Freezing Seasonal Produce
Author: Rebecca Last, Gardening at Last and Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton. Published with permission
This was an amazing year for tomatoes. My small garden has produced at least ten kilos so far, and we’re not done yet! But what to do with all that bounty? After all, one can only eat so many fresh tomatoes, no matter how delicious. I’ve dehydrated at least three kilos, which is more “sundried tomatoes” than any normal household can consume in several years. The rest? Well, the rest go into the freezer. After the mastery of fire and the invention of agriculture, refrigeration in general and freezing in particular have probably contributed most to our food security. In many cases, freezing is as simple as sealing the produce in an airtight container and chucking it into the freezer.
Know the Basics of Freezing Produce
However, there are some important things to know:
- The first and most important thing is to always date and label anything you put in the freezer. There is nothing more frustrating than coming across an ice-encased mystery package and having no idea what it is or how long it’s been there.
- Second, in the freezer environment, air is your enemy. It can lead to moisture loss, causing freezer burn. Flexible packaging, such as a plastic bag or a beeswax wrapper, allows you to squeeze out as much air as possible. Abeego, which manufactures beeswax wrappers, recommends they not be used with meat or kept in the freezer for more than one month.
- Third, whenever possible, freeze food in portion sizes to avoid waste. For example, few families will need two liters of applesauce at one time, so freeze it in cup- or half-cup-sized containers.
Now, about those tomatoes. Many sources will tell you to blanch them first to remove the skins. In my experience, this is unnecessary. The skins come off much more easily after the tomatoes have been frozen. I wash the fruit, cut off any bruises or blemishes, then core and score it and pop it into a Ziploc baggie.
Coring means cutting a cone-shaped piece from the stem end, removing the sepals and the woody core that often sits directly underneath it. Then, score the fruit by running the tip of a sharp knife around it. That way, the skin will simply pop off when the fruit is thawed.
Preparing Fruit for Freezing
Every year, my husband and I make several different kinds of jams and jellies. I don’t grow all that fruit. We buy it in season when the quality and flavour are at their peak and prices are low. Since we don’t have air conditioning, we freeze everything until the weather is cooler. We prepare the fruit by washing it and removing the pits of plums, cherries, peaches, and apricots. For reasons that I have never deciphered, peaches need to be skinned, but apricots don’t. To skin peaches, dip them in boiling water for two to three minutes, and then plunge them immediately into ice water. Then, we chop or mash the fruit and measure it into recipe-sized portions that are frozen flat in Ziploc baggies.
You can also freeze whole berries for later consumption. Lay strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or other kinds of berries in a single layer on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet to freeze. Once frozen, the berries can be tipped into an airtight container for storage. A friend of mine saves the juice from thawing strawberries and uses it to make a spectacular jelly. Meanwhile, she serves the thawed fruit on ice cream. That way, the berries do double duty.
Freezing Runner Beans
Runner beans can be frozen for later use in meals, soups, stews, and casseroles. First, trim the tips off the beans and remove the fibrous string, unless they are the stringless variety. You can chop the beans into bite-sized pieces to save time and work later, or leave them whole. Blanch them by parboiling for a couple of minutes, then immediately plunge them into ice water. Although this last step is not essential, it will help the beans retain their fresh colour and flavour.
What is Best Frozen as Purée?
Some things are best frozen as purée. Apples and pumpkins are both in this category. Both can be stewed and then pureed before freezing.
Delicate herbs like basil, tarragon, and dill can be puréed with a tiny amount of oil and frozen into ice cubes for later use. Alternatively, you can lay the herb leaves flat on a sheet of wax paper, then roll the wax paper into a cigar shape and store the whole thing in a Ziploc baggie, then place it in the freezer. To use it, simply unroll the frozen cigar and pick off as many leaves as you need. The rest can be rolled up and returned to the freezer before it thaws.
We save our basil as pesto using a simple recipe. A half-cup of pesto on noodles with a bit of chicken or mushrooms is enough to make an easy meal for the two of us. Other leafy veggies, such as kale, nasturtium leaves, arugula, and oregano can also be made into pesto.
What We Don’t Freeze
Among things that don’t freeze well are root vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, and parsnips. These are best stored in a cool, dark space and do not require refrigeration or freezing. As well, salad greens like lettuce, celery, endive, and radishes also do not store well in the freezer. These are best enjoyed fresh.
With a bit of planning and prep time, much of our wonderful seasonal produce can be frozen for later enjoyment. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers excellent tips and directions for a wide range of foods.