Freeze Your Produce With Finesse
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Summer is upon us and many may be wondering what to do with the bountiful harvest of homegrown produce that is beginning to appear. Others are looking to save money by purchasing bulk produce at a reduced rate. These are great options for saving money, but bring with them their own set of problems, mainly what to do with the produce you cannot consume.
There are many ways to preserve produce such as canning, dehydrating, pickling, and fermenting but let’s address the least time-intensive process. Freezing is an excellent way to preserve fresh vegetables at home and takes less time and equipment than most other forms of preservation. Many fruits and vegetables can be frozen, but there are guidelines to follow for quality. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), freezing produce does not sterilize the food, rather the extreme cold simply retards the growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that affect the quality or cause spoilage in food. Quality of frozen vegetables depends on the condition of the produce when it is picked and how they are handled.
The first step to freezing is to select quality produce and find the appropriate container. Freezing does not improve the quality of produce so it is important to start off with a high-quality product. Containers should be moisture-vapor resistant, durable, easy to seal and should not become brittle at low temperatures. Suitable containers for freezing vegetables include plastic freezer containers, flexible freezer bags, and their protective cardboard cartons, or glass canning jars. Make sure plastic containers are recommended for freezing. You can run the risk of spoiling your produce if you use a container that does not hold up to freezing,
Step two is to wash the produce thoroughly in cold water prior to freezing. Then prepare it for freezing. In the case of fruit, often it means cutting, and removing stems. Have a final product in mind so you can prepare them appropriately. Berries and other fruit pieces can be frozen flat on a tray for several hours and then transitioned into a freezer container. This makes it easier to remove only what you need. In the case of vegetables, this often means blanching.
Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. Blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of flavor, color, and texture. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and its size. Under blanching is actually worse than no blanching. Over blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins, and minerals. You can water blanch or steam blanch vegetables for preservation. For water blanching, use one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetables. Add vegetables to boiling water for the specified time that vegetable requires (this varies). Steam blanching is recommended for a few vegetables. Steam blanching takes about 1 ½ times longer than water blanching.
After you are finished blanching vegetables, cool vegetables quickly and thoroughly to stop the cooking process. To cool, plunge the basket of vegetables immediately into a large quantity of cold water, 60°F or below. Cooling vegetables should take the same amount of time as blanching. Drain vegetables thoroughly after cooling. Extra moisture can cause a loss of quality when vegetables are frozen. Visit the nchfp.uga.edu or your local extension office for detailed information on how to freeze specific vegetables.
Step three is to package your produce. Make sure to remove as much moisture as possible prior to freezing. Place your product in an air-tight container and remove as much air as possible. Do not forget to label and date your produce. Sliced apples and pears look very similar.
Now your produce is ready to carry you through winter! For more information about food preservation contact Olivia Jones via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 252-232-2261. You can also join in on one of N.C. Cooperative Extension’s hands-on food preservation classes. Visit our What’s Cooking page to view the complete listing of summer preservation classes!