Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stock Your Freezer: Garden (and Store-Bought) Produce

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As I have mentioned before, we have very full freezers right now. If you look in our chest freezer, well over half is currently full of berries and vegetables, most of which came directly from our garden. There are also times when I'll buy extra vegetables (like celery, carrots, and potatoes) when there is an amazing sale. We definitely appreciate having these veggies available all through the winter, and I know we save plenty of cash by using our frozen produce rather than buying the same items out of season.

Most veggies should be prepared before freezing by blanching. From what I've read in numerous resources, blanching is important because it breaks down enzymes that affect the quality of the vegetables over time, producing brighter color and better flavor. I usually do blanch my veggies, but there is the occasional food that we have found come out just as well without taking the extra work and mess required when boiling them a few minutes and then plunging them in ice water. I usually do a quick Google search to figure out how long to blanch each item, which usually leads me to  They do provide step-by-step pictures, but I find the site design to be really busy and the directions can be slightly confusing at times. I prefer a more streamlined approach, so I've been looking for a better resource. After doing some searching, I found and bookmarked this thorough and concise list of freezing instructions, yields, and cooking instructions from the University of Missouri Extension. Each type of veggie is listed in alphabetical order, so it's easy to find the vegetable you want to freeze.

So, without any further ado, here is the list of vegetables and fruits we have successfully frozen from our garden, local farms, and sales at the grocery store.
  • Broccoli - Cut and blanch for 3 minutes. (And be sure to pick home-grown broccoli over for worms - yuck!)
  • Carrots - Peel, slice, and blanch for 2 minutes.
  • Celery:  Slice into 1-inch pieces and blanch 3 minutes.
    I have tried freezing celery without blanching, and I was not impressed with the results.
  • Corn: Cut kernels off of corn that has been cooked or blanched (about 9 minutes) and store in a freezer bag. I usually do this if we end up with an extra ear of corn at the end of dinner and save it for the next time I make Taco Chicken Chili.
  • Green Beans - Snap and blanch for 3 minutes
  • Jalapenos - Freeze them whole, without blanching.
  • Onion - Chop or slice and freeze. Onions do not need to be blanched. This is another way to take advantage of a great sale. 
  • Peppers - Slice or chop and freeze raw in quart freezer bags. (This is one veggie that does not need to be blanched.) We have frozen bell peppers, banana peppers and green chili peppers this way.
  • Potatoes - Bake before freezing. You can freeze whole baked potatoes, grate them for hash browns, or cut them in cubes for home fries.
    This is a great way to make use of  a great deal on a 10 pound bag of potatoes ($1.99 at Aldi this past week! Seriously!), especially when I know we won't eat them all before they sprout or get soft.
  • Pumpkin - Once I bake and puree the pumpkin, I like to freeze half-cup portions in muffin tins and then transfer them to a gallon bag in our freezer. This makes it very easy to get out the right amount of puree for a recipe.
  • Sugar Snap Peas - Trim off stems and blanch for 2-3 minutes. I didn't blanch these and the quality suffered. Next year I will.
  • Tomatoes - Normally, we can our tomatoes, but in our last house we had a very prolific cherry tomato plant. In the height of the season, there were too many for us to eat, so we froze the tomatoes whole in quart bags and put them in soups and omelets.
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squash - Slice and blanch for 3 minutes or grate and freeze (I have never blanched grated zucchini) in portions appropriate for your favorite recipes. I usually freeze two cups of grated zucchini in a bag and lay flat or use 3 cups sectioned out like this:
    When I want to use it in a recipe, I just let it thaw out and add the entire contents of the bag to my recipe, including the juice.

We were very fortunate to purchase a house with established blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry bushes, as well as a small strawberry patch. We harvested 3 or 4 strawberries (and therefore picked our frozen supply at a local farm), but the rest of our berries were quite prolific. We will be enjoying them in yogurt all winter long.
With all berries, the best practice is to pick over the berries, wash, flash-freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and place the frozen berries in quart freezer bags for long-term storage. However, since we don't use pesticides, I often skip the washing and flash-freezing step on the berries from our yard. (Don't judge! I'm sure all of us have eaten berries straight off the bush.)
Here are the berries we have frozen successfully by flash-freezing.
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries- hull (remove leaves) before freezing
  • Cranberries (One year our local bargain store was clearing out cranberries for 50 cents a bag! I flash froze some and used the rest to make and freeze this Cranberry Apple Chutney, which is delicious served with salmon.)
Other fruits:
We have frozen sliced apples and peaches in the past, using citric acid or lemon juice to preserve color and flavor, but we decided we preferred canning applesauce and sliced peaches instead, especially since it means we have more room in the freezer!

I know this is not an exhaustive list, but I wanted to share what has worked for us, especially since it takes up the majority of our freezer space.
Do you freeze much produce? What fruits and veggies have you frozen that are not included in the list above? I'd love to get some new ideas!

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