While summer may be winding down a bit, chances are that local farmers market stands are still nicely stocked and your own garden is still producing fruits and veggies in abundance.

While it’s very nice to share with others, don’t forget to think ahead to winter.  People have been preserving food for the winter for eons, often out of necessity. While the need is not really there anymore, given the convenience of the neighborhood grocery store, the desire to bite into fresh tasting, brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the dead of winter spurs many of us to “put up” food for the winter. 

Canning used to be very popular, but it requires a major effort and really, with a stand-alone freezer, you can much more easily put up fruits and vegetables without the risk of botulism from improper canning methods.

The first step in preparing fruits and vegetables for freezing is to wash them thoroughly. Whether you leave the produce whole or cut it up is up to you, but common sense says to freeze them the way you would prepare them for a meal. Snip your green bean ends; slice or dice peppers; chop potatoes; slice apples, peaches, nectarines. The smaller the size, the quicker they will freeze. 

Root vegetables like potatoes don’t freeze well, but you could shred them for an easy meal of hash in the future.  You should know too that some fruits that quickly turn brown like apples, avocados, bananas, and peaches benefit from a dip in some lemon water or water with ascorbic acid before freezing.

After preparation, most vegetables will then need to be blanched in boiling water for a few minutes followed by an ice bath before freezing. Blanching the veggies helps to prevent a mushy texture upon thawing, as well as helping to retain the color and nutrients by stopping the enzymes that want to continue to act in removing nutrients, flavor and texture after harvest.  Blanching also removes any plant or pesticide residue as well as surface microorganisms.  Blanching in boiling water is best, but steam blanching works for some veggies like broccoli, pumpkin, potatoes and winter squash. To determine the proper blanching time for each veggie, you will need to do a quick search online for the optimum cooking time. Know also that fruits and some veggies like onions, peppers, zucchini and raw tomatoes do not need to be blanched.

After removing the veggies from the ice bath, you should pat them dry and then place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet pan to be flash frozen.  Set the freezer temperature to as low as you can and allow for lots of air circulation of the cookie sheet. Trying to freeze too much at once will inhibit the process. After the produce has frozen, move the fruit or veggies to a freezer bag or container.

If you have a bountiful garden, it’s best to have a free-standing freezer. Your freezer needs to be able to get and stay at zero degrees Fahrenheit to freeze and keep the produce properly.  Packaging the produce correctly also helps. Most produce that is dry packed does quite well in plastic bags made for the freezer. You can also use plastic freezer containers. Remember to use a little freezer tape and mark the date that you packed your produce.

Frozen fruit and veggies can last up to year in the freezer- oftentimes beyond a year, if you’ve packed well. Safety of the frozen produce is not the concern with a longer freeze time, but rather the quality of the product.  If done correctly, there’s no reason why your summer bounty can’t last you year round and bring sweet and savory memories with just one bite!
 
Thank you to the University of Kentucky for the canning photo and some great info.