This past weekend it snowed enough to soften the edges of the landscape into the easy lines that liken it to a plush, white, lumpy comforter. It’s 12 degrees outside. And I cooked with corn that I met and fell in love with in the sweaty, barefoot soil of August.
How? Freezers. Yes, plural.
We bought a small chest freezer (the smallest they make) during our second year in Vermont. Our motivation was uncluttered storage for the meat shares we were buying from local farmers that totaled 15+ pounds in one delivery, and the overflow of produce we brought into the house through our overzealous garden combined with a CSA share (hello, kale!).
The second freezer, an upright jobbie, came from my grandma’s basement when her house passed into a new family’s hands. When the freezer was hers, we all joked that there was secret door in the back through which surprise homemade pies and Pepperidge Farms cakes magically appeared without purchase. The same tricks apparently have followed the unit to my house, because sometimes I swear there are things in there I don’t remember storing.
Into these two stoic white beauties we shove treasures harvested and prepped in season, generally when they’re most bountiful, flavorful, and cheap.
Our game plan is first to stow away versatile ingredients that can be incorporated into dishes throughout the winter, like spinach or chard for dips and frittatas, blueberries for pancakes and smoothies, green beans and peas for soups, and little packages of chopped jalapeño peppers for chili or sauces. There’s also duck and fish from my brother-in-law, frozen shortly after it was caught; and chicken, pork, beef, veal, sausage, and soup bones from my lovely friends at Erba Verde Farms in East Aurora, NY; The Promised Land CSA by the Oles Family Farm in Corfu, NY; and Snug Valley Farm in East Hardwick, VT.
The second priority is fully prepped dishes featuring seasonal produce that we can pull out and thaw for quick meals and entertaining throughout the winter. Pestos (basil, garlic scape, fennel frond), homemade tomato soup, fully baked apple pies, cucumber-mint gazpacho, stuffed jalapeño and hungarian sweet peppers – all ready to serve without the added preservatives of grocery store stuffs.
Now back to the goddamned corn. Back in August, we got ears and ears and ears from the Promised Land community supported agriculture (CSA) share. Seriously, as a member of their CSA, you could bring several sacks to the farm and fill them with freshly picked corn from the huge wooden cribs that the farmers brought in from the fields by tractor while you waited patiently in the barn. I partook, naturally. Who says “no” to big hauls of produce? So we took several dozen ears home, husked them, blanched them, and then cut the kernels off. Tip #1: get a bundt pan and stand the ear up in the center hole as you cut off the kernels; they’ll fall off neatly into the pan instead of skating off a cutting board in all directions. Tip #2: if you don’t have a bundt pan, which I don’t, use a wide spaghetti bowl with sides, stand the corn upright in the center, and cut with a sharp knife downward on the ear to shave off the kernels while catching them the in the bowl.
Tip #3, which comes from my good friend Holloway Constantine Ortman – freeze things like corn, greens, blueberries, grated zucchini, and grilled veggies flat in ziplock freezer bags. Rather than dealing with an avalanche of oddly shaped and partially filled freezer bags or random containers, everything gets filed into a neat library of produce volumes that are easy to check out without losing a toe as they tumble out of the freezer. They can be stacked horizontally or arranged vertically like books on a shelf, depending on your arrangement. Not only is it easier to find what you’re looking for, the thin, flat bags make it convenient to either thaw the whole thing quickly or just break off a corner to use in a smaller recipe.
This weekend, to the harmonious hum of several snowblowers, we liberated a bag of bright yellow corn for loaded corn bread to accompany my mom’s BBQ ribs, and two pans of tortilla casseroles that I made as a gift. Bonus: I didn’t have to brush eight inches of snow off the car, bundle up, and slide my way through Buffalo’s snowy streets to the store for canned corn (which I’m out of). Not only were the kernels I froze more crisp and flavorful than what might have been sitting in my pantry, I got to pat myself on the back that a little extra work in the summer meant a little extra room for laziness come winter.