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It’s a Breeze to Freeze

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Canning is always a fun and fulfilling way to preserve the wonderful bounty of the summer. The jars look so nice on the pantry shelf, but there’s another way to save these wonderful flavors for your winter cooking; that’s by freezing your favorite fruits and vegetables. The first time I did this, you could say I went wild. I put so much stuff in the freezer that we couldn’t eat it all.

Frozen goods have a shorter life span than those that you can, process and put on your pantry shelf. Let’s take tomatoes. Yes, you can freeze them, but I prefer to can them, as you know from my previous article. Corn can be both canned and frozen for future use; I prefer to freeze my corn. I think you see where I’m going here. It also depends on the size for your pantry and freezer. The choice is yours to decide what process works best for you and your family. It is not easy to figure out unless you experiment; after all, isn’t most cooking
considered experimental?  

When we start having more vegetables coming out of the garden than we can eat, I try to come up with a game plan. I ask myself what kind of meals would I normally cook in the winter for my family? What will I need for them? Yes, I talk to myself it’s amazing how clever I am. Soups, stews and chili seem to be a favorite. Then I make nut breads such as pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, persimmon bread. After making my list and figuring out what items I would use in these meals, this is what I came up with for freezing this year.

Item Blanch Blanch time Used in
Corn Yes 4-6 minutes Soups and stews or as a side dish
Zucchini No Shredded for bread and fritters
Zucchini Yes 2-3 minutes Chunks for soup
Green beans Yes 3-4 minutes Soups and side dishes
Broccoli Yes 3-5 minutes Side dishes, cheese sauces
Pumpkin No Cook first Breads, cookies (freeze as a puree)
Strawberries No Shakes, cookies, ice cream
Blueberries No Salads, jams, muffins
Blackberries No Pies, cobbler
Peaches Yes 30-45 seconds for peeling skin only Smoothies, pie, yogurt parfait, cobbler
Carrots Yes 2-3 Minutes Soups, stews or side dish
Bell peppers Yes Pepper steak
Hot peppers No Chili, Spanish rice, pepper jelly
Eggs No Cookies, breads, pizza dough, pancakes, cakes

 

There are some techniques to discuss before you start: blanching and flash freezing. There are some items to blanch and some to flash freeze. Blanching is done because fruits and vegetables contain enzymes and bacteria that over time break down and destroy the nutrients; they can change the color, flavor and texture of the food. Blanching produce destroys the bacteria and keeps it colorful; the flavor will be close to fresh. 

To blanch, follow two steps. First, you need a large pot of boiling water. Second, you need a large bowl or the kitchen sink filled with ice water. I use my pasta pot with the draining rack inside for my boiling pot. When my vegetable has completed its blanching time, it can be pulled out of the water without dumping the entire pot of hot water. Then put the basket into the ice water to stop the cooking process. You may need to add some fresh water to your boiling pot, but because you left most the water in the pot it will not take as long to bring back to a boil for the next batch, a real time saver. I also leave all the vegetables in the ice water bath until ready to bag and freeze. Make sure you continue to add ice to keep it cold, again, to stop the cooking process. Do not use the same water for different produce; stick to one item or replace the water and start over with the blanching and the ice water. You don’t want your carrots to have a corn flavor.  

Preparing what you’re about to freeze is important. Make sure that it is thoroughly cleaned, sliced or cubed before blanching. The only thing I blanch whole first, and then cut, is corn on the cob. Peaches and tomatoes are blanched only to make removing the skin easier before cutting and freezing.

For items that don’t need to be blanched, there’s flash freezing. This means you can freeze produce on a cookie sheet for 6 to 12 hours before bagging and freezing it for later use. If you don’t need to blanch produce, this is the process to follow. Make sure that fruit is clean and there are no stems or leaves attached. The advantage to this, for me, is that you can keep items from sticking together and pull handfuls out of your freezer bag instead of using the entire bag. I do this with most of my berries and fruit. I will spread 2 to 3 pounds of blueberries on a cookie sheet and place it in my freezer. Once they’re frozen, I bag them and place them back in the freezer. Now when I need them I can take a cup of berries out of the bag for the morning’s pancakes and not have to use the rest until I need them. If you research this process, there’s a lot of advice to place wax paper or parchment paper on the tray first, and then freeze, so that the fruit doesn’t stick to the tray. My experience has been that it’s easier to remove the item from the frozen tray than to remove stuck paper from each of my berries. 

Now it’s time to freeze your items. Make sure you are using freezer bags or containers made just for freezing. This will keep your items longer. Before you put the items in, mark your bags or containers with the name of the produce, how much is in the container and the date. This way, if you find a package that has been in your freezer for over a year you may want to dump it. Give some thought to how much to put in each container. For instance, my recipe for zucchini bread calls for 2 cups of grated zucchini, so that’s how much I put in each bag. I use corn and green beans as side dishes during the winter, so I bag up 2 cups at a time. I bag carrots and bell peppers in one-cup portions. There’s no right or wrong; it’s whatever works for you. To keep your items from getting freezer burn, take as much air as you can out of the bag. Sealer bags are great for this and may save you from finding freezer burn on your produce. 

Yes, you can freeze eggs. When I was a kid, we had our own chickens; my daughter has her own flock of chickens, so eggs have always been available. Sometimes they are in more abundant quantities than needed. My mother would freeze eggs to use in the winter in her baking. She would pull out her trusty cupcake pan, line it with cupcake papers, crack an egg in each one, flash freeze the eggs and place them in a freezer bag to go back in the freezer. She would pull out the number of eggs she needed for a recipe, let them get to room temperature and use them in whatever she was making. Make sure to date your bag and discard after 12 months.

A word to the wise: no matter what you decide to freeze for the winter, do it in moderation. I suggest that the first year, don’t freeze 50 bags of corn or 25 bags of carrots; you will throw them out before you get a chance to use them. Fruit that’s starting to reach its expiration time can always be made into syrup for ice cream or jelly for gifts.

I hope this has been helpful in adding a new way to preserve your bounty. It’s not a hard process. Believe me; once you get the hang of this, you will find it to be as simple as can be and very rewarding.