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Trying to reduce my "plastic footprint" - How did grandma freeze meat?

Not exactly on the top of my list of things to worry about, but I have been starting to feel bad about all the plastic bags I use in the kitchen.

Switching to non-reactive containers in order to marinate meat hasn't been too inconvenient, but I'm having a tough time with raw meat items I get from "family packs" and other bulk items that need to be portioned out (like my "diy" pork chops I cut from whole roasts)...... Just so many bags being used for such a relatively short amount of time only to outlive me buried in the ground somewhere.

I have been known to wash my baggies and re-use them, but I'm not too sure if that's safe. - Actually, I have an easier time doing it with beef than I do with pork and chicken.

I'm old enough to remember life before plastic where meat came wrapped in paper, but I don't remember (read didn't pay attention) what "the grown-ups" did once they got the package home.
Did they:
a. Put the package straight in the freezer as is.
b. Take the meat from the paper and wrap in foil.
c. Not freeze raw meat at all and just make more trips to the butcher.
d. Other

Any thoughts on baggie washing or freezer storage methods are welcome. Thanks in advance.

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  1. Depending on your age; "Grandma" did not have a large freezer, just enough for a few metal ice trays and maybe a quart of hand packed ice cream from the local soda fountain. Meat from the butcher was purchased when needed.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ospreycove

      Bingo! Grandma did not have a large freezer.

      Most of us have had, or remember, a freezer just 12 inches square which held one or two ice cube trays. And was usually frozen with several inches of ice. You were lucky if you could fit one ice cube tray in the freezer.

      Defrosting involved a pan to collect massive amounts of thawed water and copious towels on the floor to collect the over-run.

      1. re: ospreycove

        Well, it depends on the age and location of one's grandma, I'd say. Out here in the rural midwest, many many woman had large chest freezers in their homes as early as the 1950's, certainly. Either that, or their meat from entire sides of cattle or whole hogs was stored in walk-in rented lockers at the local butcher shop. My meat still comes in huge quantities, all at once, from the Locker/Butcher (because I buy entire hogs and sides of beef) and it's still wrapped in that ubiquitous white "butcher paper." That's exactly how I store mine, when I get it home to MY chest freezer, and it keeps wonderfully well. I just found a "lost" pork roast that was over a year old, the other day, and thawed it out and it showed no sign of freezer burn and was pretty amazingly tasty for an Old Pig!

        1. re: Beckyleach

          True -- I get lamb from a CSA that comes wrapped in paper and it keeps in the freezer very well.

          1. re: Beckyleach

            My dad has always stored our meat in butcher paper we purchase in big rolls.

        2. I would say a,b and c were all very common......but (c) was most common, especially if the market was nearby and within walking distance.

          1. What ospreycove said. More vegetables from the garden were eaten than was meat - it was an expense thing. The large "meat" meal was generally on Sunday.

            1. Reusing the bags works, just wash them out with hot water and anti-bacterial dish washing soap. Just make sure you get into the corners.

              You could also do just foil but it won't take long for freezer taste to set in.

              12 Replies
              1. re: MVNYC

                My mother (pushing 90) has been religiously washing out plastic bags for years. She buys good quality freezer bags and reuses them. A waxed, white paper was the old freezer wrapping method for meats but I dont remember that ever being in use in my home of origin. My mother's mother had a separate freezer all through my growing up years, and I assume before. for people in the midwest with big gardens, and access to meat in quantity, freezing was and remains a very useful tool.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Both of my parents' families canned meat. They butchered the animals (pork, beef, chicken, turkey, ducks, geese) cooked the meat and then canned it using pressure cookers. Actually, my paternal grandparents had all of those animals, my maternal grandparents got their animals from my great-grandmother's farm.

                  There was one thing my father's family did with pork that just grossed out my Mom. She didn't see it because by the time she came along, they had a freezer. Anyway, my father tells of how they would render a lot of lard from the pig (he was in charge of the bucket to catch the blood for the blood sausage) and his mother would fry up the pork chops and they would be put into a 10 or gallon Red Wing crock and melted lard would be poured over it to cover. They had a round wooden board to cover the crock and it would go into the root celler. The way my dad describes it, (this is the part that grossed out my mother) when his mother wanted some pork for supper, she'd send one of the boys down there with a plate and they would stick their hand into the lard and fish out some pork. I guess it stayed ok to eat for a long time. It was cool and no air could get to it. They didn't have a lot of money and during the depression the only meat they had one winter was when they butchered their pet goat.

                  1. re: John E.

                    Cool. It sounds plausible, but I am not sure. Well, for them to fish out pork from lard, does it mean they store pieces of pork in the rendered lard in the first place?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      My grandmother would fry the pork, put in into the crock and pour the rendered lard over it. It would cool and the lard would solidify. The crock of pork would be kept in the root cellar that was probably 50 degrees. It was winter in Minnesota and since cold air is heavier than warm air the cold air would accumulate in the lowest level of the house, the root or fruit cellar. They did this in late fall and apparently the meat would keep for quite a while. I'm not recommending this for anybody to do today, but that's how they did things back in the 1930s.

                      1. re: John E.

                        It would certainly still work today... they're making pork chop confit!

                        1. re: John E.

                          I see. So the pork has been cooked -- somehow I missed that part when I first read your post. This starts to make even more plausible. It is "almost" like vacuum seal of cooked meat.

                      2. re: John E.

                        Butchering their pet goat brings a tear to my eye, I hate sad Depression stories. ;-(

                        1. re: coll

                          I asked my dad about it. It seems somebody gave them the goat when it was a kid, so it really was a pet. His name was Billy (of course). When it came time to eat Billy, my grandfather, who worked in a tannery in Brooklyn when he first emmigrated, tanned his hide. (I remember that furry goatskin in my grandparent's basement family room.) My father says the goat tasted terrible and smelled even worse. He said that when he and his brothers were walking home from school they could smell from two blocks away that their mother cooking the goat.

                        2. re: John E.

                          sounds like confit. it was probably absolutely delicious.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            I hadn't thought of it in terms of confit. My mother certainly didn't make confit and I think she was turned off by the congealed fat but mostly the temperature at which the meat was kept. If it wasn't under 40 degrees, she thought it would spoil. But I suppose it didn't since it was cooked and it was sealed off from the air.

                          2. re: John E.

                            Heck yes, John. The technique of storing cooked pork in a crock, under a thick layer of pork fat, to prevent the entrance of oxygen and airborne microbes, has been used for centuries.

                            It makes some of us squeamish, but "pay no attention to the modern preservers behind the curtain".

                            1. re: John E.

                              My grandmother did something kind of similar, but she canned the meat (hot water bath and all) with a thick layer of fat on top. She usually did it with roast beef, and it made the best sandwiches! My grandparents were farmers, so they had a lot of their own food (meat and vegetables) to preserve.

                        3. It was wrapped in butcher paper or foil but, as Ospreycove noted, the freezers were much smaller so the time spent in the freezer was typically much shorter.

                          In terms of reducing carbon footprint, food wastage is probably as big -- or bigger -- problem than the amount of plastic you use to store freezed food. So, if you use an inferior wrapping material for longterm freezing and then end up discarding meat because it's freezer burned, I don't know that you've net-gained on the carbon footprint side.
                          I use plastic bags to freeze meat but just try to use them less in other applications -- using a bowl, not ziplock bag, to marinate or coat food; using plastic containers as much as possible for transporting food, or storing in the fridge.