Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Dealing with August's overabundance

At the start of April my garden looked like this -
This is not normal for Yorkshire. Not normal AT ALL. There had been a brief warm spell in March that got my hopes up but then cold, wet, horrid weather stopped anything growing for months. By the end of April I'd done all the prep work for my vegetable garden but nothing had started growing. My seeds remained resolutely unsprouty. It started to look like it was going to be another duff year for growing food.
I should have had more faith.  Once the ground warmed up everything took off like a rocket. This is what my garden looks like today:
That is different washing on the line, by the way. In case you were thinking I left stuff out for 4 months at a time. I may be slack, but I'm not quite that slack. 

The veg have all gone a little mental. I have so many green beans eating them was starting to feel like homework. The Italian kale has more leaves than we - and the caterpillars - can possible eat. The lettuce are becoming small shrubs, the nasturtiums are threatening to cover the lawn and the courgette and squash plants have colonised two paths and are making a bid for the strawberry patch. It's ace but it's also a bit too much.

I am a big fan of seasonality up to the point that the glut of produce is making me feel guilty. I don't want to waste any of the lovely fresh veg but I also don't want to force feed the family on greens to the point of a revolt.  So I thought about preparing and freezing some of the harvest.

I started with French beans. To keep them in the best possible condition for future use I needed to freeze them. However, the enzymes in veg that cause rot and decay remain active when frozen unless they've been killed off by blanching the vegetables, so you can't just wash them and bung them in freezer bags. Blanching means briefly boiling them then plunging then into ice cold water to stop the residual heat from cooking the veg further. It's as easy as that.

I had no ice as I'd used it all making iced coffee last week, so I stuck a huge bowl of water in my chest freezer while I went to pick the beans.

Then I took a colander out with me and picked as many as I could fit in it. I threw the manky and dried-out -looking beans to the chickens to fight over and kept all the nice ones. I washed them thoroughly in a sink of salty water to remove any small beasties as well as traces of dirt and leaves.
We like our beans pretty long, so after I'd trimmed the ends I just cut the most oversized ones in half and left the rest. If you prefer your beans cut into short pieces, now's the time.
I brought a massive stock pot of water to the boil, tipped the beans in and put the lid on. They were there for 3 minutes. A side benefit of blanching is that it makes the colours all lovely and intense. That's why the beans in photos below have a much deeper green than the ones above.

Then I drained them and plopped them in that big bowl of water I'd had sitting in the freezer. The rule of thumb is to leave them in the cold water for as long as you've had them in the hot.
I dried them on a clean tea towel and spread them on a tray to freeze. 
After an hour, I tipped the partly frozen beans into a ziplock bag. I couldn't resist weighing my beans - look, nearly a kilo! 

To prevent freezer burn it's best to get as much air out as you can, so I sealed the bag up except for enough space for a straw, and I sucked out all the air I could. Then I sealed that last corner quickly and popped the bag back in the freezer. 
 Ta da! Lots of lovely green beans ready for us whenever we fancy. The time between picking them and freezing them was about 20 minutes, so they keep all the lovely fresh vitamins and sweetness. And no kids throwing strops about having French beans for the third night in a row. Well, not until next week, when the next lot of beans are ready for picking.

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