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Illustration by Wenzdai Figueroa

Welcome to Freezer Tours, where we get intimate with your icebox to unpack all the tasty, quirky, and sometimes straight-up kooky things that people keep below zero.

Who did we chill with today?

  • Name: Julie Laing
  • Age: 45
  • Location: Bigfork, Montana
  • Career: Editor and writer, including food blogger and cookbook author
  • Cooking ability: Professional
  • How many people share your freezer: 2
  • Most of the food in my freezer is: Homegrown and homemade
  • If your freezer had a nickname it would be: Ursa Minor (“Little Bear”)
  • Without your freezer you would: Wear myself out canning
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My house is only 500 square feet, but I spend hours every summer caring for a small orchard and a 2,400-square-foot garden (plus a 30-foot-long greenhouse and a berry patch). It’s hard work, but it’s worth it for the sun-kissed tomatoes in December, flavor-packed basil in February, and the sweet pop of huckleberries in April.

I preserve seasonal fruit and vegetables for year-round use in many ways, from canning to dehydrating to fermenting. I freeze so much food that I outgrew my regular freezer and I’ve wedged a 5.5-cubic-foot chest freezer into my tiny house.

It’s one of the smallest standalone freezers available but holds so much of my garden’s annual haul. The small size makes this “little bear” of a freezer easy to manage, though cups of frozen eggplant puree or bags of grated zucchini do occasionally get lost in there.

Clearing space in the freezer throughout winter and spring leaves plenty of gaps for homemade treats. I slip balls of sourdough pizza dough wherever there’s space. Extra-large batches of soup, pierogi, pot stickers, and pressure-cooked beans mean lots of freezable leftovers that get stashed inside too.

Plus there’s always a little room for nuts, butter, ahi, and other foods I can’t grow.

Something that makes every dish better: Cherry tomatoes

Having a variety of frozen tomatoes tucked away is one of my favorite cooking tricks. Tomatoes are among the easiest garden treats to freeze, too: just give them a quick rinse and stuff them in a labeled zip-close freezer bag.

Cherry tomatoes have such thin, sweet skins that they don’t even need to be peeled. I drop them into the pot still frozen for a quick sauce or soup. I save larger tomatoes for making sauces the same way.

The best part? When they defrost, their skins slip right off.

Something you don’t need to defrost: Raspberries

On dark winter mornings, grabbing a handful of frozen berries for smoothies or adding them to a bowl of hot cereal is mega satisfying. Delicate berries freeze well with one extra step: spread them on a tray, freeze them, and put them in a bag.

The frozen berries stay loose, which makes it easy to take them as I need.

Something that keeps on giving: Stuff to make soup stock

I give vegetable trimmings, corncobs, shrimp shells, and Parmesan rinds a second life in soup stocks.

I keep 2-gallon bags in my freezer: one for vegetable scraps and one for raw shrimp shells. When a bag is full, I make stock by dumping the contents and any seasonings into a large stockpot, filling it with water, and letting it simmer for about an hour. Then I strain the stock before I use it or freeze it.

Something for the 21+ crowd: Drink mixers

My ice cube trays hold more than water. In my freezer, they’re filled with pureed berries, beet greens, kale, and more — all ready for smoothies and cocktails. I use cucumber juice cubes to mellow mojitos and tomatillo juice as a to-die-for base for margaritas.

Tomatillo prep is easy:

  1. Remove their husks.
  2. Throw them on the grill until soft and juicy.
  3. Gently mash them in a fine-mesh colander set over a bowl.
  4. Freeze the solids and liquid separately (the solids make amazing salsa verde).
  5. Then, sweeten the liquid with agave nectar for an intensely flavored sweet-and-sour mix.

Something unique in an ice cube tray: Blended garlic-and-herb bases

Blended herb bases are one of my favorite ways to make things like classic Italian pesto or spicy Thai sauce all year.

And while delicate greens like basil, cilantro, parsley, arugula, spinach, and asparagus usually lose their shape in the freezer, you can still freeze them to pack in loads of flavor. I blend any of these greens with oil and garlic or other seasonings, pack them into ice cube trays, then freeze and transfer them to a bag.

For a full pesto experience, I’ll defrost and stir in cheese and freshly toasted nuts before serving.

Julie Laing has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years and published her first cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling, in 2020. You can find recipes for many of her freezer favorites on her food blog, Twice As Tasty.