Frozen Waste Land
The other day, as I was searching through my deep freeze for a package of ground beef, which I was certain still resided there, it occurred to me that it was past time for the annual winter cleaning. Many readers who have larger families take advantage of a secondary deep freeze. Over time, of course, things become lost. What was once a neatly organized appliance becomes a disheveled space which defies definition and creates a challenge for anyone attempting to locate, as I was, that package of frozen meat.
Freezer space does not exhibit the same spoilage timeline as the refrigerator, where the contents of a Tupperware container can be indistinguishable as either very young cheese or very old meat that mandates disposal. A similar process of spoilage occurs to frozen food, but at an elongated pace, with the same results. Eventually, a thorough cleanout is necessary, if not for defrosting, then at least for reorganization, cataloguing, and disposal of items that are past their prime. Make no mistake about it: while a deep freeze can extend the shelf life of the items that it contains, there nevertheless is a certain point in time when disposal is preferable to digestion.
And so, when the January thermometer dips towards zero, I find myself emptying out that downstairs appliance into laundry baskets which can safely hold the contents out of doors long enough to defrost the freezer chest and provide me with the opportunity to sort through what is there, what will be returned, and what will be rejected. The process is always an interesting one, and generally it is one that mirrors the changes that my family’s culinary preferences undergo over time.
Just when you thought that you had honed in on a favorite snack food and stocked up accordingly, inevitably the kids will decide that it is no longer appealing and, thus, you find yourself with orphaned Hot Pockets with 2006 expiration dates, bags of mini egg rolls full of ice crystals (the result of being “freeze dried” over many months), and freezer bags containing the remnants of a pot roast or roasted chicken. Because memory fades over time, it is advisable not only to date the packages that are going in, but if the package itself is not indicative of the contents, to provide some description.
I am not at all sure what that Tupperware dated January, 2007 contained. It appeared to be some form of stock, perhaps from a Christmas turkey of 2006, but I elected not to thaw it to make the determination. While this, and other unidentifiable items may have been edible without significant bodily harm, I generally resolve that if I have questions or doubts, disposal is probably the better alternative. Much of the frozen food that I removed was replaced and organized once the freezer defrosted.
Over the years, I have become methodical and almost anal over packaging and wrapping so as to avoid the effects of freezer burn, thus the slabs of baby backs that I smoked late in the fall were in perfect shape for enjoyment over the winter. The same, however, could not be said of the package of frozen French toast sticks which had been left open and unprotected, causing extensive freezer burn. Although probably still edible, they nevertheless looked less than appetizing.
Packaging for the freezer is really the key. Proper packaging avoids the dreaded freezer "burn". In much the same way that the cold, dry weather wreaks havoc with your hands in the winter, the same occurs to items in the permanent winter of the deep freeze, as the freezing dryness sucks moisture out of unprotected foods, leaving a dried-out crust (and generally a distinctive frozen after-taste). Double wrapping, heavy zip-locks with the air all squeezed out, and dating of packages all help to minimize the risk. But despite my efforts, there's always some package that gets pushed to the back, its contents becoming, quite literally freeze-dried.
If we're looking for a silver lining in the almost constant cloud cover from which we suffer during the winter, I suppose it is the opportunity to use the snow drift by the back door as a temporary deep freeze, cleaning out the real thing, defrosting and organizing. It didn't take long, and allowed me to relive some culinary memories in the same way that a scrapbook or photo album might trigger one to reminisce. A job well-done, a bag of items to be discarded, and a newly revised inventory of the contents of a clean deep freeze: It was almost enough to warm my heart.