Wandering through the produce section in the middle of winter can become a repetitive task for local food eaters: potatoes, onions, garlic, kale… Towards the end of the cold season, all collard recipes seem to have been worn out, and eating can seem more a chore than the pleasure it should be.
Don’t lose hope! There is one sure fire way to ensure that you get all the fruit and vegetable variety you need to make it through the long winters: freezing. Buying frozen vegetables piece meal is an expensive habit – especially if you’re buying organic. Fruits and berries are markedly more expensive. By buying your own freezer and freezing vegetables when they are naturally in season (from your own garden or otherwise), you’ll notice reduced grocery bills, and you’ll have the ingredients you need for delicious meals year round.
Buying A Freezer
You can spend as little as $50 for a generous freezer, or into the hundreds for top of the line models. First, find a place for your freezer. The most common place for one is in the garage, where it’s out of the way, but still convenient enough to get to. They also work well in the mudroom or basement, with the added benefit of not having to go into your frigid garage to get frigid vegetables every time you go to cook.
Once you’ve figured out where it will be located, decide on what size is best for you. Typically, the smallest freezer you’re going to find will be 5 cubic square feet. This isn’t a whole lot of space – and definitely won’t get you through the winter – but it’s better than nothing if that’s all you can fit. A 19 cubic foot freezer, or larger, is recommended for serious food freezing. Freezer chests will do the job, and are typically cheaper and easier to find, but if you can find it in your budget, invest in an upright freezer. They not only take up less square footage in your home, they make accessing food items considerably easier. Digging through a chest freezer for a bag of spinach at the bottom is not the most enjoyable task.
You can find freezers at Home Depot, Walmart, or whatever big box store is in your area. Buying your freezer new will ensure it works properly, as well as come equipped with a warrantee. Be sure to look at its energy rating, and make sure it’s Energy Star approved. The more efficient, the better. Overall, freezers are incredibly energy efficient, as they are opened sparingly. Beware of cheap, new freezers; they’re cheap for a reason.
If you have the time, go the extra yard and look for a freezer in the classifieds. Craigslist is, of course, a great option. Not only can you find great freezers for $75 or less, you’ll be reusing a product, rather than consuming a new one. When looking over a used freezer, be sure to do a thorough job and ask lots of questions. Avoid freezers over 10 years old, as energy efficiency standards were not as big of an issue back then. Ask about how badly it frosts over, and how often it needs to be thawed (anymore than once a year is too often). Look at its overall condition – you’ll know if they’ve taken care of it or not.
Phew. That’s a lot to consider when buying a freezer! Once you’ve bought it, though, you’ll be on easy street to locally sourced, self-processed, frozen vegetable goodness.
Freezing Your Vegetables
Prepare Your Vegetables: After harvest or purchasing your vegetables, wash and rinse them in the same manner you would before cooking them. Cut off and compost any undesirable blemishes or bruises from the vegetable.
Blanching: This process is used for all vegetables before freezing. Blanching stops enzymes from altering your food while it’s frozen. If they are not blanched, then the enzymes will continue to be active even when frozen, resulting in off-colored vegetables, strange flavors, and toughening.
To blanch, boil one gallon of water for every 1 – 1.5 pounds of vegetables. The more you do at a time, the fewer times you will have to repeat this process. Lower the vegetables into the boiling water using a wire basket or colander. Start timing immediately (times and other details are listed in the chart below). Remove the vegetables when their time is up, and dunk them into a bath of ice water. This will stop the cooking process immediately. Stir the vegetables around, ensuring that all are properly cooled. Drain onto paper towels for a couple minutes.
Bagging: There are a few ways to do this, but the most effortless way is to simply get some freezer Ziplock bags. Fill the bags to your desired level, and squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before putting in the freezer.
Using Your Frozen Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables can be used in whatever way you would use fresh vegetables. They are blanched, though, so you can’t easily make a crispy spinach salad with them. Sautee them up, boil them for soups, bake them in a casserole – whatever you want.
A general rule of thumb is to not let them thaw out. It’s an unnecessary hassle and you lose nutrients this way. Just throw in your desired amount and cook accordingly. It will thaw very quickly in a hot pan.
Vegetable Freezing Directions
Asparagus: Wash and cut to desired length. Blanche for 3 minutes. Plunge into ice water. Pack and freeze.
Snap Beans: Wash and cut to roughly 1’’ long. Set small, immature beans aside. Also pick out any bruised and undesirable beans. Blanche 3 min. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Beets: Cut tops off and cook until soft and tender. Set out to cool, or dunk in iced water. Remove skins, dice, and pack away.
Broccoli: Wash and cut into sprigs. Blanche for 3 minutes. Cool in ice water for 3 minutes. Spread broccoli onto a baking sheet, a single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes, place into plastic bags, and freeze.
Brussels Sprouts: Mix ¼ cup salt with 1 quart water. Immerse Brussels Sprouts in brine for a few seconds and rinse. For larger heads, blanche for 5 minutes. For smaller heads, blanche for 3 minutes.
Cabbage: Remove tarnished outer leaves. Cut into thin wedges. Blanche, dunk in ice water, and drain. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Carrots: Wash carrots thoroughly and cut into 2-4 inch chunks. Blanche 3 minutes. Place in ice water for 3 minutes and drain. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Cauliflower: See Broccoli.
Celery: Wash and chop into 1 – 2’’ pieces. Blanche for 3 minutes. Place in ice water for 3 minutes and drain well. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Corn on the Cob: Select small to medium sized ears. Remove husk and all silk. Blanche for 8 – 10 minutes. Place in ice water for 15 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Cucumbers: Slice thin and steam for 20 – 30 seconds. Pack and freeze.
Eggplant: Cut into slices and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to suck out moisture. Fry in butter gently and cool thoroughly. Pack and freeze.
Garlic: Separate cloves from bulb and place in freezer bag. No cooking required. Freeze.
Mushrooms: Slice to desired thickness and place in freezer bag. No cooking required. Freeze. Add directly to hot pan when cooking; do not let it thaw beforehand.
Potatoes (white): Wash potatoes thoroughly. Peel if desired, although not necessarily. Blanche for 4 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Sauerkraut: No preparation required. Pack and freeze.
Squash, Summer: Wash, peel, and slice thinly or into cubes. Blanche for 3 minutes. Let cool, pack, and freeze.
Squash, Winter: Halve or quarter the squash, depending on size. Just make sure it will rest securely on a baking sheet. Remove seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 min, or until very soft. Scoop from rind and puree. Pack and freeze.
Turnips: Remove tops. Wash and peel skin. Dice or slice thinly. Blanche for 3 minutes. Dunk in ice water for 3 minutes. Spread a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Tomatoes: Wash skin. Pack whole tomatoes into freezer bags and freeze. Can also be cut into halves, or quarters if desired. They will only be suitable for cooking. When thawing, the skins should slip right off.