Freeze It! Quick Tips for Freezing Garden Produce
By Teresa O’Connor
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Not sure about canning? Ambivalent about dehydrated foods? Freezing is a quick and effective way to preserve garden-fresh produce, such as vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. Ideal for beginners, this food preservation method couldn’t be easier.
Over the last few years, I’ve been freezing more and more of my garden harvest. Often those bags of frozen tomatoes or broccoli won’t last more than a few months, because we’re enjoying them from fall into winter. But they often last until the spring vegetables start hitting the local food markets or our garden, and that’s good enough for us.Here are a few general tips to get you off to a good start with freezing fresh foods.
Harvesting: Pick fruit, vegetables and herbs at their peak freshness. Discard any bruised, damaged or over- or under-ripe foods. Work quickly as you stem, slice, peel or pit foods, so they aren’t exposed to air for a long time. Freeze fresh foods as soon as possible after harvesting to retain the maximum nutrients. I’ve found that cutting pieces in similar sizes helps them freeze more efficiently.
Blanching: The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends you blanch almost all vegetables before freezing. Blanching involves scalding vegetables quickly in boiling water or steam, and then stopping the cooking quickly by plunging the food immediately into very cold water. This retains more vitamins, brightens colors and stops enzyme actions that can cause loss of flavors and textures. In past years, I have frozen vegetables without blanching them, such as peppers and beans. But for best results, follow these expert recommendations on blanching times for various vegetables.
Storing: Always freeze foods at 0°F or lower. You can get a jump start on freezing, by setting the temperature control at -10°F or lower 24 hours in advance. Cool everything to room temperature before you freeze it.
For raspberries, cut peppers and green beans, I freeze them on a small tray first, and then put them in a freezer bag. This way they freeze into individual pieces and don’t stick together.
One of my favorite ways to freeze tomatoes is to slide them into a bag, and freeze them whole. Then I use them to add color, flavor and nutrition to soup, chili, pasta sauce and casseroles during the colder months. As tomatoes won’t keep their same texture when they defrost, they are better used in cooked dishes rather in salads.
Freeze foods in containers made especially for this purpose, such as plastic freezer bags or dual purpose glass jars made for canning and freezing. Don’t use regular glass jars, which will break in freezing temperatures.
In case the liquid expands, leave extra room at the top of the jar. You’ll also probably need to thaw everything completely to remove it from the jars. I often use freezer bags for my needs. Whatever containers you select, make sure they are moisture-vapor resistant, leak proof, strong and durable, and easy to close tightly.
Pack foods in containers, and remove all excess air. Be sure the seals are closed completely. Leave some space at the top of containers with wide or narrow openings. Here are space guidelines from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Label containers with the type of foods and the dates frozen, along with other details like number of servings, ingredients, etc... I use a permanent pen to mark mine. Leave spaces between packages as they freeze to allow better air circulation. Then store frozen foods close together in the coldest parts of the freezer.If frozen properly, most fruits and vegetables will stay good for at least 8 to 12 months at 0°F.
What Doesn’t Freeze Well? As you can imagine, not everything freezes well. Cabbages, cucumbers, celery, lettuces and radishes can get limp and water-logged. These foods are better prepared into marinated items, like freezer slaw or freezer pickles. Herbs like parsley, basil and cilantro are best chopped finely and frozen in freezer bags, or in ice cube trays with water, stock or olive oil.
Meanwhile, have fun as you freeze your garden harvest. Once that weather turns cold, your home-preserved, garden-fresh foods will taste better than ever, and will help you survive until your garden is ready to enjoy again.