Learning how to freeze and keep the vegetables you’ve grown will allow you to preserve foods with a minimum of effort. It’s the easiest and quickest of the many ways to preserve vegetables, if you follow a few basic guidelines. This article addresses these guidelines from what vegetables freeze well, to how to do it, to how long it will retain its flavor and nutritional value.
*Which Vegetables Can You Freeze
The first thing to learn is which vegetables can and cannot be successfully frozen raw and which turn out better when cooked first. Lettuce cannot be frozen and remain edible and neither can cucumbers, cabbage and potatoes. Celery and onions can be frozen if first cooked and even then, they lose their crunch and can only be used in casseroles.
Leafy vegetables such as collards, turnip greens and spinach can be frozen but must first be wilted and drained well. You can use the wilt water to cover the greens before freezing but this takes up valuable space in the freezer.
Most other vegetables can be frozen with a little preparation though some would do better if dried, canned or pickled. Always start with freshly gathered vegetables at the peak of ripeness, cutting out any bruised areas or insect damage.
*Prepping Vegetables For Freezing
The first step for prepping your vegetables is the same step you would use if you were cooking it; wash and dry, string green beans, shell peas, peel beets, tomatoes, carrots and winter squash, shuck, de-silk and remove corn from the cob and so on. The next step is to either blanch or partially fry the vegetable.
*Blanching Vegetables For Freezing
Blanching is the term used for placing vegetables in a hot water bath to stop the growth process and to maintain flavor when frozen. The hot water bath is immediately followed by a cold-water bath to halt the cooking process.
For blanching vegetables you need a large pot of boiling water and either a large slotted spoon or colander as well as a large container of ice-cold water. Place the vegetables in the colander if you have one and lower it into the gentle boiling water. If you don’t have a colander, place the vegetables directly into the water. Once the water returns to a boil begin timing per the blanching chart found here.
When the time is up, quickly remove the vegetables and plunge them into the cold water until completely cooled. Remove the vegetables and place on paper towels to drain. The dryer the vegetables, the less chance of frostbite in the freezer.
*Frying Instead Of Blanching
Some foods just freeze and retain their flavor better if fried. Okra, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, and green tomatoes are good examples. You will end up with a much more pleasing flavor and texture if you fry these vegetables rather than blanching.
Okra, eggplant and green tomatoes should be battered and fried without salt and drained on paper towels until cool. Pack them by placing a sheet of waxed paper between each layer and freeze immediately. Onions can be fried in rings or diced and frozen before placing in a container.
*Packing The Vegetables
At this stage, the vegetables should be completely cooled to prevent ice crystals from forming in the package, which will ruin the flavor. Do not pack tightly in the freezer bags or containers, as the food will expand as it freezes.
Some vegetables such as diced bell pepper, green peas and fried vegetables can be frozen on a cookie sheet before placing in the bag to make separating them easier should you not need a whole container at once.
Use a freezer pen to write the date frozen on the package. It is also helpful to add the use by date, which is usually 3 months to 9-months from time of freezing. Once the vegetables are packaged, place them in the freezer in such as way as to allow air to circulate to help the package to freeze faster. Once frozen solid, they can be stacked to conserve room.
Knowing how to freeze and keep the vegetables you’ve grown is an ever evolving experience that will save you money, provide safe nutritious foods for your family and fill you with great personal satisfaction.