Those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and silky ears of corn will not be at your farmer’s market forever. Why not freeze or can the summer harvest to use in colder months when certain foods will no longer be available?
Freezing foods aren’t difficult, but it does call for careful planning, organization, and quality containers. Choose products at their prime freshness, and freeze them as quickly as possible. Buy sturdy plastic bags that seal well, or invest in a vacuum sealer. Jars made especially for the freezer are another option. Start your project by assessing your freezer space.
The idea is to inactivate the enzymes that ripen fresh produce. Arresting the process at just the right time ensures that flavor and texture remain at their peak and that nutrient is not lost. Freezing slows down the action of the enzymes, but exposure to heat stops it completely. This heat treatment is known as blanching. Blanching also kills bacteria and enhances the color of vegetables.
First, wash your hands. Wash them frequently throughout the preserving process.
Wash your vegetables in cold water—trim them if necessary. Bring one gallon of water to boil for each pound of prepped vegetables.
Completely submerge the food, and do not start timing until the water returns to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl or pan. This will prevent vegetables from continuing to cook after you’ve taken them off the heat. It also brings the food to a safe temperature for freezing.
When the time is up—brightened color is a good indication—immerse the vegetables in the ice bath. When they are completely cooled down, pat them dry. Seal them in a freezer bag. Leave a little room for the product to expand during the freezing process. Be sure to label and date the bag, your product will maintain its quality for up to 12 months.
Blanching for too long will leave you with mushy, colorless veggies that have no flavor. When you take them off the heat, they should still have a firm texture. Below are some of the foods that benefit from blanching:
- Summer Squash and Zucchini: You may cut these however you like. Blanch for about one minute.
- Corn: Remove the husks, then pull off all the silk and trim the ends. You may blanch up to four ears of corn at once for six to eight minutes. Ears of corn should be wrapped individually before sealing and freezing.
- Snow Peas, Sugar Peas, and Garden Peas: Garden peas are the only peas that need to be shelled before blanching. Boil for no more than a minute or so.
- Tomatoes: There are a few approaches that you can try with tomatoes. One is to skip the blanching process. Just seal and freeze whole or halved tomatoes, making sure to pat them dry first.
Alternatively, let chopped tomatoes simmer for about four minutes on the stove. Remove the seeds and skins from the cooked tomatoes by pushing them through a sieve. When the pulp is fully cooled, seal and freeze. This preparation is ideal for using the pulp in sauces later on.
Another option is to roast the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, and toss them with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. A pinch of sugar is also good for flavor and slight caramelizing. Roast the tomatoes at 275 F for 30 minutes. Allow complete cooling before you freezes them.
If you prefer to blanch whole tomatoes, immerse them in boiling water for no more than a minute. Once they have cooled down, peel them. Freeze them on a tray for 30 minutes before packing and sealing.
Peppers do not require blanching. You can freeze all varieties whole or sliced. They may also be roasted before freezing. Prepare them just as you would the roasted tomatoes.
Thawed fruits that are not eaten immediately just are not very good. That is why it is better to freeze them in one layer on a cookie sheet first and portion them later.
Peel apples, pears and other fruits. Remove their cores. Peel peaches and remove the pits. Chop all the fruits into bite-size pieces, but leave berries whole. After the individual fruit chunks or berries are frozen hard, scoop one or two servings into each baggie or jar. To prevent freezer burn, squeeze all the air out of the bag.
Canning is more difficult and time-consuming, but that’s why the results are so rewarding. Here are some tips for saving money and expediting the process:
- Look for supplies at thrift shops and yard sales.
- Before you start canning, make sure that none of the jars are chipped or cracked. If any are, discard them.
- If the jars will be processed in a water bath or pressure canned, sterilizing is not necessary—that goes for the covers too.
- Uphold tradition by using your grandmother’s jam recipe, but don’t hesitate to experiment with other flavors. Extracts and dry spices in small amounts add variety.
- You don’t necessarily have to peel everything because valuable vitamins and minerals are often in the skin. Thoroughly wash and scrub your products, but skip the peeling to save time and effort.
- Always soak dried beans before canning to prevent indigestion for sensitive stomachs.
Preserving fresh produce not only prevents waste, but it saves time and money. The resulting products are far better for your health than canned, processed foods. It’s a fun project to do with friends or as a family. Children and spouses can pit fruit, chop vegetables and keep things tidy.
The best benefit of all is enjoying the summer harvest in the cold, dark days of Winter.