There are many ways to preserve your garden harvest to feed your family over the winter. Canning and dehydrating are excellent options, but some veggies will require a pressure canner instead of a simple water bath canning system and some veggies, in my opinion, simply taste better when thoughtfully frozen. Freezing can also be a faster process, depending on your options.
When freezing veggies, keep a few things in mind:
• Freeze veggies when they are at their prime, not overripe or after they have been sitting in your fridge for a week. This will ensure better taste and quality when you go to use them later.
• Many veggies benefit from a quick blanch or steam before freezing. There is good reason for this. There are enzymes present that begin to break down the veggie as soon as it is harvested, leading to nutrition and flavor loss. Applying a little bit of heat deactivates these enzymes so that they do not keep working while your veggies are in the freezer.
• A vacuum sealing appliance can be helpful when packing up some frozen veggies; eliminating air in the package helps to avoid the built up of freezer burn and keeps veggies fresher. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can also try putting the veggies in a resealable freezer bag, closing the bag most of the way, then inserting a straw to suck out the air.
• When freezing veggies at home, it is a good idea to freeze in batches of about a meal’s worth. This way, you only have to open one package to get what you need for dinner. Home-sealed packages won’t be easy to re-seal and put back in the fridge and you’ll risk the rest of your veggies going bad or getting freezer burn. We also find that this helps us estimate how much we’ll be able to provide for ourselves and plan accordingly.
• While freezing is great, it does require the use of electricity (which is part of the reason why we installed solar on our homestead!) and often makes use of non-recyclable containers; because of this, we make choices about what we freeze based on what we think tastes best with this method.
Green Beans – Hands down this is the veggie of which we freeze the most. It is impressive how fresh frozen green beans can taste when lightly steamed and tossed with a little bit of butter and salt and pepper. Make sure you pick the “cream of the crop” beans, ideally pods that are not yet showing the shape of the beans inside. If they are too small they will cook to quickly in the blanching water, and if they are too big they will be too tough when you go to serve them in the winter. Our preferred method for freezing beans includes a quick blanch followed by packing them into a freezer or vacuum sealed bag.
Cherry Tomatoes – While most of our paste tomatoes go into making tomato sauce or salsa that we can, cherry tomatoes aren’t as great for those recipes. Plus, sometime we are swimming in cherry tomatoes and really don’t have enough time to use or can them. Instead, we freeze cherry tomatoes in gallon-sized bags. There is no need to blanch first, but cherry tomatoes can benefit from being laid out on a tray to freeze individually before going into plastic bags. We use them to make “fresh” tomato sauce in a saute pan in the winter. You won’t be able to eat these as a snack (sniff sniff) but they do make a great sauce when simmered down.
Corn – There is such a HUGE difference between corn you freeze yourself fresh off the cob and corn you’d buy at a grocery store in a bag. I don’t feel the same way about peas (the return on investment of time is just not the same) but corn is so easy to just strip off the cob at the height of summer freshness and bag up for the fridge. There is some debate about freezing corn on or off the cob, cooked or raw. We prefer to freeze corn cut off the cob after blanching. For more details on the process, visit this article about the best way to freeze corn.
Winter Squash & Pumpkins – If you don’t have a great place to store winter squash whole or you’re worried it will not last much longer, you can roast your squash and puree it, thus saving yourself a step when you go to make soup or pumpkin pie. Then freeze it in quart-sized yogurt containers or mason jars (leaving enough head space for expansion). Think of it as your own version of canned pumpkin (and your version will be much yummier!). There is no doubt that roasted squash has much more depth of flavor and pure yumminess than squash that has been boiled or otherwise softened, so this is our method of choice when preparing squash to be frozen.
Kale & Collards – As two of the heartier leafy greens, kale and collards can be frozen for later use either sautéed on their own, as described in this article on cooking leafy greens, or chopped up and added to almost anything you are cooking – from lasagna to chili to soup or stir-fry. Choose leaves that are well-developed but not overgrown, and that don’t have too much damage from pests, then remove the thick stems and chop before freezing. Like beans, your greens will benefit from being blanched for 2-3 minutes and then plunged in an ice water bath and dried before freezing in an air tight bag.
Stocking your freezer for the winter is one of the best ways to feed yourself when the grocery store is charging higher prices for out-of-season produce that has traveled a long distance to get to you.
Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger at The Happy Hive Homestead. She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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