Q: Does it save more energy to buy frozen Ontario vegetables during the winter instead of "fresh" ones shipped from California or Mexico? Or does the energy required to keep them frozen wash out the transportation savings?
A: You know that casserole that's been sitting in your freezer since Paul Martin was in power? Time to compost it and everything else that's gathered a thick freezer-burn crust.
You need to clear the way for some serious DIY freezing, darlin', because, guess what? There isn't much truly local produce sitting in grocery deep-freezes. The closest you might get is frozen french fries.
Even at the most progressive health store like the Big Carrot, freezers are loaded with organic produce from south of the border. Plus, a small bag of packaged pesticide-free peas will cost you a pretty penny. Not to mention the environmental costs involved in carting in all that produce (organic or non-) on a refrigerated truck for thousands of kilometres.
So forget Europe's Best (some of which come all the way from China) and run to your nearest organic farmers' market (see veg.ca/tfm) to buy bushels-full of all the veggies you can find. Or at least as many as you can fill your freezer with.
If you want to start easy, do tomatoes. All you have to do is pop whole ones into a phthalate-free freezer baggie (Ziploc and Glad bags will do the trick); no blanching or dicing (although washing them first would probably be smart).
Since they get sort of mushy when you thaw them, they're perfect for recipes that call for canned or cooked tomatoes, like soups or stews. Not so great when you're looking for fresh tomatoes, but hell, neither are those cardboard spheres masquerading as tomatoes mid-winter.
Other quickies that don't require much prep: jalapeños (just wash and stem 'em), diced onions, bell peppers (slice or dice, then freeze them on a tray for an hour before popping them in a baggie).
Bought too many apples for that Thanksgiving apple pie? No problem. Just slice, add a little salt and freeze. Start earlier next year and you can freeze all the berries under the sun.
And next time you're pining for fresh dill in eggs, you won't even have to get out of your PJs to line up for brunch. Herbs like basil, mint, rosemary and, yep, dill can all be chopped and bagged in the blink of an eye.
In general, though, it's best to blanch your veggies first, since that slows the enzymes that age your produce (enzymes that continue to wear at your asparagus even when its sitting in your freezer).
For blanch times and prep suggestions, check out the Canadian Produce Marketing Association chart at cpma.ca/en_hea_veg_freezing_guide.asp.
If you're worried about boiling the nutrients out of your broccoli or beans, you can steam-blanch, them too (it just takes a little longer).
Squashes and sweet potatoes can even be tossed in a pressure cooker first (though they can be frozen without this), and mushrooms should be sautéed.
Either way, dunk whatever it is you had cooking in ice water and pat dry before you freeze.
Does freezing all this stuff take more energy than eating imports? If you're using the freezer you already own, the only extra energy you're using goes to a few minutes of blanching. No biggy. Plus, your freezer actually uses less power the fuller it is.
However, if you're so gung-ho about this that you run out and buy a deep freezer, make sure you get the smallest one for your needs.
And get the Energy Star kind, since a compact one with this label should be 20 per cent more efficient than its competition. FYI, chest-type models are more efficient than upright models with the door at the front.
Manual defrosters also suck back less power. If you really wanna chip away at your carbon load, keep that compact freezer unplugged outside in the winter as long as it stays below zero. My brother used to do this with his whole fridge in BC.
By the way, your chest of frozen goodies should stay tasty for 12 to 18 months. Truthfully, you won't feel like eating last year's crop mid-summer when there's new bounty on the vine, so don't freeze more than you need. At the very least, share any excess with envious friends.
Now go forth and multiply the local foods in your freezer! You'll thank me mid-January when you have a stash of produce picked regionally and frozen at the peak of its nutrient content and don't have to pay through the nose for flavourless imports.
For a step-by-step action guide to jarring/canning, check out this week's Eco-cast.
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