploc freezer bag. When you want that hint of chive or basil in a dish later, you can just thaw one of your cubes and toss it into the mixing bowl or pan. If you have fresh basil, you can go ahead and make it into pesto and freeze cubes of it for use in raw spiralized zucchini noodles or cooked spaghetti or spaghetti squash. Fresh tomatoes can likewise be crushed and frozen in cubes for later use in recipes.
You can also freeze fruits that have pits in them, such as cherries, peaches, plums, and apricots. Wash them off and dry them, remove the pits, and cut them into halves or smaller, then just arrange them on a cookie sheet so that they aren’t touching each other, and freeze. Once frozen, they can be put into a freezer bag or other freezer-safe container until you need them. When you thaw them out, you can use them as a fruit topping on raw cake or cheesecake, blend them into a smoothie, or bake with them.
Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. Just dip them briefly into boiling water for about a minute to stop the enzyme activity. Although they will not be cooked, they will technically no longer be raw either, but if you froze them without blanching they would just lose flavor, color, and freshness in the freezer, and by the time you wanted to use them they would not be worth preparing. You’ll still be getting nearly all the benefits of eating them, because most of the nutritional value will still be intact, just not the enzymes.
Some things can’t be frozen. Slices of watermelon, for example, can only be eaten fresh. You can pickle the rind, though, if you want to, and pickled/fermented foods are really beneficial to your health because they’re probiotic. Or you can turn your watermelon into watermelon sorbet and keep it frozen that way until winter.
With a dehydrator, you can also dehydrate fruits and vegetables for use in dishes later on. If you don’t have a dehydrator and aren’t fussy about whether your dried produce is really raw or not, you can dehydrate them in your oven. Just cut them up and arrange them on a cookie sheet—or even better, a metal pan with perforations in it to promote faster drying, then set the oven on the lowest setting and let them dry out. If you happen to have a convection oven, the drying will go faster and more evenly. The drying process will take several hours, so don’t start it late in the day because it isn’t a good idea to keep your oven on all night while you’re asleep.
What can you do with dried vegetables? Lots of things. Dried chives mixed into cream cheese makes a great dip for pretzels and crackers. Dried cut-up onions, carrots, and celery can be sauteed lightly and then used as a base for soup. You can also make vegetable chips by slicing vegetables and dehydrating them until nice and crisp, then letting them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container. Spray your favorite vegetables with olive oil before drying them and season with a little sea salt afterward, and they become a crunchy snack that’s a lot less expensive than the ones at the store, which also happen to be made with less healthful oils.
You can puree fruit and dry it into fruit leathers in your dehydrator or oven, or you can just dry chunks of fruit to munch on out of hand. Dried fruit is also great for recipes: dried blueberries for blueberry pancakes or blueberry muffins, dried cherries for cherry cookies, and dried sliced bananas are great all by themselves or sprinkled on cereal.
You can make raw or cooked relishes from a variety of different fruits or vegetables. Look for raw zucchini relish recipes, for example, or fresh cranberry-apple relish recipes. Enjoy part of each batch now and freeze the rest for later as long as they’re “freezable” recipes. When you get snowed in, you’ll have some of your favorite summer treats to snack on while everyone else is clearing the snow off their cars and trudging through the slush.
Summer’s bounty is at its peak right now. Take advantage of it to put away some of your favorite fruits and vegetables for later, and you’ll be glad you did when winter comes.