Freezers (and refrigerators) have been an integral appliance for food preservation for over 100 years. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the separated fridge and freezer units were created but even before then, iceboxes were a go-to for keeping things cool and lasting longer. The homestead freezer has a cycle that reflects the seasons, just as everything else on the homestead does!
When you live off what you grow, raise, and harvest – either in the wild or domestically – you rely on the freezer to see you through. Sure, there are other forms of food preservation but the freezer is just about the easiest. It also gives you a place to put food you’ve harvested and keep unspoiled until you can get to it and process it later.
Though every homestead is different, I’m going to share with you the cycle of our own homestead freezers that will give you an idea (and maybe inspire you!) of ways you could better utilize your own. As you’ll see, the homestead freezer is used for a lot more than just meat! First, we will cover different events that involve using the freezer and then we’ll briefly look at the annual cycle of how we use ours.
Annual Freezer Events
Meat Sales – We only shop for meat two times a year. Those times are in October and again in Spring (usually April) because of the meat sales the local grocery stores have. We buy in bulk and then portion it out using our vacuum sealer so that nothing gets freezer burnt. We don’t buy steaks – we buy a roast and cut steaks off of it. We make stew meat packs and even save the larger fat chunks I carve off the roasts to be used later on in either some dog food or when making certain meals. Don’t forget to date your sealed packages!
Foraging and Hunting – In the summer, we gather berries and fish. In the Fall, we hunt deer. The freezer is an integral part of all of it! It will hold things until we can further process it.
Prep Tool – We use the freezer as a great way to do some prep work on different foods, as well as storage space until we can get back to it. For example, we freeze our berries in single layers on cookie sheets before putting them into a bag. This makes a huge difference in handling, measuring, and processing them into jams and jellies.
When I make jerky, I use the freezer to partially freeze the steak sized pieces of meat so they’re easier to slice thin. It helps avoid cutting yourself and makes for consistent thickness on the slices, due to the increased control you have.
Our Homestead Freezer Cycle
March/April: In March, I know the next meat sale is coming up soon. I get into my freezers to pull anything out that is nearing the one year mark or is freezer burnt (rarely happens). This will be pressure canned to extend the shelf life of the food another 18-24 months! I’m making room! If you’d like to know more about canning meat, click here. I make a list of what items I am low on or out of shop to get us through until October. Salmon is smoked and canned, meat is made into meals-in-a-jar or canned for later use.
May/June: The meat that was nearing a year old has been removed and processed, and the freezer restocked with meat recently purchased. Room has been made for the BERRIES!! In May and June, the salmonberries are ripe and ready for picking. (Not sure what a salmonberry is? Click here!) The fish have started to return to the area with King Salmon being the first. We try to get at least half a dozen of these beauties to be filleted and vacuum seal. King Salmon (also called Chinook salmon) have a nice, firm meat that holds even through smoking and canning. We have all 5 species of salmon:
July/August: Summer is in full swing and so is the use of the freezer! Blueberries and huckleberries are added to the mix, as are coho/silver salmon. We feed our dogs salmon mixed in with their dry food (talk about shiny coats!), as well as fillet some for ourselves.
We also start to see some early veggies that are blanched and frozen in vacuum seal packs. I don’t freeze much, preferring to can it instead, but the ‘fresh frozen’ is a nice change of pace. I loooove to pickle food too; it’s incredibly easy! We also fish for halibut, cod, and drop shrimp and crab pots.
September/October: The harvest is just about over in my zone (7b) by the end of September and things are winding down in the garden. In between batches of canning, I am able to turn my focus back onto the freezer and start getting it emptied out of berries and anything else I can process up. I check all the dates on vacuum sealed meat at the same time.
The berries are made into jams and jellies and any meat nearing the one year mark. Needless to say, this is the time of year my canner is going full boil (pun intended) for days on end! Cases of delicious food that I processed myself is incredibly rewarding to put up on the shelf. I haven’t bought jams, jellies, or any kind of stock (meat or vegetable) in years.
In October, my freezer is about emptied out of anything needing processed to make room for the big meat sale. I always make sure to leave some room, though!
November/December: Every year, we try to hunt some deer to help supplement and fill the freezer (hence why I always save space this time of year). There’s also the turkey and ham for the holidays! Leftovers of either kind of meat is packaged and frozen to be used later. I love making turkey and dumplings in February! Why February? Because by then, you aren’t sick of turkey!
January/February: We have come around full circle. This time of year, not much happens with the freezer, other than taking food out to be eaten. On the off chance we go fishing, anything caught goes into the freezer. I do take stock of what we have and what we will need coming up to the next meat sale, along with enjoying a little down time. 🙂
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