Blanching in a pot with a removable insert makes the freezing process faster and more energy-efficient.
It’s that time of year—the garden is bulging with fresh produce and you’re spending lots of time in a steaming kitchen preserving it all. I find freezing preferable to canning for a number of reasons. For one, when it’s time to prepare a meal with my preserved garden goodness, frozen foods tend to be brighter, fresher, and all-around tastier. And relatively speaking, it’s fast and easy. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tips to make freezing even easier. Use these freezing hacks to help the environment, too.
Use an index card to make a cheat sheet of blanching times for the vegetables you typically freeze, remembering that chilling time needs to be at least as long. Keep your cheat sheet in an easy-to-reach spot in the kitchen so all you have to do is open a drawer or cabinet and pull it out when you’re ready to use it. For extra durability, laminate your card.
When blanching, use a blancher or other deep pot with a lid and steamer or pasta insert. Lifting the veggies out instead of chasing them around with a slotted spoon or tongs is quicker and less messy. You won’t need to remove the pot from the burner so water stays hot for the next batch.
Before placing blanched vegetables in their ice bath, run cold tap water over them for just a few seconds while they’re still in the blanching basket. The quick rinse cools them just enough to keep the chilling water icy cold. (Before blanching, I place a colander in a sink bowl filled with ice water so I’m all ready to go. I use my second sink bowl for the quick rinse.)
Consider freezing prepared dishes for food preparation ease later. It’s super easy to make a double batch when you’re preparing a meal. Eat half and freeze half. Soups, some casseroles, and quick breads are excellent choices for this method. I like to use glass containers that come with their own lids. They’re both freezer and oven safe, so you can reheat in the same dish—no pots to clean. Just be sure to thaw before heating.
Well before you’re ready for a day of freezing, fill used plastic bottles with water and freeze, leaving room for expansion. One-half to one-liter sizes work best. Use these instead of ice cubes to keep your chilling water cold. You’re recycling as well as saving water. Refreeze to use again on your next freezing day. Or put them in your cooler next time you have a picnic.
Air is the enemy of freezing. There’s no better way to eliminate air than a vacuum sealer. Why did I wait so long to get one?
Ice crystals are frozen foods’ other enemy. For top quality, get rid of as much moisture as possible. Once blanched vegetables chill, lift colander from the ice bath to let food drain. To further enhance quality, pour drained vegetables on a clean, absorbent towel, lay another towel on top and gently press to soak up as much remaining moisture as you can before placing food in freezer containers. For greens, use your hands to squeeze out water.
Vacuum sealed bags can stand side by side or stack in the freezer.
Once I finally discovered vacuum sealing, I was amazed at how much more space my freezer had. Now, I can freeze even more great-tasting vegetables. The trick is to gently press the filled bag as flat as possible while sealing to make packages more compact and stackable.
I’ve found only one challenge to vacuum sealing. The machine pulls moisture to the top of the freezer bag as it seals. That’s all good except that sometimes the liquid prevents a good seal. To solve that problem and eliminate messiness, I fold the top of the bag a couple of times, cinch with binder clips, and place in the freezer long enough for food to harden before sealing—no more than a day. I lay bags as flat as possible for max space saving.
You don’t have to empty your blanching water and start fresh with every batch of vegetables. I’ve learned to start with the least odiferous food and work my way to the strongest, reusing the same water. This method also reduces utility bills, saves water, and saves time waiting for fresh water to boil. It keeps your kitchen a little cooler, too).
Some foods simply don’t need blanching. You may already know there’s no need to blanch most fruit, rhubarb, shredded zucchini, chopped onions, and sliced bell peppers, but did you know you can also freeze whole, unpeeled tomatoes (both regular and cherry)? With a resealable freezer bag, you can pop tomatoes in as they ripen, then remove only as many as you need. It’s an easy solution to that end-of-summer tomato glut. They’ll taste great in sauces, and the skins easily slip off as tomatoes thaw.
To keep berries, onions, and peppers from freezing into a solid mass, spread them onto a parchment-lined baking pan just long enough for the pieces to freeze individually—no more than a day. Then place them in resealable freezer bags. You can take out as much as you need and reseal for the next time.
Berries can be frozen unsweetened. But I’ve found that adding sugar to strawberries before freezing enhances both flavor and quality. The same applies to some other fruits, like peaches.
For details on proper freezing techniques, refer to the National Center for Home Food Preservation or Clemson’s College of Agriculture.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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