I was at the grocery store last week and found my eyes drawn to a display of small chest freezers for sale. When I say small, I mean small, these petite beauties were 5.0 cubic feet – cute as buttons (does anyone else I know talk about, or even think of, kitchen appliances in such terms?) and just the right size to nestle in a corner somewhere. Even in an apartment.
“I can put it in the basement,” I said to myself as though the item was already on its way home with me. “All this storage!” I exclaimed as I opened it and leaned inside. Like all chest freezers this one had plenty of vertical capacity. I found myself dreaming of all the food that I would “put up,” all the “emergency supplies” I could have at hand and all the future grocery store trips I wouldn’t have to make because I would be so amazingly well stocked. I might not have to leave the house for weeks at a time! Snow days…bring them on!
Then I started to remember the other chest freezers that I have known – namely those possessed by my paternal grandmother. You will notice the plural construction inside that last sentence. My grandmother owned not just one but two freezers apart from the rather ample freezer section that was part of her regular refrigerator. On her side porch, she maintained a stand up unit devoted to frozen goods as well as a chest freezer which I seem to remember as being roughly the size of a Cadillac. You might ask why so much space was devoted to frozen goods and all I can say is…I’m not really sure. For many years, my grandparents grew an enormous vegetable garden every year and there always seemed to be tons of corn and field peas and okra and green beans to prepare for the freezer as well as strawberries, blackberries and peaches. Well, maybe not tons but it seemed like it to those of us who helped to shell, shuck, cut, rinse, slice, blanch and bag it all. Of course much of that produce did get used during the course of the year but not all of it. Over time, as my grandparents aged, freezer space seemed to become less and less devoted to produce. Bags of vegetables still resided there but these came from the store and seemed to function as cushioning for the more desirable items which skewed in the direction of “minute steaks,” ice cream, Sara Lee cakes and a seemingly endless supply of Cool Whip.
“You can freeze it!” my grandmother would marvel as she extracted yet another huge vat. “And it tastes just like whipped cream!”
Well, I will always disagree that Cool Whip tastes like whipped cream. I certainly have never preferred it, but I kept my opinion to myself because, after all, my grandmother was nice enough to give me dessert to begin with. Plus, in matters of taste, who is ever really correct?
The first refrigerators marketed for use in the home appeared during the early 1900’s which when you think about it wasn’t all that long ago. The freezer sections of some of the earlier units can look unbelievably small to us today – roughly the size of a couple of ice cube trays. In some ways, a smaller freezer space can make practical sense because, as we all know, “stuff” tends to accumulate to fill as much space as is available. Knowing this, I think that I’ll hold off buying a chest freezer for now since I can see myself filling it with all sort of “necessities” and then forgetting that they are there. That sort of situation drives me nuts and with my new found passion for “Kondoing” (ala The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo) I find myself more and more wanting to know exactly what I have and where it is. In Section 306 of Peter Walsh’s How to Organize Just About Everything, Walsh recommends that we sweep through our refrigerators once a week tossing out overextended items and cleaning up spills. That’s a laudable goal, whether we meet it or not, and there’s no reason that a similar sort of schedule can’t be followed with your freezer as well. Walsh, by the way, recommends not having a second refrigerator or freezer and unless you’re a hunter (or know any) or a quantity gardener you might want to reconsider that purchase too. Also, think about upkeep if you do decide to purchase. Cheryl Mendelson’s excellent book Home Comforts: the art and science of keeping house (which I have referenced in this blog previously and highly recommend) advises us that we “need not wash the freezer every week” but we are encouraged to wipe up spills and crumbs and regularly patrol the contents. Mendelson, by the way, also posits the theory that “all good housekeepers are list makers” which feeds right in to the nagging desire that I have to create a refrigertor/freezer inventory (complete with relevant dates) which can live on the door and be updated as needed. To say that this idea would probably be greeted around my house with some odd looks would be putting it mildly. “What’s next – a map of the linen closet?” is one comment that I can imagine. Maybe I’ll do it anyway.
Now you may have different plans for that potential extra freezer – plans that involve no food stuffs at all. Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things from the folks at Reader’s Digest informs us that we can remove wax from candlesticks with the aid of our freezers. Also, any burned-on messes in pots will be easier to remove if we simply freeze the cooking vessel for a coupe of hours. Handy to know about but I don’t usually have enough wax encrusted candlesticks and burned pots sitting around my house to warrant an extra freezer. Your situation, of course, may be different.
So, for now, though there appears to be no spare freezer in my future, I am interested in using the freezer space that I have more effectively. The irreplacable wisdom born of making mistakes had taught me certain things. For example, my small household will generally not be well-served by freezing huge packs of chicken or ground beef – not, that is, unless I want to wind up with an enormous mass of protein impossible to separate into usable components. I’ve also found that berries, unbaked cookies and the like tend to work best if I take the time to spread them out on a cookie sheet or plate and freeze first before transferring to bags. I’ve also found that bagels are easier to handle if I cut them in half before I freeze them (you can toast the halves still frozen). I think though the most important thing I’ve learned is that food freezes best if I can make the package as airtight as possible. Many people swear by vacuum sealers and these devices certainly look effective but, for me, good old Press and Seal plastic wrap seems to work well toward eliminating ice crystals and the dreaded freezer burn. You find these tips, and more, in Susie Theodorou’s excellent book Can I Freeze It? How to Use the Most Versatile Appliance in Your Kitchen. Along with freezing wisdom (such as the best methods for freezing cooked rice and pastry shells) Theodorou offers some scrumptious looking recipes for foods that freeze particularly well. Seafood Pie and Chocolate Chunk Cookies look especially appealing to me. There are also useful chapters on effectively freezing leftovers and cooking and freezing ahead for parties.
What about you? Do you love your freezer or does it frustrate you? What are your best freezing tips?