In my last entry I wrote about some things you should consider when buying a freezer to save this year’s harvest, and some accessories you should think about getting to go along with the freezer. But once you have the freezer – now what?
Sure, there’s the inevitable trip to Costco, and the quarter of beef you promised to split with your coworker. Once that’s out of the way, here are some tips on how to actually save the beans, broccoli and strawberries you’ve grown and bought at the farmers’ market this summer.
As I said in the previous entry, air is one of enemies of frozen foods. If you stick a raw steak in the freezer and leave it there, you’ll have a nicely freezer-burned steak in no time. This is because freezer air is dry, and freezer burn is basically an area of food that’s become dried out. (Ever hear of freeze drying?) To prevent freezer burn from happening, you want to keep air away from the food.
There are two main types of freezer containers: bags and containers. However, there are pros and cons to all the various containers.
Ziptop freezer bags are relatively cheap, and can be very versatile. One downside to consider, though, is that they can be prone to leaking when the food is being defrosted. Another option is vacuum bags. This requires you to have a vacuum sealer and bags, which are an added expense (and the sealer is another gadget to store when you’re not using it). However, after having had our vacuum sealer for a year, I can confidently say that I love it and can’t imagine freezing anything for long-term storage without it.
Any plastic container can be used as a freezer container. Heavy-duty containers provide the best value for your money. Lightweight containers will crack and break over time. We have a set of Ball freezer jars that are great – when the lids fit. The lids were made to such tight tolerances that they don’t all fit the jars. I’m on the lookout for a better choice for freezer jars.
Preparing the food
Now that you have containers, you just have to freeze your food, right? Well, mostly. Some foods, such as ripe berries, can be cleaned and frozen without any further processing. However, other foods require blanching before you put them up.
Blanching cooks food just long enough to stop the chemical processes that start breaking food down as soon as it’s picked. PickYourOwn.org has a ton of great guides on how to blanch, cook and otherwise prepare fruits and vegetables for freezing. (If you choose to do canning, he also has lots of canning recipes for you to try.)
Experiment a bit to find out what must be blanched and what doesn’t. For example, I shredded a bunch of our larger zucchini last year for use in zucchini breads and cakes. I didn’t blanch any of it, and it’s still fine. Blanching preserves the crispness of a vegetable, and since that isn’t important when making zucchini cake, I skipped the step.
After preparing the food, package it up in your containers. Make sure to leave enough headspace in each of your containers to allow the frozen food to expand. This is more important if you’re using containers than bags; unless you’ve totally stuffed a bag to capacity, it’ll likely have a bit of room for expansion.
Finally, label with the name of the produce and date. It might still be obvious in a year that it’s sweet corn in that freezer bag, but when you have ten bags of sweet corn you want to make sure you’re eating the oldest bag first. I’ve also started adding the name of the vendor when I freeze produce from the farmers’ market. That way, when I find something particularly yummy, it’ll be easier to remember next year who I bought it from.
Got any additional tips? Share them in the comments!