If you have a surplus of fruits and vegetables from your garden at the end of the season, or maybe you stumbled across a deal that couldn’t be passed up at the local farmer’s market, you need to store that food before it goes bad. Freezing food to preserve it is probably the easiest way to store food to use it later.
There aren’t a lot of expensive gadgets necessary (although there is one that you may want that will help your food last longer in the freezer). Preparing food to be frozen does not take a lot of time. There is no worry about the jars sealing or shattering because of temperature fluctuation and the food you freeze can last anywhere from six months to a year.
What foods freeze best?
Preserving foods by freezing is good for almost any food you can think of. Think about the freezer aisles in your local supermarkets. You see anything from frozen corn and peas to potatoes, meats, and even cheeseburgers and breakfast sandwiches. We are going to deal with fruits and vegetables in this article and tackle the fully prepared foods at a later time.
Some of the vegetables that can be frozen include but are not limited to:
Again, this is just a short list. You can freeze just about anything to preserve it’s flavor and nutrition.
What needs to be done to prep foods for Freezing?
The first thing you need to do to prepare your foods for freezing, no matter what you intend to freeze is wash it. You want to get any dirt, chemicals and or waxes off of the skin of the fruit or vegetable. Second, inspect for signs of rot. Fruits and vegetables that have soft spots or bruises should either be left out and used as soon as possible or set aside for cutting. Remove any green leaves or stems. Once cleaned and or cut, you are ready to process. Fruits and vegetables require different processes before freezing. Some fruits require different processing than other fruits. We will go into some of these processes next.
Blanch your vegetables.
Before freezing, you will want to blanch your vegetables. Blanching is a process where you submerse your vegetables into boiling water for a few seconds to scald them and then remove and instantly shock them by placing them into a cold water bath to halt any cooking. The term blanch means to whiten, but when we are talking about blanching vegetables that’s not the case.
Why do I need to blanch?
- Blanching your vegetables before freezing does a few things.
- It further cleans the skin of your vegetables to remove any impurities
- It stops enzyme actions that can cause loss of flavor
- It helps maintain the color of your vegetables
- It slows the loss of vitamins and nutrients
- It helps break down some of the rigidity in the fibers making it easier to pack.
Can I blanch my foods in the microwave?
Yes. You can blanch your vegetables in the microwave before freezing. However, research has shown that blanching foods in the microwave may not be as effective as blanching with steam or on the stove top. There are certain enzymes that do not get deactivated for some reason in the microwaving process. If you are not looking for long term (greater than three months) blanching in the microwave is fine. Here is a chart that shows the times and amounts you would use. If your microwave is 500 watts, use the maximum time. If it is 600-1000 watts, Use the minimum time shown.
I can steam my vegetables, too?
Steaming your vegetables is an option for blanching. keep in mind, you are not cooking the vegetables completely. and they will still need to be shocked with cold water before packing away in your freezer. Steaming vegetables prior to freezing takes about one and a half times longer than conventional blanching.
Do all vegetables need to be blanched before freezing?
No. Tomatoes are best frozen without blanching. (is this because a tomato is actually a fruit?) Potatoes and winter squash don’t need to be blanched either. People go back and forth with leafy greens like spinach and collard greens. I think that is pretty much a personal choice.
What about Fruits?
Fruits do not need to be blanched before freezing, but there are some other steps you should take. Just like vegetables, you need to wash and inspect your fruits before freezing. Get all of the dirt and grime off of them and inspect them for signs of rot or decay. You should freeze four fresh fruits at the height of freshness. Do not let it go past it’s prime. You should prepare your fruits just as if you were going to use them that day. Peel and cut apples, and pears. Pit your apricots and cherries. Cut the stems from your strawberries. Slice everything up into bite sized pieces.
If you took all of that fruit and threw it into a freezer bag now, it would all freeze into one big clump. This sucks if you just need a little for a small recipe or if you are making a single smoothie for breakfast. Here’s how we remedy that. Line a cookie sheet or five with parchment paper. Lay all of your fruit out on the lined trays in a single layer and pop the coolie sheets into the freezer for a couple of hours. This will freeze the fruit pieces individually and keep them from sticking to each other. Once frozen. They easily slip off of the parchment and can be slipped into bags for storage. You can do this with your vegetables, too. Stuff like vegetable medley where you may be taking portions rather than using the entire bag.
Frozen fruit is still tasty and nutritious when it comes out of the freezer, but it is going to look like a glob of mushy pulp. Frozen fruits are best used in pies, syrups, jellies and jams, smoothies and cooked into other deserts. You wouldn’t want to put them out as a decoration on top of a bowl of yogurt or anything. mixed in, sure. Where someone could see, no. A good tip for using frozen fruits, don’t let them thaw. Mix them into our recipe and allow them to cook or thaw there. They are easier to handle. while still frozen.
So what is the process for freezing food?
Once your vegetables are blanched or your fruit is individually frozen, you just pop them into a freezer bag. Seal the freezer bag almost all of the way closed. Leave enough room to insert a drinking straw into the bag. Use your mouth to suck as much air out of the bag as possible and then finish the seal quickly trying to avoid air from slipping back into the bag. In food preservation. Once sealed, mark the bags with the content and the date it first went into the freezer. Your food should be fine to use for up to six months.
If you do a lot of freezing, you may want to look into getting a vacuum sealer. Vacuum sealers suck out far more air than you will ever be able to and form a much tighter and air-proof seal than a zip-lock freezer bag. This means your foods will last longer and taste much better when it comes time to eat it. Air is the enemy. Less air means less freezer burn.
Vacuum packing is not a substitute for heat processing or freezing. You still need to freeze the food packed with a vacuum sealer.
What supplies do you need to freeze your food?
Like I said at the beginning of this article, freezing is one of the most inexpensive methods of preserving your fresh fruits and vegetables. It really doesn’t take much to get started at the basic level. All you need are some freezer bags, a straw, and a sharpie marker. That’s about it. A vacuum sealer is not necessary, but it is a nice convenience like I said in the previous section. They do add a bit of extra cost to your food preservation endeavor, but it is well worth it in time saved and the reduction of food spoilage.
How long will food last in the freezer?
Food will last in the freezer indefinitely. As long as it stays frozen, your food will never spoil. Here’s the catch. It becomes a question of Quality of the frozen food. Fresh frozen fruits and vegetables should maintain their taste for up to 12 months if frozen properly (vacuum sealed to keep all of the air out). Beyond that, you may notice changes in flavors or textures of the foods. One of the most common problems with foods that have been frozen too long is freezer burn. While the food is still safe to eat, the outer layer of the food has dried out and the flavor is not the same as it was when frozen in the first place. The best way to combat freezer burn is by removing all air from the packaging before freezing.