A home garden is great, but what do you do with all those vegetables that you harvest? How can you make those vegetables last all winter long?
Freezing vegetables is a great way to save money and ensure you are eating quality food. It is an excellent way to preserve fresh vegetables at home. Freezing does not sterilize foods, the extreme cold slows the growth of microorganisms. It also slows down the changes that affect quality or cause spoilage in food. The quality of frozen vegetables depends on the quality of the fresh products and how they are handled from the time they are picked. It is also important to start with high-quality vegetables because freezing will not improve the product’s quality.
Selecting Freezing Containers
Before preparing vegetables for freezing, assemble the containers you will use.
- Containers should be moisture-vapor resistant, durable, easy to seal, and sturdy enough to handle low temperatures.
- Suitable containers include plastic freezer containers, flexible freezer bags and protective cardboard cartons or glass canning jars. (Wide-mouth jars are easier to remove product)
- Regular household containers are not suitable, like milk, ice cream, or cottage cheese cartons.
Preparing the Vegetables
- Use vegetables at peak flavor and texture
- Harvest in the cool part of the morning and freeze within a few hours.
- Wash vegetables thoroughly in cold water, lifting them out of the water as grit settles to the bottom.
- Sort according to size for blanching and packing.
Blanching is scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time. This is a must for all vegetables to be frozen. It slows or stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
Blanching time is crucial and varies with vegetables and its size. Underblanching can cause many issues like early spoilage and loss of flavor, color and vitamins. Click here for the full publication and correct blanching times for each vegetable.
- Water Blanching- Best method. Use a blancher with a blanching basket and cover. Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Start counting blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil after submerging vegetables.
- Steam Blanching– Only recommended for a few vegetables. Use a kettle with a tight lid and basket. Put an inch or two of water in the kettle and bring to a boil. Place in single layers and start counting steaming time as soon as the lid is on.
- Microwave Blanching– Not recommended. Microwaving alters the flavor, doesn’t inactivate enzymes, and causes the loss of color and texture.
As soon as blanching is complete, cool vegetables quickly and thoroughly by submerging basket into a large quantity of cold water, 60 degrees or below. Cooling vegetables should take the same about of time as blanching. Drain vegetables thoroughly. Extra moisture can cause a loss of quality when vegetables are frozen .
- Dry Pack- placing vegetables into meal-size freezer bags or containers. Pack tightly, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top of rigid containers and close securely. For freezer bags, fill to within three inches of the top. Remove as much air as possible.
- Tray Pack– Place chilled vegetables in a single layer on shallow trays or pans. Place in freezer until firm, then remove quickly and fill bags or containers. Tray-packed foods do not freeze in a block, but remain loose so the amount needed can be removed and the package re-closed.
Labeling and Storing
Labeling packages is very important to ensure you know what the product is and when it was frozen. Freeze all vegetables at once at 0 degrees or below. Do not overload freezer with more containers than your freezer can freeze within a 24 hour period. After vegetables are frozen, rearrange packages and store close together. Most vegetables maintain high quality for about 8 to 12 months. Longer than that will not spoil, but quality becomes impaired. Frozen vegetables should be cooked without thawing.
For more information about preserving foods, contact your local Extension Office Agent.
Jana Hart- Extension Agent- FCS/4-H