Thursday, August 3, 2017

Freezing excess vegetables

It that time of year where anyone that has planted a garden has to face- who am I going to give all of these tomatoes and zucchini to? When I plant my garden, I usually plant about 20+ tomato plants of different types and some zucchini, as well as several other kinds of veggies. When they all start to produce their fruit, I have to figure out what to do with all of it. Eating 5 pounds a day of tomatoes can be a bit much for any family. What I am going to go over is some ways to store this bounty for those drab days of winter when fresh vegetables are hard to come by or expensive at the store.

There are a couple of different ways to "put up" your harvest for another time. There is freezing, drying and canning. These are the most used ways to get the job done. In this post, I am going to cover freezing. Look for new posts later on canning and drying. Freezing involves preparing the vegetables by cleaning, trimming and blanching and putting in the freezer until they are frozen through and then portioning them to meal sized portions for future use.

What fruits and vegetables are suitable for this ? Freezing works well with denser items that have a lower amount of water content to them. Carrots, okra, green beans, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, winter squash, berries, apples, pears, blueberries, tree nuts and peppers are just some that take to freezing well. Items that do not are summer squash-zucchini and yellow squash, cucumbers, some tomatoes (more on that later) and potatoes.

Here is the best way to prepare your harvest for freezing. Wash and trim any blemished veggie. Get a pot of salted nearly boiling water ready on the stove. When the water is about 180- 190 degrees, drop in batches some of your veggies. Allow to be in the water for about 30 seconds. You are just using this to ever so slightly cook the veg and kill any bacteria that is on it. Remove after 30 seconds and drop the veg into an ice water bath. This will stop the cooking process. After the veg has been thoroughly cooled, remove from the shock bath and allow to air dry for a few minutes in a colander so excess water can drain off. After the veg has air dried for a few minutes spread them out on a sheet pan that has been lined with wax paper. Put the sheet pan with your veg into you freezer and allow to freeze for a couple hours until frozen solid. After the veg has frozen solid, remove from the freezer, loosen from the pan by lifting the wax paper. Put your frozen veg into zipper bags, I recommend quart sized bags. The pint sized bags will yield about a pound of veg, depending on what it is, and will be enough for a family sized meal. Use quart sized bags if you want about a 2 pound bag for storing. Burp the air out of the bags, flatten and stack back in your freezer for use as needed.

You will not need to do the blanching step when processing fruit like berries, cherries, apples or pears. Just make sure they are ripe and free from blemish, then lay out on the sheet pan and freeze. After they are frozen, remove from the sheet pan, bag and put back in freezer. Frozen fruit is excellent for making smoothies. The frozen fruit will add body and coldness to the smoothie. Some tomatoes are okay for freezing. Juicy, slicing tomatoes are NOT good for this as they are usually a little more delicate and will not freeze well. Roma type tomatoes work good for this and I have put up lots in the past and used them in stews and soups. The consistency of the tomato will get a bit mushy when frozen but goes unnoticed in a stew or soup or when an ingredient in something. Canning type tomatoes are acceptable when frozen when used the same way. Just skin the tomato after blanching, destem it and cut up as you will be using it, like rough chopped for a stew or soup.

Tree nuts, like almonds, walnuts and pecans are easy to freeze. All you have to do it get them out of the shells, make sure they are free from any bugs or rot and put them in zipper bag and pop in the freezer. Take as many as you want out of the freezer and put the rest back in. Keeping them frozen will keep the oils in the nut from going rancid and keep them fresh a lot longer.

Even if you are not able to have a garden, let someone else do the growing and get their bounty at a farmer's market or grocery store when the item is on sale and freeze and store for later in the year when these things are more expensive. All you will have to do then is go to your freezer and open a bag. I have done this when there is a lot of produce on the mark down rack at some stores and it still looks acceptable for use.

I hope that helps you prepare for winter and save a ton of money in the process. You will be thanking yourself in winter for the little bit of work you did in the summer.

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