Freezing is an excellent way to preserve vegetables and fruit you grew in your garden. You may have planted vegetable seeds with the intention of growing enough to feed your family for the entire year or perhaps you started a few more tomato seeds than you needed to and now need to preserve the excess tomatoes. Either way, freezing is a great way to save your food for later use, and it does not require any specialized equipment.
The main requirement is containers for the vegetables you want to preserve. You will need rigid plastic freezer containers or flexible plastic freezer bags. You can also use canning jars to freeze in. Do not use regular glass jars as they can shatter in the cold. Also, don’t use paper containers which can allow the loss of moisture in the food and freezer burn.
Always pick your vegetables at their peak of growth and flavor. You waited three years for the asparagus seeds you grew to develop into large enough plants to harvest from. There is no point in preserving asparagus spears after they have started to turn woody and tough. Let them grow on to make bigger plants next year. The same is true of all vegetables. If you see you planted too many corn seeds, beans or peas for you to eat as fast as they ripen, start freezing before they are past their peak.
Most vegetables will need to be blanched before freezing. This is a process of immersing the vegetable in boiling water. The purpose is not to cook the food, but to heat it enough to stop the action of enzymes that cause a loss of flavor, color and texture. You can steam blanch; however, it does take longer. Do not try to blanch your vegetables in the microwave. The results are usually uneven and could likely cause lower quality or spoiled food.
After you harvest the food from your garden, wash it thoroughly with clean, cold water. Cut vegetables like beans or carrots the way you prefer. Bring a large kettle of water to a rolling boil. Add the vegetables in a small enough amount that the water returns to the boil in just a few minutes. Do not start timing until the water returns to a boil.
The amount of time you will need to blanch will vary depending on the type of vegetable and the way you prepare it. A sliced carrot will require less time than carrots that are chunked. Use the timing guidelines in a reputable canning and freezing book or online site. Once you have reached that needed blanching time, you will want to stop the cooking process as quickly as possible. Have a large pan or bowl filled with ice water to cool the vegetables as quickly as possible. Once cooled, strain them from the water and spread on a clean towel to dry the excess water.
There are two ways to freeze your vegetables once they are dry from all visible drops of water. The first method is probably what you’d expect—you can immediately pack them into the containers and put them in the freezer. For convenience, use containers that will hold the amount you use for your family meal. The second method is to spread your blanched and dried vegetables on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer until the vegetables are frozen. Put the frozen vegetables in a large freezer bag or container. Tray-packed food does not freeze but stays loose. When ready to use, you can remove just the amount that you need each time.
Always label your containers with the name of the vegetable, the amount in the package and the date processed. It is also helpful to keep a record somewhere of all the canning and freezing you do. For instance, if you processed corn, include the date, how many ears of corn you started with and how many packages of corn you ended up with after processing. The amount you put in each container should also be noted. If you have this information, next year–if you didn’t have enough to make it the whole year–you’ll have a pretty good idea of how much more corn you need. The same is true if you still have a lot left from last year. By keeping track of the amount of corn you have in each container, you can adjust the amount up or down depending on whether you had leftovers at each meal or you wished there was a little more.
Freezing your vegetables for use in the winter is so rewarding and certainly adds to your food security. There is nothing better than a taste of summer in the middle of the cold winter season!