Benefits of Freezing Summer Produce

Freezing fruits and vegetables is a great way to serve the family healthy, nutritious fresh foods all winter. By using safe, approved techniques, the nutrients will be preserved. Freezing foods is quick and easy and doesn’t take a lot of equipment.

Home freezing techniques to preserve high quality foods with the maximum nutritional value are based on the same principles commercial companies use. Freezing fruits and vegetables is perhaps the best method of preserving their nutrients and quality.

Blanching Vegetables Before Freezing

Blanching involves dipping foods into boiling water for a short period of time, then chilling rapidly. Foods are then drained, packaged and frozen. Up until harvest time, enzymes cause vegetables to grow and mature. If vegetables are not blanched, or blanching is not long enough, the enzymes continue to be active during frozen storage causing off-colors, off-flavors and toughening. Blanching deactivates the enzymes and helps destroy microorganisms on the surface of foods.

Steps in Blanching Vegetables

Use a large pot that holds at least 2 gallons of water. Figure 1 gallon of water for each pound of vegetables. Other items needed: wire basket or colander, timer, large bowl or pot with ice water, extra ice cubes, additional colander for draining, freezer containers or bags, marking pen for labeling.

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil.
  • Place vegetables in basket (do not crowd), immerse basket into water.
  • Cover pot, keep boiling.
  • Time as soon as water returns to a boil, using the chart below, on “How to Prepare Vegetables for Freezing”.
  • Put the basket in ice water for the same amount of time as blanching. Keep ice in the water.
  • Drain the vegetables thoroughly to avoid too many ice crystals.
  • Pack, using either the dry or tray pack method, see below “Packaging Vegetables for the Freezer”.
  • Label, freeze.

The blanching water may be used 2 or 3 times; change when cloudy. Microwave blanching in not recommended; off-flavors, colors and textures may result.

Freezing Chart for Vegetables

Asparagus:

Wash asparagus and cut off any tough parts. Blanch small stalks for 2 minutes and large ones for 4 minutes. Cool, drain, and pack into containers by alternating tip and stem ends. Do not leave a headspace.

Beans, Green or Wax:

Pick young, tender beans. Remove stems and break into 1-2 inch pieces. Wash. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes and dip into cold water. Drain, pack and freeze. Leave a 1/2-inch headspace.

Beets:

When triming beets, leave 1-inch of their tops on. This will prevent “bleeding.” If you don’t, your beets will lighten during cooking. Wash beets and cook them for 25 minutes. Cool in cold water and peel them. The skins should easily slip off now. Cut into cubes or slices, pack and freeze, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace.

Broccoli:

Wash and peel stalks.To remove insects, soak for 1/2 hour in a solution of  5 teaspoons salt to 1 gallon of water. Boil for 3 minutes and cool in cold water. Drain and pack into containers leaving no headspace.

Brussels Sprouts:

Trim and remove outer leaves. Wash and boil small heads for 3 minutes and large heads for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water, drain, and pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Cabbage:

Remove outer leaves and cut into wedges. Wash and heat in boiling water for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water, drain and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Frozen cabbage is only suitable for use as a cooked vegetable, as in soup or sauteed with apples as a side dish, and not for coleslaw.

Carrots:

Remove tops, wash, and scrape or peel. Leave small carrots whole and slice larger ones. Boil whole carrots for 5 minutes and sliced ones for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain. Pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Cauliflower:

Break into 1-inch pieces and wash. Remove insects by soaking for 1/2 hour in a solution of 5 teaspoons salt to 1 gallon of water. Drain and rinse. Boil for 3 minutes and cool in cold water. Pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Corn:

Husk the ears and remove the silk. Heat the ears in boiling water for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water and drain. Cut kernels from the cob and cover corn with water. Pack into containers leaving 1-inch headspace.

Corn-on-the-cob:

Husk, remove silk and blanch (same as above.) Wrap in plastic wrap and pack into containers. Freeze.

Mushrooms:

Wash in cold water.  Rinse well. If mushrooms are larger than 1 inch, slice or quarter them. Soak the mushrooms in an anti-darkening solution (lemon juice or Fruit Fresh) for 5 minutes, drain. Steam mushrooms for 5 minutes. Cool in cold water and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Okra:

Pick tender pods, wash, and cut off stem end. Be careful not to cut open the seed cells. Heat for 4 minutes in boiling water and cool promptly in cold water. Leave whole or slice, and pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Onions:

Wash and peel onions. Chop and place into containers. Leave no headspace.

Peas:

Shell peas and wash to remove blossom ends and pod particles. Heat in boiling water for 2 minutes and cool in cold water. Drain. Pack peas into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Peapods:

Wash and blanch pods for 2 minutes. Cool in cold water and pack into containers. Freeze.

Peppers:

Wash, cut out seeds, and chop. Pack into containers, leaving no headspace.

Pumpkin:

Wash pumpkin and cut into quarters. Cook until soft by either boiling, steaming, or baking. Press through a sieve. Cool and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Sweet potatoes:

Wash sweet potatoes and cook until almost tender. Cool in cold water and peel. Slice, mash, or leave sweet potatoes whole. To prevent darkening, dip sweet potatoes in lemon juice or Fruit Fresh for about 5 seconds. If sweet potatoes are mashed, just add 2 tablespoons lemon juice to a quart of sweet potatoes. Pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Tomatoes:

Wash, remove stem ends, and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Cool in cold water and remove skins. Quarter, halve or leave whole. Pack into containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Tomatoes, stewed:

Wash, remove stem ends, and blanch for 3-4 minutes. Cool in cold water and remove skins. Quarter and cook until tender (about 20 minutes). Place the pan of cooked tomatoes in cold water to cool, and pack into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

Packaging Vegetables for Freezing

Packing vegetables tightly  into the freezer container will cause them to freeze in a “clump,” which is fine, if the entire package will be cooked at once. This is called a “dry pack.”

Sometimes, a loose pack is desired, called a “tray pack.” Foods are spread out on a tray or flat pan to freeze, then packaged.

Freezing Fruits

Fruits are usually served raw, so blanching is not used. Instead, ascorbic acid is added to prevent browning and the loss of Vitamin C. The acid interferes with the enzymes and compounds that destroy the nutrients and food quality.

Most fruits will darken after they are cut, so you will need to prevent this by using an anti-darkening agent. I usually soak cut fruit in a solution of water and bottled lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon per quart), but you can use a commercial anti-darkening agent, such as Fruit Fresh. Both work with great results.

Sugar is added to some fruit to help retain color and to enhance taste. You can either add sugar to the fruit and mix it in, or you can mix sugar and water together to form a syrup and pour it over the fruit. I have had good results with packing fruits for the freezer without sugar.  Some fruits, including rhubarb, blueberries, cranberries and strawberries freeze well without sugar. Light sugar syrup is an alternative but I would skip heavy sugar syrup additions.

Freezing Chart for Fruits

Apples for pies: Peel, core and slice apples. Treat apples with an anti-darkening agent. Drain. For each quart of apples, sprinkle with 1/2 cup sugar (optional). Mix, seal and freeze.

Applesauce: Wash and quarter apples. Cook until tender with enough water to prevent apples from scorching. Run cooked apples through a food mill and sweeten, if desired. Pack into containers.

Apricots for pies: Wash, halve, pit and peel (optional.) If you do not wish to peel, heat apricots in boiling water for 1 minute so skins won’t toughen. Treat with an anti-darkening agent, drain and mix one quart fruit with 1/2 cup sugar (optional).

Blackberries for pies and jams: Remove stems, wash, and drain. Mix 3/4 cup sugar (optional) to 1 quart berries. Fill containers and freeze.

Cherries for pies: Stem, wash, drain and pit. Mix 3/4 cups sugar (optional) to 1 quart cherries. Pack, seal and freeze.

Gooseberries: Remove blossom ends and stems. Wash and pack into containers. You do not have to add sugar. If you wish, you may cover with a sugar syrup and freeze.

Melons: Cut up melons and pack into containers with a sugar syrup. Seal and freeze.

Peaches for pies: Wash, pit and peel. If you do not wish to peel the peaches, you can dip them in boiling water for a minute to loosen skins; the skins will be easier to pull off. Treat with an anti-darkening agent, drain and pack peaches into containers. Cover with cold water, seal and freeze.

Pears: Wash, peel, core and quarter. Heat pears in light syrup for 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Pack pears in containers with syrup and anti-darkening agent (Fruit Fresh or lemon juice). Seal and freeze.

Plums: Wash, pit, and cut in halves. Pack into containers and freeze.

Raspberries: Same as for Blackberries.

Rhubarb: Wash and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. Heat in boiling water for 1 minute and cool in cold water. Pack into containers and freeze.

Strawberries: Wash, drain, and remove stems. (Optional-add 3/4 cups sugar to 1 quart berries and mix.) Put into containers and freeze.

Steps in Freezing Fruits

  • Wash, sort fruits carefully. Discard portions that are not high quality and fully ripe.
  • Cut the fruit as you would want to serve it (slices, bite size pieces, etc.).
  • Refer to the How to Prepare Fruits for Freezing chart to determine if anti-browning treatment is needed. Use ascorbic acid as directed in the chart or on the package label.
  • Prepare dry sugar or sugar syrup as directed in the How to Prepare Fruits for Freezing chart.
  • Light Syrup Recipe: Boil 2 cups sugar and 4 cups water=5 cups syrup Dissolve the specified amount of sugar in the specified amount of water, stir. Let sit until sugar is completely dissolved. Do not heat. Sugar syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.
  • Pack into good quality freezer plastic bags, freezer boxes or jars. Allow 1/ 2 inch head space at the top for expansion. Seal bags or fasten lids on tightly.

Packaging Foods for the Freezer

  • Frozen foods need to be packaged properly to prevent “freezer burn,” or loss of moisture from the foods.
  • Packaging must be both moisture and vapor proof, keeping moisture in the product and outside odors out.
  • If using containers, be sure they are freezer storage containers. Reusing food containers is a great practice, but things like cottage cheese boxes do not keep moisture in or vapors out. Lids need to fit tightly.
  • If using bags, be sure they are freezer bags, not regular food storage bags. Freezer paper is lined with plastic, and is easier to mold to the shape of firm foods.
  • No matter what containers are used, be sure to expel as much air as possible before closing. Label containers with the product and date to ensure using them before the quality declines.

Storing Frozen Foods

Store frozen foods (home prepared and purchased) at 0 degrees F. or lower. 

Most frozen fruits maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months. Unsweetened fruits lose quality faster than those packed in sugar or sugar syrups.

Most vegetables will maintain high quality for 12 to 18 months at 0° F or lower. However, it is a good idea to plan to use your home frozen vegetables before the next year’s crop is ready for freezing.

Longer storage of fruits and vegetables than those recommended above will not make the food unfit for use, but will decrease its quality.

Freezing Herbs

Herbs can be preserved for a long time if they are properly frozen. Freezing an herb does not change its flavor, but it can no longer be used as a garnish because it becomes limp when defrosted. You can, however, add frozen herbs to your favorite cooked dishes, soups and stews. 

Pick fresh herbs when they are almost ripe and the flower buds are beginning to open up. Choose herbs such as parsley, sage, tarragon, basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, mint or rosemary.

Remove the stems and wash the herbs gently under running cold water. Put them in a strainer and then transfer to paper towels to remove all moisture. You can also spin them dry in a slad spinner.

Spread the herbs on a cookie tray and place it in the freezer. When they are frozen, store them in a sealed plastic bag or airtight container.

Some other methods for freezing herbs:

  • Place the the washed and chopped herbs in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with a little water to give the cubes some shape. Place the trays in the freezer and use when needed.
  • Grind the washed herbs in a blender. Add two tablespoons of olive oil per one cup of herbs. Transfer the pureed herbs to the ice cube tray and freeze.
  • Pick out a few leaves from each herb and tie them together with a string to make a bouquet. Place the bouquet on a cookie tray and freeze. Transfer the frozen herbs to an airtight plastic bag.

How To Freeze Basil                                                                                                                                      

Freezing basil is a great way to preserve its deep, unique flavor to enjoy during the long winter when its taste brings to mind happy thoughts of summer gardens.

Unlike other green herbs which suffer little from freezing, basil requires one extra step if you want it to emerge from the freezer as green as it was when it went in: blanching. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil, dip the basil leaves in for 30 seconds, drain the basil, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (rolling it in a clean kitchen towel does a good job).

At this point you can simply double-bag the basil, pushing out as much air from the bags as possible, and place it in the freezer. I prefer, however, to whirl the basil in a blender with a bit of olive oil to make a thick puree. Freeze this in small covered containers or in a clean ice cube tray (once frozen through, transfer the basil cubes to a sealable plastic bag for long-term storage).

If your favorite way to use basil is in pesto – go ahead and make the pesto when the basil is fresh and freeze the pesto itself. I leave the cheese out when I freeze pesto. It can be added when you make the pasta.

Methods of Preparing Basil for Freezing

Option 1: Wash and dry the basil leaves (the stems should be discarded). Then, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze. Transfer the frozen basil to freezer bags, and use as needed.

Option 2: Blanch the basil leaves for 15 seconds. Then, plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Dry thoroughly. Then, flash freeze using the method described in option 1.

Option 3: Use a food processor to coarsely chop clean basil leaves. Then, add a drizzle of olive oil, and pulse to lightly coat the leaves with oil (this will keep the basil from turning black in the freezer). Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. Transfer the finished cubes to freezer bags and use as needed. Once cube is the equivalent of about two tablespoons of fresh basil.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Tips:

1. Basil tends to turn black when frozen. If maintaining that bright green color is important to you, use option 3.

2. Oil should only be added to basil if it will be frozen. Storing basil in oil, either in the refrigerator or at room temperature, causes a risk of botulism.

3. Planning to use your basil in heated dishes? Just add your frozen basil directly to the pot. There’s no need to thaw it first.

 

About these ads