We complain about lackluster store-bought tomatoes. We think about the first ear of fresh corn. We laugh about too-much zucchini. We wait all year for this: the peak season of vegetables. And now they’re piling up. Peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, beets and corn are ripe and ready.
To make them last, freezing is my go-to option to preserve food. For the best results you need to know three main factors. Enzymes, naturally present in vegetables, contribute to ripening and flavor. Blanching inactivates the enzymes so preserves flavor and color. Freezing at 0°F or below maintains quality and nutrients.
Blanch vegetables by briefly boiling or steaming then rapidly cool in ice water to stop cooking. Timing is key. Over-blanching results in a cooked food and loss of flavor, color and nutrients. Under blanching stimulates enzyme activity and is worse than no blanching at all. Find recommended times at the National Center for Home Food Preservation: http://nchfp.uga.edu.
For home freezing, use one gallon of water per pound of prepared vegetables. Put the vegetable in a blanching basket and lower into vigorously boiling water. Cover the pan with a lid. The water should return to boiling within 1 minute. If it takes longer you are using too much food for the amount of water. Start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil.
After blanching, quickly cool vegetables to stop the cooking. Plunge the basket of vegetables into a large amount of cold water, such as a large bowl of water and ice. Cooling vegetables should take the same amount of time as blanching. Be sure to make a new bowl of ice water for each pot of vegetables. Drain vegetables thoroughly after cooling.
Freeze the blanched vegetables in a single layer on a sheet pan until frozen, and then pack containers with the frozen vegetables. Because speed in freezing is important for best quality, put no more unfrozen vegetables into the freezer at one time than will freeze in 24 hours – usually two to three pounds of vegetables per cubic foot of freezer space. Plastic freezer containers, freezer bags, or glass canning jars are best for freezing. Regular (not canning) jars break easily at freezer temperatures. Your goal is to remove as much air as possible.
Label packages with the name and date. Most vegetables maintain high quality for 8 to 12 months at 0°F or lower. Longer storage will not make food unfit to eat, but may impair quality.
Here are instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation for popular foods:
Green, Snap, or Wax Beans
Rinse in cold water, cut into 2 to 4-inch lengths. Blanch 3 minutes. Package, seal and freeze.
Wash and sort according to size. Leave tap root; trim tops leaving 1⁄2-inch of stem. Cook in boiling water until tender. Small beets, 25-30 minutes; large beets, 45-50 minutes. Cool, peel (removing stem and tap root) and cut into slices or cubes. Package, seal and freeze.
Wash and remove stems. Package, seal and freeze.
Dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins. Peel, core, leave whole or cut in pieces. Package, seal and freeze.
Wash and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices. Blanch 3 minutes, cool, package, seal and freeze.
Husk and trim the ears, remove silks and rinse.
Corn-on-the-cob – Blanch medium ears (1¼ to 1½ inches in diameter) 9 minutes and large ears (over 1½ inches in diameter) 11 minutes. Cool, drain, package, seal and freeze.
Whole Kernel Corn – Blanch 4 minutes. Cool, drain and cut from cob. Package, seal and freeze.
Rather than freeze ALL the corn, enjoy some this week.
Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.”
Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.