using the freezer to be more self sufficient

Every now and then I read about someone trying to live a self-sufficient life and for a fleeting moment, I wonder if we could ever try to do the same. The truth is that I have neither the dedication, willpower nor great desire to do it. Anyway, we can’t grow citrus fruits, tea or coffee and as I don’t wish to be tied to milking a cow every day, we will always have to buy our dairy produce. But, for a few weeks in summer, when we are self-sufficient in meat, fruit, vegetables and wheat it is wonderful to sit down to the table knowing that we have grown, reared or caught most of the food in front of us.

bottled raspberries with raspberry gin

Last year I made a determined effort to preserve our fruits and vegetables, which together with autumn and winter grown fruit and vegetables would make us a little more self-sufficient through the winter. I didn’t make vast quantities of jam because we still had plenty sitting on the shelves and I didn’t bottle very much because I’m never sure that I’ve done it properly. But I did freeze an enormous amount.

In the past, I haven’t been efficient at freezing, partly because I have a large chest freezer, the depths of which remain unknown territory to someone with short legs and arms like me. I was also bad at labelling. Convinced that I would remember that the stock was all in old milk cartons, two months later I removed frozen lumps of pale liquid unable to distinguish between stock, elderflower syrup or apple puree. Even when I did label, too often the writing couldn’t be read because of the folds of the plastic bag or a label transferred to something else. I used to divide the frozen bags and containers into plastic bin liners or carrier bags but inevitably a little liquid seeped out of something, the bag stuck to the freezer and split when I tried to pull it out.

So last year I organised things properly. I knew what was in the freezer and where to find it because I followed this plan:

Label everything

Obvious I know. Use a chinagraph pencil or permanent marker to write on plastic bags and containers. Sometimes it’s easier to put small packs into a larger bag, slip in a piece of paper with the details written on and seal the outer bag.

Keep similar things together

freezer storage bags

For a chest freezer, pack your frozen food into re-usable fabric shopping bags or make your own fabric bags. I have a selection of cotton bags in different colours (thanks Mum) so I know that all the tomatoes are in the light blue bag and stock is in the green bag. When the bag is emptied it can be washed and re-used. In an upright freezer, write on the drawers.

Make a list

List your freezer contents and keep it by the freezer so you can easily record when you add or remove something. Use a whiteboard or blackboard, book or clipboard. I keep a list of what’s in each bag but you might find it easier or more logical to keep an alphabetical list or divide it into categories.

Think before you freeze

oven dried tomatoes

Freeze only fruit and vegetables that you want to eat in winter. Make and freeze compotes, crumbles and pies that can be taken out and used as they are, rather than a big bag of fruit that needs making into something. It takes a little extra effort but I always make one to eat at the same time as making a batch for the freezer. I don’t like frozen strawberries so I don’t freeze them.

Because I know what’s in my freezer it’s made it much easier to use the fruit and vegetables. In the past I’ve sometimes just transferred the glut from summer to spring by picking and freezing the summer crops but not eating them until the month before the new crop needs picking. This winter we’ve worked our way methodically through the freezer: I haven’t bought any tinned tomatoes but have used oven dried tomatoes, passata and tomato & onion sauce from the freezer; frozen green beans from the garden have replaced bought frozen peas as my “veg in a hurry” and we’ve had a good selection of fruit compotes to eat.

Of course the whole plan nearly went catastrophically awry when our electricity supply went out for a few days, but luckily we overcame the problem and it made me determined to try more bottling this year.

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34 thoughts on “using the freezer to be more self sufficient

  1. Thanks Anne, really useful advice, I’m very guilty of shifting the glut and I’ll be taking up your suggestion of using reusable shopping bags to organise things! I’ve realised my biggest problem is in freezing huge amounts in one go, I contemplated using a saw to get a manageable amount of blackberries for a crumble this weekend!

  2. Great advice. I’m doing better these days at labeling because I hate UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) and have had a few embarrassing episodes in the past when I’ve defrosted a meat pie that turned out to be fruit. Even though I follow the old advice to code my pies with a pastry symbol on top, I can’t always decipher it when it is frozen.

    How wonderful to have all your own tomatoes on tap!

  3. I look forward to following your bottling this year. I’ve never managed it successfully, or at least to my liking. Jams and preserves, no problem, but not whole fruits or veg.

  4. Sometimes I read your blog posts and wonder how on earth we can actually be so closely related. My freezer has bread, peas, over catered spag bol, chicken stock and vodka. That’s it.

    PS Archie & I will always help you out by taking home jars of jam.

  5. I don’t think we’d survive without our freezers (note the plural). We’re not self-sufficient by any means, but the freezer does enable us to live frugally by buying in bulk at discounted prices and portioning up. We make our own mince and vac seal it for freezing, we also grate our surplus trombies and keep them in the freezer for winter bakes and stews. I’m absolutely with you on the labeling – it’s almost impossible to distinguish grated trombie from grated cheese when they’re both frozen solid!

    Our freezer has shelves, so we make a vain attempt at order by keeping like foods together – doesn’t always work as it should. The bottom shelf should have just bread, the next two meat, the two in between are for all the miscellaneous things that get frozen (leftover meals, veg, cheese, fish, garlic, ginger, leftover dairy, coconut milk, duck fat, lard, suet etc), and the top shelf is for frozen fruit. We also have a freezer section in the spare fridge, which is filled with assorted homemade stocks and all the school lunches for the week.

    One tip I’ve heard is to actually write ON the freezer door with a white board marker what’s in there at any given time. I tried that, but it didn’t work because no-one remembers to update the list as they take things out, but if you’ve got a well-trained family, it would work well. 🙂

  6. Really useful Anne. I am always having labels fall off freezer bags and not knowing whether it’s elderflower cordial or stock I’m defrosting, will definitely try the permanent marker – and strive for a bit more order. Another freezer is needed here too. With Celia on using frozen strawberries for jam, I tend to then make small batches of low sugar fridge jam when we need it. Also use them straight from frozen in breakfast smoothies.

  7. I like your ideas for keeping things organised in the freezer, and really should try to use at least some of them this year. It’s great to be able to pull a bag of homegrown apple puree from the freezer for a warming winter crumble… not so great when it’s an unlabelled and unidentifiable bag of brown stuff! But then labelling isn’t my strong point when it comes to seedlings in the garden either – must try harder!

  8. Hi Anne. Love the advice. I try to keep frozen things to a min because of the problem with interrupted power supply when we are not in Bridgetown. I bottle as much as I can. We have a card system for the vacuum sealed and frozen items. When you vacuum seal it or put it in the freezer it goes on a little A-Z card and when you take it out you cross it off. It is not a bad system but every few months you need to do an audit to make up for the times you didn’t put it on the card or cross it off.

  9. Hi Anne, great post and great advice. We couldn’t survive without several freezers. As we slaughter our own sheep and cattle and make sausages and mince we need to store meat in bulk. I also freeze a lot of bread, cakes, biscuits, garlic, chillies and pesto. I always have great intentions of keeping it neat and categorized but sometimes the system falls down! I do write on the draws of our upright freezers which helps. Large chest freezer can be a bottomless pit of mystery at times!

    The bags in the freezer are a clever idea.

  10. All great tips Anne! I’m totally guilty of putting things in the deep freezer only to forget what I made and when it was put it in the freezer just weeks later, so the list nearby would be good for me (why didn’t I think of that?!?). I’m only entering this stage now after a successful Summer vegetable garden but we need to work on more variety – the freezer is chic-a-block full of broad beans and snow peas and not much else 🙂

  11. Lots of good ideas here. I do wonder sometimes whether I would use things more efficiently if I didn’t have the freezer to squirrel stuff away in! My snare has always been having too much in there to keep tabs on and I forget stuff which slightly defeats the point of it being there. Not a freezer tip but D and I sorted all our homegrown potatoes into separate sacks graded by size and have found this incredibly helpful over the winter. Sifting through dusty spud sacks trying to find three suitably sized baking potatoes among a thousand tiddlers when in a hurry last year seemed to be beyond me and we ended up not using them all which was a shame. This year’s triage seems to have worked much better but that may be just because I am lazy! I do love the fabric bag idea – going to try it! thank you! E x
    Ps Your “egg in a cut-out in toast” suggestion from a week or two ago has become the plat de choix at weekends! Thank you so much for that too!

  12. I’m so impressed with your organization & should do a better job of it myself but I rarely freeze anything. It seems that once something goes in the freezer other than ice cream or ice cube, it never comes back out again. When we moved from our old house and we were packing things up I found an old frozen chicken that I remember buying when we first moved in – that bird was in the deep freeze for over 8 years.
    My mother grew up on a farm so she had the preserving down pat and always used this pressure cooker that she put the fear of God in us to never touch. I guess that always stuck with me & I’ve been afraid of them ever since. I admire you giving it a go but can understand why you’d want to be careful about it.

      1. Are you kidding? That bird went in the trash, may he rest in peace. I’m terrified of pressure cookers and although I’m sure they’re safe when used properly, I still remember the day my mother (and she was an expert with them) opened it without fully releasing the pressure & about 5 pounds of potatoes hit the ceiling. Probably not a good gadget for me with my track record.

  13. As someone who has been found almost upside down trying to sort the contents of our chest freezer I will definitely take note of some of your suggestions!

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