My mother took delivery of a chest freezer in 1974. We all had to go and look at it in its new home – our garage – and were assured that this would not only revolutionise our meals but deliver pleasure. It looked like a big white sarcophagus – it could easily have held three bodies – but here, along with the salmon steaks and legs of lamb, there would be room for lemon sorbet (which we’d just fallen in love with and ate after Sunday lunch), ice lollies and Bird’s Eye frozen orange-juice concentrate.
Despite these inducements I was always rather scared of it. When you were sent out to ‘check what’s in the freezer’ you would sometimes have to dig deep to find a leg of lamb. I always thought I might fall in; the heavy lid would close, and I would die a cold death. Years later, I saw a drama based on a Roald Dahl story about a woman who killed her husband with heavy blows to the head. There was no murder weapon, which mystified detectives, because she had used a frozen leg of lamb then roasted and eaten the evidence. It only confirmed my feelings about freezers.
When I acquired my own freezer – always part of the main fridge, not a great coffin in the garage – I had no respect for it. It was home to the vital frozen ingredients you need if you have small children – sweetcorn, peas and chilled vodka – and plastic tubs of stock, but beyond that I treated it like a cupboard into which you throw things to make them disappear. My labelling was dreadful. I would never know, though I was sure I would when I put it in, whether a plastic box of lumpy brown stuff was the remains of braised beef or a compote of dried fruit. I remember watching Nigella Lawson as she went through her freezer in one of her TV programmes, pulling out small packages of labelled ginger root and chicken carcasses she’d collect until she had enough for a pot of stock. I tended to forget what was in my freezer, so would eventually pull out a packet of chicken thighs that had been surplus to requirements and look guiltily at the freezer burn.
The freezer is also the inanimate object I swear at most. The drawers stick. Pull out a bag of frozen peas and they will ricochet across the floor. And what the hell are those tiny sections in the door for? Frozen mice for the cat?
Using a freezer isn’t just about cooking, it’s about housekeeping, and that’s not my forte. But the first thing we did when the lockdown was announced, and I found I couldn’t get an Ocado delivery for three weeks, was to clear it out. Finally, I needed it. Into it I’ve put plastic boxes of braises, fish cakes and packets of raw meat and fish – chicken thighs, mince, salmon fillets – that can be pulled out for the next day’s supper.
Things are grouped by type (bags of frozen berries and vegetables are all in one drawer, for example). Soups are going into freezer bags, which I press as much air out of as possible, and there are much-needed treats (mini Magnums, oh yeah). The freezer’s contents go on a list stuck to its door and I use my supplies much more quickly (no more freezer burn). Ready-cooked meals and basics are defrosted overnight in the fridge for dinner the following day. It’s all a matter of keeping on top of things.
I’m never going to be the kind of person who blanches vegetables and freezes them, but the freezer has become vital, a miraculous icy cupboard. I don’t swear at it at all because its existence means we won’t be eating spaghetti with tomato sauce again. ‘Look what I have,’ I cry to my sons. ‘Frozen chicken thighs!’