In Search Of A Fool Proof Deep Freeze

19 cubic feet of frozen trouble. My husband just informed me that our voluminous new 19CF, SFA-approved freezer must be empty, defrosted and ready to receive our second round of free-range, organic broilers by a yet-to-be-determined chicken processing date, July, 2012. Nine months...Help! We’ve never owned a separate freezer before and I find myself at the mercy of a ticking clock that will time out 9 months from now, just as this year’s season of harvesting finally winds down and my hunter-gatherer genes settle in for the winter. 

You see, our freezer is a key investment in this year’s maiden run at chicken farming. We set out to raise and freeze enough very large broilers to eat chicken all year long. Good clean protein and superior tastiness. That was our goal.

On the one hand, my husband is very organized. A crack Internet researcher -- he reads EVERYTHING, makes his plan, purchases materials, and hires services outside our joint range of skills. So it was with raising chickens. Besides fodder for several other stories, the plan included the purchase of one very carefully selected freezer. 

On the other hand, I’m a packrat. The designated hoarder in our household, I hate to waste. I save and reuse yogurt containers and shopping bags. I garden and forage, shop at the Lanesboro Farmer’s Market and Utica’s Amish Auction to load up on vegetables in peak supply to freeze or cook or share and fully believe in eating leftovers.

Freezing is the ideal way to put up fruits and vegetables. Black walnuts in the shell may be easy keepers, but the lion’s share of my Nanking cherries must necessarily be enjoyed fresh from a freezer. Same with wild blackcaps and gooseberries, which were a bumper crop this year. I have seven large yogurt containers of freezer jam to prove this. Elderberry syrup too, an anti-viral elixir: another half dozen containers. (Note to self: how much jelly can a two-person household consume?) 

Sadly, no freezer space was spent on morel mushrooms this year – too cold, too dry. But it was a terrific season for packing away sweet corn and squash, two easy veggies to cook and compactly freeze. 

Did I mention the boatload of roasted apples and apple juice? And the liquid essence of wild grape and crabapple my steamer/juicer pumps out for local signature flavors I like to share with city friends. (The cubic footage is filling up fast) The plums from my orchard trees make a sweet delicious mash that, mixed with local not-ultra-pasteurized Kappers whipped cream, makes an unequalled frozen treat. Another couple cubic feet of deep freeze space deep sixed.

Finally, add a little beef. For years I couldn’t bring myself to buy ground beef, imagining that it’s conglomerated from multiple feedlot cattle (Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen confirmed what I already feared). But since my husband and I moved to a farm near Lanesboro, we were in a good place to find a local source – and did! – when a friend who’s extremely knowledgeable about “best practices” recommended a local farmer who raises lean, incredibly tasty range fed Belgian Blue cattle sans antibiotics and GMO grain. Another cubic foot of freezer space gobbled up. (Note to self: In spite of the July tornado that took out this farmer’s corn crib and fencing and, sadly, has him retiring from the business of beef: Resist the urge to horde this beef!)

At this point, it is obvious that fool-proof freezer rules are needed. The empty-freezer-by-July proclamation is actually a great reminder that all the work of growing, picking and/or purchasing, as well as the energy of processing and freezing food goes for naught without a disciplined get-it-back-out system. 

Organized, I’m not. So it is with effort, I brainstorm ways to plan my way back out of the freezer fix I so quickly worked myself into.

Use at least one item from the freezer each and every day. Each morning over coffee, plan breakfast, lunch or supper to include one defrosted ingredient. Plan one dish or at least one significant element taken from the deep freeze. 

When extracting each frozen item, take stock of other items that have become forgotten. Hold these in mind to mull over tomorrow’s morning coffee.

Cook a chicken every other week. Our 8 to 9-pounders are meant to last several days, chopped on green salads, added to stir fries, stews and sandwiches as well as the champion of real, old-fashioned broth. 

Come June 2012, make some frozen divestments. Give remaining birds to family and friends or sell these USDA-processed chickens at Lanesboro Local Marketplace. Use precious surplus fruits and berries as filling for pies for Lanesboro Art Center’s Art in the Park fund-raising pie booth.

When cooking in quantity, freeze a meal or two for next week. Post-it note reminders in a visible place will cue thawing of the pre-cooked meal one busy day when it’s most appreciated.

Do you have a strategy for rotating freezer goods? This novice could use your sage advice. Do you have a plan that prevents freezer-burned gems from turning much too late? Please share your good habits. Help newcomers to food freezing like me capture the full value of our local foods. 


Kitty Baker grew up on a mixed ag farm, then in a small town, near Rochester, MN. She and husband Keith raised two daughters, living in Kansas City and Minneapolis. A professional writer, Kitty enjoys topics of lifestyle and food, especially since 1999, when they bought a farm, Root River Wilds, just north of Lanesboro, MN. The farm’s spectacularly varied acreage -- bluffs and woods, pastures and restored prairies cut with trails and wrapped in the oxbow of the North Branch of the Root River -- is rich with opportunities to discover and share ways to live abundantly.