Is your refrigerator running? If so, you better go catch it.
Sound familiar? That was a joke we used to play as kids when we crank-called on the telephone. We were young. We were bored.
But it isn't very funny if your electricity is off and so is your freezer, especially if you are a devoted vegetable gardener, harvester or processor like me.
When Mother Nature lovingly provided the soil, water and sunshine this spring to produce the perfect Ruskin tomato, I picked, processed and froze. Lots.
What will happen if Mother Nature sends along a menacing tropical storm or hurricane that threatens to leave my carefully processed freezer of tomato sauce into, gasp, a defrosted swimming pool of red?
Here are some suggestions to help minimize the power outage damage.
Group foods together in the freezer; this helps the food stay cold longer.
When the power goes out, safeguard precious frozen veggies or fruit by keeping the freezer doors closed as much as possible. Peek only to check on the temperature after four to six hours have passed.
According to the USDA, a full freezer will hold temperatures for about 48 hours if the doors remain closed. If only half full, you've got 24 hours.
If your freezer isn't full, then fill the extra space with frozen containers of water to keep food cold longer inside the compartment after the power goes out.
Make sure you have an appliance thermometer in your freezer. It will indicate the freezer's temperature as time passes during an outage and help determine if the food is safe after the weather emergency is over. If the thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, the food is safe.
But bacteria grows faster once the temperature rises above that, so if the freezer can no longer keep food below 40 degrees F, it's time to throw in the towel.
If you have meat in the freezer, take it out and cook it after it begins to thaw. If your power comes back on and the package still has ice crystals, it may be safe to refreeze, but you might want to consider inviting the neighbors over for an impromptu barbecue instead.
If there are still ice crystals in your veggies, feel free to refreeze, refrigerate or eat them.
For a list of safety guidelines for your refrigerator of specific foods, see www.foodsafety.gov.
None of my research listed this next suggestion. I just thought of it myself.
Make sure you have a cellphone on hand so you can call your friends and family who might not be affected by the outage. Barter freezer space for some of your prized frozen tomato sauce, strawberries and such.
I know I'll be calling my friends with two simple words. "Bring vodka."
This week I'm including a recipe for Bloody Marys using fresh ingredients. In the case of an extended power outage I'd simply substitute frozen tomatoes or tomato juice.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
FRESH TOMATO BLOODY MARYS
6 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
6 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup very coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley sprigs
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons bottled horseradish
2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Lemon wedges for rims of glasses
16 ounces (2 cups) ice-cold vodka
Garnish: large caper berries or green olives
Puree tomatoes, celery, parsley and 1 tablespoon sea salt in several batches in a food processor until smooth. Force through a food mill or medium-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. You'll have about 10 cups of juice. Add horseradish, Tabasco and lemon juice.
Mix remaining tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon finely ground fresh pepper on a small plate. Moisten outside of the rim of each glass with a lemon wedge, then dip the rim in salt and pepper. Fill each glass with ice and 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of vodka, then top with about 2/3 cup juice.
Source: adapted from www.epicurious.com.