Fresh-picked flavor lingers when you freeze garden produce. Freezing vegetables and fruits preserves color, quality and nutrients better than other preservation methods.
You'll need only a few tools. Gather freezer containers, zip-close bags or plastic ice cube trays (for herbs). Straight-edged freezer containers waste less space than round ones. Double-check the freezer setting and temperature. Temperatures below 0°F reduce enzyme action, oxidation and microbial activity. Consume frozen vegetables and fruits within 12 months.
Start with the highest quality produce you can find. Remove stems and roots; cut into pieces if desired. When freezing produce, consider how you'll use the final product. If time and freezer space permits, freeze items in ways that enhance food prep. For instance, if frozen tomatoes are destined for homemade marinara sauce, prepare and freeze a batch of sauce. If your plans for berries include sprinkling over yogurt or oatmeal, flash-freeze individual berries on a tray so you can easily retrieve a spoonful. Roast peppers before freezing, or stuff them to thaw a finished entree.
Most vegetables require blanching to neutralize bacteria and enzymes. The process works by placing vegetables in boiling water or steam for a specified time length, and then subsequently plunging them into ice water, which stops the cooking process. Blanching preserves food color.
After veggies cool, pack them into freezer containers or zip-close bags. A vacuum sealer yields vegetables that maintain freshness for several years frozen. You can also flash-freeze blanched vegetables by placing them on a baking sheet in the freezer. After vegetables freeze, toss them into freezer bags. Flash-freezing offers the benefit of flexible serving sizes – just scoop out what you need.
Vegetables that respond well to blanching include beans of all kinds, corn, broccoli, cauliflower and beets. You can find more information on blanching times by consulting your local cooperative extension service.
Some fruits, like peaches and apricots, should be peeled before freezing. A one-minute dip in boiling water followed by a one-minute bath in ice water loosens skins. Freeze fruit in containers in sugar syrup or water. You can find recipes for sugar syrup through your local Cooperative Extension System office. Pack fruits in liquid in freezer containers, leaving the headspace specified by your recipe.
Add a piece of waterproof food wrap or crumpled parchment paper between the lid and liquid to keep fruit submerged in the liquid while freezing. For some fruits, such as apples and peaches, you'll need to add ascorbic acid. Follow the manufacturer's directions for use.
Frozen herbs capture summer-fresh flavors. Flash-freeze individual or chopped leaves on a baking sheet and then pop into freezer bags or containers for easy access. Or, chop leaves in a blender or food processor, adding a little olive oil or water. Pour the slurry into ice cube trays and freeze. When cubes are frozen, place them into freezer bags. To use, drop a cube into soups, stews and sauces.
Flash-freeze entire sprays of herbs – such as Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel or Dill – on a baking tray. Line the tray with parchment to prevent herbs from sticking to the tray. When herbs are frozen, wrap in parchment and store in a freezer bag or container. To use herbs, clip leaves from stems directly into dishes.