The Magical Preservative

Ice Cube FlickrPreservative. It’s the 12-letter 4-letter word of the food world. You’ve got your more innocuous ones, like lemon juice, but most sound like a chemical used to clean industrial machinery (as in “Jennings! Can you grab that can of butylated hydroxytoluene? The gear’s all gunked up again!”) Not very appetizing.

In a report on food additives from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, many of the substances on the list are preservatives. And of these, CSPI suggests one avoid or cut down on most.

But it’s true that preservatives are helpful. Fresh food keeps for a few days, while something with a little heptyl paraben is forever. In fact, I’ve given up on keeping real half and half around for my coffee (it starts to smell funky almost as soon as I stick it in the fridge) and often turn to those unspeakable creamers that contain no recognizable food ingredients at all, because at least they keep!

Putting aside the fact that I should go straight to foodie hell, I’m hopeful. Because there’s one safe and effective preservative you can use on a huge range of food: Freezing! 

This came to me as I was contemplating my creamer issue. Why not freeze half and half?I thought. I could solidify single serving portions in ice cube trays, throw the half-and-half-sicles in a Ziplock bag, and plop one in when I need to add some creaminess. I suspect the freezing will change the consistency of the half and half when its melted, and the cubes would cool down my coffee quite a bit, but that could work. It’s really the season to make iced coffee, anyway.

Putting the chill on food can preserve it for weeks or even months, keeping most of the beneficial nutrients intact. Many foods don’t require any added preservatives to do this, while others (like fresh basil) will stay ready to use with a little olive oil. I only just made this connection–freezing not only preserves the harvest but helps you avoid preservatives.

I’ll let you know how my half and half idea works. For now, here are some tried and true ideas:

Peaches–For the abundant peaches in farmers’ markets now, cut them up and freeze as is. It helps to spread the chunks out on a cookie sheet to freeze them, which helps the pieces stay separate instead of forming into one solid mass. Once they’re solid, load them into a container or freezer bag.

Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.–Place directly into a container or freezer bag. If they’re especially ripe and mushy, it may be a good idea to use the cookie sheet method.

Summer squash, green beans–These are in season now and great for freezing. Cut into recipe-ready pieces and steam until tender-crisp, with colors still bright. Let cool a bit, then pack into containers or bags (or spread on cookie sheets) and freeze. Reheat like any frozen veggie you would buy in the store, with a little water in a sauce pan, or add directly to stir fries. It’s best to pre-cook before adding to soups.

Tomatoes–Coming soon in large quantities! I like to roast them (see the Roasty Toasty posty for how) so they get extra tasty and take up less room in the freezer.

Basil–Make into pesto sauce, or just wash the leaves, pat dry, and toss with olive oil to coat. Then freeze. Throw into sauces, bruschetta topping, potato or pasta salad, or whatever else could use an herby kick.

Other herbs–With most other herbs like mint, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and lavender, I actually recommend drying. Hang a bunch upside down in a cool, dry place for a few days, then remove the leaves and store in spice jars. Dill, parsley, and cilantro, in my opinion, should always be used fresh.

Vegetable stock, juice, coconut milk–Sometimes I have these leftover after making a dish and don’t get around to using the rest until it’s too late. To keep these, freeze in ice cube trays and then turn out into freezer bags. Then they’ll be on hand forever and you can use as much or as little as you need each time.

What not to freeze:

Cucumbers

Cheese

Potatoes

Just don’t do it.

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3 thoughts on “The Magical Preservative

  1. Great ideas, Rhea. I love that you are not only preserving the harvest (and thus minimizing the amount of fresh local veggies you are throwing away or composting) but preserving your health too, by cutting out the preservatives. Definitely interested to see how the cream idea works… You’re always thinking, aren’t you? 😉

  2. It depends on the type, but hard cheese can be frozen if cut in smallish blocks, and wrapped very well. It works best for cooking after it thaws.
    I don’t think you want to try freezing the half and half. It will separate, and no amount of shaking it up again will get all of the little cream lumps out of it. It might taste okay, but it really ruins the mouth feel, and doesn’t look very appetizing. If your half and half goes bad that quickly, perhaps your fridge isn’t cold enough? Try storing it on a shelf rather than in the door.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement and advice, ladies! I have to admit I freeze some cheese — paneer when I stock up at an Indian grocery store and low moisture mozz when I want to firm it up for shredding. I agree it works best if you cook it.

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