If you’ve been following our gardening tips, you’re neck deep in fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables. Now that you’ve eaten your fill, you may notice that you’ve started to collect a surplus. What do you do with all the extra produce that you’ve produced? Don’t worry. We at Crucial are here to walk you through one of the best ways to store those extra vegetables. That way, you can enjoy the vibrant tastes of summer even when there’s a foot of snow outside. All it takes is a little time, some Ziploc freezer bags and room in your freezer.
Freezing your extra produce is a great way to preserve nutrients and flavor. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment like canning, and you don’t have to worry about using a pressure cooker to prevent botulism. Botulism is an anaerobic bacterium; properly preparing and freezing your produce will prevent it from growing.
To prepare your vegetables for freezing, you first should cut them into smaller pieces; chop your broccoli into florets, section green beans into 1 to 2-inch lengths. Corn should be blanched on the cob and then cut off before freezing. Greens, such as collards, turnip, or beet greens should be cleaned and de-stemmed, then sliced into strips for easier packing.
The next step is to blanch your vegetables. Blanching is very easy. In a large pot, boil a gallon of water per pound of produce and dunk your vegetables into it for 3 to 7 minutes depending on the type (Find an easy reference chart here). Start the blanching timer when the water returns to a boil (it should be within a minute, or you’ve got too many veggies in the water). After the allotted time has elapsed, plunge them into ice water immediately to stop the cooking process.
Blanching is important in vegetables because it neutralizes enzymes that cause vegetables to ripen. These enzymes are what make asparagus turn woody and makes squash soften and turn bitter. Blanching also helps preserve the vitamins and kills any bacteria still on the outside of your vegetables. Be careful to follow the recommended times, however; underblanching can cause the enzymes to become acidic, whereas over blanching will leave your vegetables tasteless and losing its natural texture.
Dry and Pack
After blanching and cooling, dry your vegetables to prevent freezer burn. When freezing, there are two primary storage methods for freezing. Loose packing is where the vegetables are placed on a cookie sheet that has been covered with a single layer of parchment paper. Put it in the freezer until the vegetables are frozen. Place the frozen vegetables in a Ziploc baggie and remove as much air as you can. This loose-pack method is great because it allows you to remove just the amount of produce you need. This is ideal for almost every vegetable, with very few exceptions.
You can also tight-pack vegetables to save time, but this makes portioning more difficult. It is very efficient for storage and is less time consuming. For a tight-pack, just put the cooled vegetables directly into a storage container and freeze. This is also the preferred method for freezing greens, squash purees, and cooked tomatoes.
Fruits do not need blanched, but should be frozen and stored in the loose-pack method. The fruits that you should freeze are berries, stone fruit (such as peaches, cherries, and nectarines), and tomatoes. To prepare them, wash them first, using a fruit wash if you like. Dry the fruit completely to avoid freezer burn. Cut the fruit into bite sized pieces, removing the core or pits, and stems. Smaller berries such as blueberries or raspberries can be left whole. Strawberries should be hulled and either left whole or cut. Melons are peeled and cut into chunks. You can also use a melon baller if you like. Tomatoes should be cored and can be peeled if you like.
Once the fruit is prepared, use the loose pack method to freeze them. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the fruit on the sheet in a single layer. Freeze the fruit for at least 4 hours and package them immediately. You can use freezer-approved containers or freezer-rated plastic bags. Remove as much air as possible.
Using Your Frozen Goodies
For frozen fruits, you generally don’t need to thaw them at all before tossing them into a smoothie or pastry batter. Keep in mind that thawing fruits will cause them to lose their texture because freezing destroys the cell walls that give plants their rigidity. Try to use frozen fruits within 3 to 6 months of freezing for best flavors.
Frozen vegetables can be treated just like frozen veggies from the supermarket. Pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to heat thoroughly or toss as-is into soups, stews, or sauces. Tomatoes don’t need to be thawed and can be cooked into a sauce directly from the frozen state.
Gardening doesn’t have to mean that you only get the wonderful flavors during summer. With proper preservation, you can get those bright flavors during the long dark days of winter, a sure way to cheer you up. Do you have a favorite veggie that you grow extra of just to put up for the winter? If so, let us know in the comments below.