This is a story about spinach. It’s also about respect.
We’ve grown buckets of spinach so far this season. We enjoyed a few months of delectable baby spinach salads and garlicky spinach spring onion stir-fries before an especially hot weekend caused all the plants to bolt–that’s when the plant prepares to turn to seed; the leaves elongate along the stem, and the plants grow especially tall.
Before it turned to seed and changed its flavor (it can get bitter after it bolts), we picked it all and froze it. It was about 15 plants worth of spinach. I considered chopping it and freezing it fresh, but did some research and talked with friends about best practices. It turns out the only reason you might want to freeze fresh spinach is if you plan to use it within six months or less. Otherwise, you risk ruining the flavor and integrity of the spinach and losing vitamins and nutrients. Blanching greens and veggies briefly in hot water stops the enzymes from aging the vegetables, retains the flavor and nutrients, and preserves color.
To get it prepped for freezing, I piled it up on our butcher block island and sorted it. It wasn’t a small amount.
I removed overly thick or marred leaves, and cleaned and filled our farm sink. I washed the spinach by emptying and filling the sink several times.
I put a big canning pot of water on the stove to boil, and added a palm full of salt. When the water was boiling, I added nearly all the spinach to the pot. I had to do it in two batches, and just used tongs to remove the leaves that were blanched before adding more fresh leaves.
I stirred it to make sure all the layers were equally blanched, then removed the spinach quickly to an ice bath to stop it from over-cooking.
Then I drained it all.
I pressed it gently to remove excess water, and then turned the cooked spinach onto our butcher block.
Before I froze it, I used a big knife and cut the spinach into sections. I’ll use the leaves for soups and sauces and will not want to have to thaw it and cut it beforehand.
I greased two big cookie sheets with a light layer of olive oil to help prevent sticking.
I layered the spinach onto the cookie sheets.
I froze it overnight.
And, after breaking up the layers, I put the frozen leaves in Ziplock bags labelled with the packing date.
And voila! just like that (joking) I have three bags of frozen spinach.
This, my friends, is how you learn to respect the work of the farmers that bring you your food. That $3 bag of frozen spinach you recently found at Trader Joe’s is the gosh darn deal of the century. It’s three paltry dollars worth of planting, fertilizing, tending, picking, washing, blanching, and packaging.
I will say that this blanched spinach was simply the. most. flavorful. spinach I have ever tasted. It was absolutely nothing like the overly watery store-bought varieties I use for my winter soups. All the effort was worth it for this caliber of flavor. I snagged huge pieces of it and noshed away as I preserved it. If I’d had a miso-ginger sauce or soy glaze nearby, I’d likely have eaten the entire batch in one go.
And here’s where I get to be preachy for a second: This is why you should hand over a few more dollars for the pesticide-free, organic spinach sold by small farmers at your local farmer’s market. It just tastes better, is full of more good stuff for your body, and it supports your local economy. But more importantly, hopefully this post will make you realize that you’re not over-paying for someone else’s hours of effort to help you enjoy dinner.
I can imagine a lot of you reading this are thinking, Are you serious? Why would you go to all this effort for three paltry bags of spinach? But the funny thing is, it just reminded me to plant more next time. It tastes amazing. All the fresh spinach salad alone is worth it. But the garden bed real estate I’ve dedicated to our greens just isn’t enough. Freezing food early in the season offered a helpful reminder to build up more spaces where greens will flourish, including some areas that don’t get all-day sun–unlike squash, cucumber, and heavy-producers like tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini, greens prefer half-days of sun and shade combined.
So heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to plant I go.