When you grow your own food, there is always the dilemma of trying to preserve what you can't eat immediately. If you grow on a smaller scale like I do, canning may not always be convenient, and to be honest, I don't like most canned goods all that much since they don't taste fresh to me and contain too much sodium for my liking. I also don't have a pressure canner, which can be a problem for trying to can most foods.
Freezing can really come in handy to preserve what you don't want to can, sell, or give away. Never be afraid to take advantage of in-season pricing at your local co-op or farmer's market ever again. This article will highlight a list of the most common edibles and what you need to do to freeze them successfully. Use the Quick Index above to jump to the sections you are most interested in.
To keep each section short, I've reserved more detailed instructions on blanching and freezing techniques, as well as other helpful tips for the end of this article. I will state this however now; freeze the freshest food possible for best results. My rule of thumb is to freeze the same day it was picked or purchased from the farmer's market. This will also preserve most of the nutrients as most foods tend to lose as much as half of their nutrition over time.
Asparagus - Rinse the asparagus and snap off the woody ends. Sort the asparagus into three sizes. At this point the asparagus needs to be blanched; 2 minutes for small stalks (6" long or less), 3 minutes for medium stalks (6" to 8" long) and 4 minutes for long stalks (8" long +). Once the asparagus is completely cooled, pat the stalks dry, pop them in a bag and place them in a freezer. Asparagus keeps for 8-12 months in the freezer.
Avocado - I know that most of us do not grow our own avocado, but they can be easily frozen. Just cut them in half, remove the pit and put them in a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you have a device like a foodsaver that will help you to remove all the air, that is ideal, just make sure you don't completely crush the avocado while you are removing the air. To use, simply thaw over night in the fridge or put one half in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to thaw quickly.
Bananas - Over ripe bananas can be frozen for later use in breads, cakes, ice cream and smoothies. Just put them in the freezer, skins and all, and use within 2 months. Any longer than that in the freezer, they begin to shrivel up and must be thrown away. The skins will turn dark, but the banana inside will still be good to use. To use, just sit them on the counter for a few minutes, or microwave for 10-20 seconds on high to make them easier to peel. Peeling from the bottom instead of the top virtually guarantees the strands will be removed with the peel. Bananas can also be peeled and sliced first before freezing. Just freeze the slices on parchment paper so that they are not touching each other for about an hour, then place in bags or containers and return immediately to the freezer. Don't freeze bananas unless they are completely ripe; they will not ripen further in the freezer or after they are taken out. Vacuum sealing the bananas in a bag first will allow them to last a little longer in the freezer.
Beets - I love roasted beets, but even I can't eat enough of them in a short period of time when they are ready to harvest, so freezing them is a good option. Beets will be cooked for a longer period of time then most of the other vegetables in this article. To begin, scrub the beets with a vegetable brush, or a small piece of burlap works well too. Trim off the greens and add the beets to a pot of water and boil for 30-35 minutes for smaller beets and 45-50 minutes for medium sized beets. The water should cover the beets completely in the pot. Remove the beets from the boiling water and chill them in iced water until they are easy to handle. Cut off stems, roots and slide the skins off the beets. Slice or quarter larger beets and leave small 1 inch beets whole if you like. It just depends on what you like to do with them at cooking time. Beets will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 12 months if properly prepared and stored.
Berries - Berries are one of the easiest edibles to freeze for use later in ice cream, smoothies, yogurt, muffins, pies and other desserts. Make sure all stems are removed and freeze them on a tray lined with parchment paper for one hour, then pop them into bags or containers and immediately return to the freezer. They will remain separate this way to make them easier to use later on. No need to wash berries before freezing unless of course they are obviously covered in soil, but generally they are pretty clean from the get go. Washing before, especially blueberries, can result in tough skins. My only exception is strawberries. I wash, remove the stems and dry them well before freezing. Berries should be used within 3-4 months.
Broccoli - Broccoli is one of those vegetables that must be frozen instead of canned, as canning will turn it mushy and dark. Choose broccoli that is crisp and fresh and not limp in any way. Make sure the head is green and not beginning to turn yellow, or starting to flower. Growing your own or purchasing from a local grower at the farmer's market will ensure the freshest product. Don't be afraid to ask them when it was picked. If insects are present, soak the broccoli first for 30 minutes in a salt mixture of 1/4 cup salt to 1 gallon of water. Rinse well and then cut into 1-1/2" pieces, reserving the stems separately, if you prefer. The florets should be blanched for 3 minutes and the stems should be blanched for 1 minute before freezing. Smaller florets can be separated and blanched for 2 minutes. Pat the broccoli dry then store in bags or containers in the freezer. If you want the florets to stay loose, freeze them first on a parchment lined tray for one hour before placing in the container. Frozen broccoli should last about 12 months in the freezer if properly prepared and frozen.
Carrots - Choose young, fresh, crisp carrots to freeze for best results. Rinse, peel, and slice carrots length-wise into sticks or in 1/2 inch round slices. Blanch for 2 minutes, dry, then freeze accordingly. If you want them to stay separate in the bag, freeze them on a parchment lined tray first for one hour then transfer to bags or containers and return to the freezer immediately. Carrots will stay fresh in the freezer for 9-12 months when properly stored.
Cauliflower - Cauliflower is another great vegetable to freeze that is similar to broccoli. Choose cauliflower that is crisp and fresh and not limp in any way. Make sure the head is free of blemishes and not starting to flower or turn black. Growing your own or purchasing from a local grower at the farmer's market will ensure the freshest product. Don't be afraid to ask them when it was picked. If insects are present, soak the cauliflower first for 30 minutes in a salt mixture of 1/4 cup salt to 1 gallon of water. Rinse well and then cut into 1-1/2" pieces. The florets should be blanched for 3 minutes before freezing. Pat the cauliflower dry then store in bags or containers in the freezer. If you want the florets to stay loose, freeze them first on a parchment lined tray for one hour before placing in the container. Frozen cauliflower should last about 12 months in the freezer if properly prepared and frozen.
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