We’re getting to that part of the year when gardens are bursting with produce! Whether you’re the recipient of a neighbor’s generosity, you’re growing your own, or a shareholder in a CSA, there always seems to be a little more than you can use in a given amount of time. Fortunately though, you make the best of season by putting it away for the winter. Freezing, by far is best way to preserve produce’s truest taste. Canning and pickling are not without their merits, but in most cases require additional ingredients, jars, time and sometimes complex processing instructions.
Fortunately, freezing is pretty straight forward. You need minimal materials, and while it’s labour intensive, it takes far less time to freeze food than it does to jar food, and you can best adjust the portions to suit your needs. While our first instinct is just to bag and freeze, taking a few extra steps will make your produce tastier, and more crisp when they’re used later on.
First, assemble your materials: You will need a sharp paring knife, and quality freezer bags, a large pot, sieve, and ice water.
Second, prepare your vegetables for blanching. Blanching is kind of a “quick cook”, it keeps your vegetables from becoming stiff or stringy after being frozen. Clean your produce thoroughly and trim off any tough pieces, stems or leaves you don’t want (and put them aside! you can make beautiful vegetable stock afterwards!). Put one to two pounds of produce into a boiling pot of water, and boil for the specified amount of time, but no longer! Immediately drain and transfer to ice water to stop the cooking process, after they’re cool, drain throroughly.
Some vegetables cannot be blanched because of their high water content, but most should be blanched. As a rule of thumb, these are the vegetables you should blanch before freezing along with their blanch times:
Asparagus – 2 minutes
Beans (string, snap, green, italian)- 3 minutes
Beets– cook through, about 25 minutes or until tender
Broccoli (bite size) – STEAM 2 minutes
Brussel sprouts, medium size – 4 minutes
Cabbage – 90 seconds
Carrots or Parsnips (baby)- 5 minutes
Carrots or Parsnips (diced or sliced) 2 minutes
Cauliflower (bite size) – 3 minutes in heavily salted water
Celery – 3 minutes
Corn on the cob: 9 minutes
Corn kernels: 4 minutes ON THE COB, cut from cob after blanching and cooling
Cooking greens (kale, chard, mustard, beet or turnip greens) 2 minutes
Collard greens– 3 minutes
Kohlrabi (cubed)- 1 minute
Okra (whole)- 3 minutes
Peas (shelled)- 90 seconds
Rutabaga or Turnips (cubed) – 2 minutes
After they are blanched, cooled and drained thoroughly, pack into freezer bags (leaving room for you to flatten the pack), seal tightly, removing as much air as possible. I recommend using a straw to suck out the last of the air then quickly sealing it. Don’t forget to label and date the package before putting it in the freezer.
Vegetables with higher water content should be treated differently when it comes to freezing. Some should be cooked through, others not cooked at all.
Cucumbers: Not recommended for freezing
Leafy greens – best fresh, adult spinach may be blanched for 30 seconds, chopped then frozen, packed tightly. Do not recommend freezing lettuces.
Mushrooms – peel, steam for 3 1/2 minutes and saute in fat (meat drippings or butter), cool and freeze with drippings.
Peas (snow peas in shell) – blanch 30 seconds, freeze whole.
Peppers (sweet, bell) – cut into desired shape (dice, strips) freeze on a baking sheet and transfer to a bag. Pack tightly to avoid crystals.
Peppers (hot)– Remove stem, freeze whole, tightly packed.
Squash (summer)– Does best grated, packed tightly and frozen
Squash (winter, pumpkin) – Cook through, remove skin and mash, freeze
Tomatoes: Not recommended for freezing
And there you have it! Preserve part of your bounty to enjoy in the winter; fast, easy and best of all… frugal!