(ARA) - It's time to prepare for the inconveniences of winter.
The practice of keeping a pantry -- a cool, dry storage area for food -- goes back to ancient civilization. Before the advent of refrigeration and freezers, families faced a much more difficult challenge in maintaining their food supply through the winter. Crops and gardens were harvested in the summer months, and curing, pickling, salting, or stockpiling in dry cellars or "pantries" helped preserve food throughout the winter.
Maintaining a well-stocked pantry was once a "life and death" issue, notes Chef Bridget Charters, of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Seattle. Chef Charters remembers her family pantry organized like a food library -- neatly stacked and labeled cans and jars of meat, fruit and vegetables, stockpiled to provide sustenance throughout the winter months, and rotated for freshness and to minimize waste. Today, modern conveniences have made "out-of-season" a thing of the past, and it's possible to avoid the effort of maintaining a pantry altogether.
But many Americans wonder, at what cost? Childhood obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases associated with diet are at an all-time high in America. The luxury of having access to out-of-season fruits and vegetables is increasingly offset by concerns over where those products come from. In addition, factors like transportation, chemical preservation and the wages and conditions of worldwide agricultural workers make it difficult to determine the actual cost and consequence of the food consumed.
Maintaining a well-stocked pantry is an excellent way to manage your family's diet; and by following a few simple guidelines, you can ensure you've made a responsible choice for your family and for your community.
Chef Charters recommends setting aside a dry, unlit area in your kitchen or basement storage area that is easily accessible, but out of the way of daily family traffic. She recommends blanching your vegetables before freezing, freezing hearty soups in small containers, or "bullet freezing" chunks of rhubarb or even whole tomatoes to add to your pantry. "Place your tomatoes on a tray and freeze them whole," advises Chef Charters. "When you're ready to use them, drop them in a vat of warm water, and the skins will peel right off. Then use them just like fresh tomatoes!"
Chef Charters also recommends:
* Blanching greens and freezing in bags for soups.
* Making basic vegetable soups and freezing, adding meat or pasta later.
* Bullet freezing berries whole.
* Making pesto and other sauces for freezing
* Making freezer jams
* Grating excess zucchini and freezing on sheet pans
"By harvesting your own garden and stocking a pantry for the winter you not only save money at the supermarket, but you're reducing your carbon footprint, and making a healthier choice for your family," says Chef Charters.