The Campus Kitchen at The University of Georgia is piloting a new shift dedicated to food preservation. This shift will run in conjunction with our current Sunday cooking shift.
After collecting food from Trader Joe's and Fresh Market each Sunday, meal planners organize the items into categories of use. After separating out enough food for the week's cooking shifts and client grocery bags, they fill boxes with surplus goods meant for multiple agencies. Organizations like Sparrow's Nest and Our Daily Bread usually receive prepared meals /ready-to-eat foods, Salvation Army gets a donation of baked goods, while Live Forward, the UGA Pantry, and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia take perishable foods. Having other agencies in town that can distribute what we do not need or cannot use is great and it's nice that our organization can share our bounty.
Sometimes, however, agencies can't take everything we have to give. There's only so much space for perishable goods after all. Coolers break down or programs are temporarily suspended for construction so we redistribute what we can, where we can. So at times, there's an issue with surplus. There's also the few times where we don't get what we need like fruit--something our clients have expressed a greater need for. Not only that, we are an organization that fights against food waste. If there's another way we can save food to be used at a later time by our clients, we have every intention of innovating where we can.
The idea to freeze our excess came about because 1) we don't have the equipment around to can 2) our dry storage is rather limited 3) we get to use a large, walk-in freezer space. While we still don't know what excess will be available to us each week, the goal of this semester is to build a manual of processes and recipes for the fruit and vegetables we often receive. What we expect to try: freezing whole berries and tomatoes, cut raw peppers and onions, a variety of steam-blanched vegetables, tomato and fruit sauces.
The shift isn’t expected to be fully open to the public until late March. I was however, able to follow our Research and Development Intern Samara Pattiasina and AmeriCorps VISTA Kaeli Evans as they tested preservation methods using flash freezing.
Throughout the shift, Samara, Kaeli, and I preserved two different vegetables.
Sliced multi-colored carrots before their steam bath.
Once the carrots were cut and spread out onto steam pans, we began the process of steam-blanching them. Blanching, whether in boiling water or via steam, stops enzymes in food that can result in the loss of flavor, color, and texture. This process also helps rid the surfaces of bacteria while brightening the color and preserving the nutrients.
After steaming the carrots for 6 minutes, we took them out and dropped them into an ice bath (this process is also called "shocking" the vegetables.) This not only helps the carrot slices cool down, but preserve all the good things that happened during blanching. We dried the carrots, spread them out on a baking sheet and placed them in the freezer. Once each individual slice was frozen, we placed them in freezer bags.
In the same shift we preserved tomatoes by freezing whole cherry tomatoes and freezing a fire-roasted tomato sauce we made.
The first step was to roast the tomatoes in our oven with olive oil, onions, and basil.
After the roasted tomatoes had a chance to cool down, we crushed the tomatoes into a healthy sauce.
We distributed the sauce into two freezer bags and used one of the bags the following week to top off our meatloaves.
We can't wait to see what's available to preserve next Sunday! Learning to preserve is fun and a great skill to have. If you're interested in volunteering at a preservation shift, check back in at the end of March on GivePulse for registration sign-ups.