When business is booming, I imagine store owners wish they could stop the clock and make the good times last forever. In home economics, you can.
With a good freezer, your bounty can last a long time.
And not just bounty from the garden, although that is the first thing many people think of.
With proper techniques, such as vacuum sealed bags, you can freeze a lot of great garden goodies and bring back summer flavor and nutrition in the middle of winter.
My former Herald-Leader colleague Linda Johnson has a freezer full of homegrown herbs and peppers, and chopped tomatoes and sauces, most preserved with her vacuum sealer.
"Best $100 I ever spent," Johnson said. She even seals and freezes half-loaves of good bread and leftovers.
Her keys to success for freezing fruits and vegetables: pick at peak ripeness, make sure the herbs or whatever are completely dry, and get as much air as you can out of the container.
And she doesn't stop there. She and her family go on weekend-long sauce-making sprees. Last year they socked away something like 40 pounds of a basic tomato-basil-garlic sauce made from their own garden.
If you are really ambitious, try this trick: When you peel carrots or potatoes or chop stuff like onions or tomatoes, save the bits you normally would compost (assuming they are clean or not bad). Keep them in the freezer until you have a container full, then boil to make a basic vegetable stock. Then freeze it, of course.
In the winter, I make big pots of soup. We can eat it for a couple of meals but I also like to freeze a serving or two for office lunches on gloomy days.
Really want to make your freezer work for you? The next time you make a great casserole or quiche, make two or three, and freeze the extras.
Looking for great ideas and recipes to stock your freezer with? Try The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook by Ghillie James. It's full of useful advice on how to freeze and store food properly.
She has recipes for great basics, such as sauces, and full-scale main dishes and desserts with real flair. (I haven't actually tried the rhubarb crunch ice cream, but it looks great.)
At heart, a freezer is a way to save time and money: you maximize your buying power by locking in the best quality at the best price.
When Johnson finds chicken, pork, or beef on sale, she scoops it up and packages it into 1- or 2-pound sealable bags, then stores it.
My grandparents, who raised their own cows and pigs, would have one of each butchered in the fall and do the same thing. My grandmother also made and froze her own sausage, heavy on the sage (from her own garden, of course) and she turned leftover turkey into fantastic ground turkey salad that she would just thaw and add a little mayonnaise to for sandwiches.
Another good tip: try freezing milk. When I can, I buy organic milk, which is a lot more expensive than regular milk. Occasionally I find gallons marked down half-price to move before their "sell-by" date.
According to Favoritefreezerfoods.com, you can safely freeze milk for up to three months, often in the plastic jug that it came in, especially if the jug has side dents that can expand outward.
Which brings up a good point: always mark what you freeze with the date that it went in. And it's a good idea to mark a date for when it should come out.
Because the only thing worse than having to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in the dead of winter — if you can find some worth eating — is having to throw out something from the freezer because it went bad.
Lots of things, from coffee to cheese, will freeze well if packaged to keep out moisture and air, so when staple items hit stock-up prices, you could freeze two or three months' worth.
Freezer-burn happens when air dries out frozen food. Freezer-burned food isn't necessarily bad from a safety standpoint but can taste off. Fresh milk that has been frozen sometimes needs to be shaken up after it thaws and sometimes it has a different "mouth feel" because the milk fats have settled out a bit.
The freezer also can be a boon to new parents: breast milk freezes well and, with a good quality breast pump, can help keep babies on breast milk after Mom goes back to work.
Once the baby is ready to transition to solids, freezing pureed vegetables can save you quite a bit. Instead of paying $2 for a couple of containers of organic carrots, buy a whole bag. Steam or boil, puree and freeze in ice cube trays. Store in containers or bags and take out a cube at a time for less waste.
If you want more ideas, try homemade-baby-food-recipes.com for all kinds of recipes and advice. Or Top 100 Baby Purees by Annabel Karmel, a baby food cookbook guru who can take you all the way to meats.
■ Consider buying a food sealer. They often go on sale and you can buy either pre-sized bags or a roll of plastic to make whatever size bag you need.
■ Take a look at your freezer. You need space to make this work. You probably won't be able to do much with the freezer attached to your refrigerator because it's just too small. A small chest freezer can be a good investment if you don't have room for a large one.
■ If you already have some freezer room to work with, head to the farmers' market and buy a batch of something simple. Linda Johnson suggested tomatoes: she buys a box to mix in with her own, blanches and peels them, then chops them up. She seals them into 1- or 2-pound bags and freezes for soups and chili.