The days in the Missoula Valley are growing shorter, but the sun continues to shine on the fresh produce and the Missoula Farmer’s Market is still kickin’ every Saturday morning from 8:30 a.m to noon until October 22nd. This means there is lot’s more opportunity to score the last fresh produce of the season.
Right now there is some of the biggest zucchini and squash of the season available. Not to mention that basil is still growing along with pumpkins and winter squash starting to show up everywhere. And then there’s the last harvest of the peaches, watermelon, and blueberries. This is what some call the “Harvest Season” where fruits and vegetables are abundant in Montana and are screaming, “Eat me know or loose me forever!”
As we all know, living in Missoula, summers are short and winters are everlasting. However, there are some key things that can be done to keep the essence of summer alive even in the days of deep snow drifts, cold winds, and early sunsets. This is where the freezer (that thing either above or below the refrigerator) comes in handy.
It is a snap to whip up a large batch of Garden Pesto using a bushel of fresh cut basil. Place it in freezer bags in ½ cup portions and when it’s time for some pesto pasta, or pesto quiche in the middle of winter, place the one serving bag in the fridge overnight to thaw or place in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes and it’s ready to cook! Try this delicious Pesto Cream Lasagna for a great twist on a family favorite!
Zucchini is every where right now in Montana and some are as big as my arm. In order to save some it’s easy to shred the fresh zucchini and place it in freezer bags for making Zucchini Bread, muffins, and Zucchini Parmesan in January. Zucchini can also be cut into bite-size (or sauté-sized) pieces and frozen for tossing into casseroles, quiches, and soups in February.
Tomatoes are an easy one! They can be placed, whole with skins on, in a large freezer bag and frozen until ready to use. When it’s time to make sauce or soup, simply place the frozen tomatoes into a large pot of boiling water for five minutes. The skins will peel right off and the tomatoes can be placed in a food processor and processed until smooth. Add the processed fresh tomatoes into a large pot and add garlic, chicken broth, basil, and other herbs to make a delicious tomato soup. Or add some tomato paste, garlic, basil, oregano, and Italian herbs to make a delicious home made pasta sauce. Try this recipe and omit the cans of tomato sauce and tomatoes and use the garden fresh ones instead! The soup and sauce can also be frozen in large freezer bags (label them to eliminate confusion down the road) and enjoy within four months!
This is another great fall vegetable that just screams comfort. The best way to save this vegetable is to cut it in half, scoop out the insides and place it in a 350 degree oven and roast for an hour and a half. The inside should be soft and easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the soft inside and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to four months. Then remove and thaw in the fridge overnight and whip up some Cinnamon Roasted Squash as a side dish or Squash Mac N Cheese for a sure to please kid favorite!
Fruits can also be frozen very easily.
Blueberries, raspberries, and cherries can all be thrown into freezer bags and frozen for up to four months. Make sure to pit the cherries before they are frozen. These are great to add into Blueberry Lemon Muffins, smoothies, Whole Wheat Pancakes, and cakes in the middle of winter as little reminders of warmer times!
Watermelon and cantaloupe can also be frozen. Just cut them into bite-sized chunks and freeze them and use them to make watermelon or cantaloupe daiquiris for a tropical themed party after the holidays! They can also be added to fruit smoothies by combining the frozen fruit with frozen yogurt, a splash of orange juice, and a little added splenda. It’s a great way to get extra Vitamin C during cold and flu season!
The freezer is the best tool to keep fresh vegetables available throughout the cold months of winter that seem to last forever! Let’s get that freezer filled!