Freezing Your Harvest
Welcome back to our series on how to store your harvest. Today's topic is freezing. This method retains the highest nutrient value of all the storage methods, making it perfect for nutritious veggies year round. It is also a relatively quick and easy process to do. What's not to love about freezing our produce?
Air is the Enemy
The key to successful freezing, is to remove as much oxygen as possible from your container. Air equals freezer burn, oxidation, and large ice crystals that break down fibers and mess with the texture of your thawed produce. You end up with funky flavours and mushy produce. Not good eating for sure. You can remove the air with a couple of different methods. If you are using rigid plastic or glass containers, it's just a matter of filling the containers fully. When using zip top bags, I often squeeze out as much air as possible. I then seal all but about 1" of the zipper, insert a straw into the opening and manually suck out the rest of the air. Just quickly pull out the straw and zip up the remaining 1". Works like a dandy! If you do a lot of freezing it might be worth investing in a vacuum sealing machine. Food Saver is one brand but there are many types out there. These mechanically vacuum the air out of purchased bags or containers and seal them at the same time. Absolutely all the oxygen is removed, giving you the best product possible. These also work great for portioning out meat to be frozen when you buy in bulk like I do.
Another option for herbs such as chives, cilantro, parsley, basil is to freeze them whole in a zip top bag. Scrunch the bag to break into pieces once completely frozen so you can remove a bit at a time whenever you need. Note that if you are going to be using herbs in a medicinal capacity, freezing can reduce or negatively affect those medicinal properties. Flavour will still be good to go.
Freezing your produce can be as easy as washing, chopping, throwing it in a bag (don't forget to remove the air) and chucking it in the freezer. I don't even bother chopping my tomatoes, I just throw them whole into zip top bags and into the freezer they go (great for pulling out and making tomato sauce later in the year when I have time.) However, there are a couple things you should think about before you freeze:
Think about how you will use use it. Is there a favourite recipe those frozen carrots will most likely go in? Then it would be helpful if you had them chopped just like you need them for that recipe. Same thing goes for the portion size. If you need 3 cups of thinly sliced rhubarb for Rhubarb Custard Pie, then life will be easier if you freeze 3 cup portions of thinly sliced rhubarb, right?
Add some extra flavour to the bag or container. This can be as simple as a touch of sugar to fruit or garlic butter to mixed vegetables. Get creative here! Compound butters can add huge herbal, citrus, or even umami flavours to your foods. Think capers or anchovies or black garlic butter! Same goes for sugar. Mints, citrus, vanilla, or tonka bean infused sugar can turn frozen berries from boring to fabulous!
Tetris your freezer space. It's easy to run out of room quickly, so it pays to be as compact as possible. If using containers, opt for square and stackable ones. For zip top bags or vacuum sealed bags, flatten them as much as possible before freezing and then stack them. Or you could always get a second (or third!) freezer.
To Blanch or Not to Blanch, That is the Question
Some vegetable greatly benefit from blanching. This is just the process of partially cooking your produce before you freeze it. This has a couple of benefits. Tough vegetables will be much more tender if blanched first. It can also improve the colour or texture of some vegetables. The colour and taste of greens, such as spinach, are greatly improved by blanching. There are two methods of blanching: cooking first and then packaging (traditional method), or packaging first and then cooking in the package (boil in bag method). Both ways work well, but the boil-in-bag method is a bit faster, less messy, and will usually give a slightly better end product. Remember not to boil too much at one time. The water should return to a boil in less than 2 minutes after adding the veggies.
For both methods, start off by washing and cutting up your veggies into whatever shape and size you desire. Set a large pot of water to boil and fill up your clean kitchen sink with water and ice.
Add the vegetables directly to the boiling water and cook until done. Refer to Best Ways To Preserve Your Veggies (link coming soon) for specific cooking times for each vegetable.
Use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to transfer them to the ice bath once cooked. Cool for about as long as it took to cook.
Once cool, remove from ice bath and drain onto towels.
Transfer to a zip top bag, a vacuum seal bag, or rigid container and remove as much air as possible. If you want, throw some flavourings in there with the veggies before you seal. You can also tray freeze your veggies before packaging them (see below for details on tray freezing).
Add your veggies to either a zip top bag or a vacuum seal bag and remove as much air as possible. If you want, throw some flavourings in there with the veggies before you seal.
Place the entire bag in the boiling water and cook until done. Refer to Best Ways To Preserve Your Veggies (link coming soon) for specific cooking times for each vegetable.
Once cooked, remove the bags to the ice water. Cool for about as long as it took to cook.
Once cool, remove from ice bath and pat dry.
No need to blanch any type of fruit, beans, broccoli, cabbage, corn on the cob, summer squash, onions, peppers, whole tomatoes, or any of the herbs.
One advantage that store bought frozen fruits and veggies often have over homemade ones, is that each piece is individually frozen, so you can remove only as much as you need from the package at any time. Well, guess what? We can do that at home too! It's called tray freezing and it just involves one extra step in the freezing process. All you need to do is spread your small pieces of fruit or veggies out on a baking sheet (blanch first if needed). Ensure they are in a single layer (no overlapping) and not touching each other. Put the entire tray into the freezer, making sure it is level so that they don't slide into each other. Once they are frozen, place into a container or bag and return to the freezer. Don't leave it in the freezer on that tray for more than 24 hours, we don't want freezer burn to form. This method is perfect for berries and diced mixed vegetables. You can just scoop out a cup here and there, whenever you need them for smoothies or casseroles.
Purees & Pastes
Minced garlic has to be one of the most used ingredients in my kitchen. The problem is that refrigerated minced garlic does not safely store very long, only one or two weeks max. Those jars you see in the grocery store contain a bunch of chemicals that make them safe to store longer, and we don't want to be adding chemicals to our home grown produce. So what to do? Why freeze it, of course! You can finely chop, mince, or fully puree your garlic, depending on your preference. This method not only works great for garlic, but also onions, shallots, ginger, and almost any herb as well. You know those herbs that just don't have great flavour when dried? This is the method for them. I'm looking at you basil, cilantro and chervil. If needed, you can also add water or any type of oil to make pureeing easier (and to add flavour).
To portion, simply scoop into ice cube trays and freeze. Or you can also portion by spoonful onto a parchment paper lined baking tray instead. This does save your ice cubes from having a distinctive garlic flavour in the future. Think about the recipes you use most and determine the best portion size for you. This can be teaspoon size, tablespoon size or anything else. Maybe you need 1/4 cup size portions of garlic? No judgement here! Once your ice cube trays or blobs on a baking sheet have fully frozen, transfer them into a zip top bag or rigid container and return them to freezer. Next time a recipe calls for cooking minced garlic, simple pop a blob out of the freezer and throw it in your pan. Done!
Baking & Cooking
This is a gigantic topic, so we're going to keep it simple. There are infinite ways to cook and bake with your produce, both savory and sweet. Think muffins, cakes, crisps, breads, casseroles, stews and much, much more. Almost all of them can be frozen. You can cook in your regular pans lined with aluminum foil, freeze and then remove from the pan and tightly wrap before returning to the the freezer for longer storage. Or you can just cook straight in aluminum foil pans. Once again, air is not your friend, so ensure you remove as much of it as possible before freezing. Homemade apple pie at Christmas dinner? Does it get any yummier than that?
Yummy gardening everyone!