The harvest may be plentiful, but the storage is likely few. If every flat kitchen surface is filled with garden goodies, freezing the surplus is a great way to enjoy fresh vegetables all year long.
Gardeners can take some simple steps to ensure quality freshness for eight to 12 months.
“When properly picked, prepped and packed, vegetables can hold their fresh qualities for about a year,” said Janice Hall, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator for Macon County.
When picking vegetables to freeze, time is of the essence. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to have the produce picked, prepped and packed in the freezer within two hours of picking them.
In general, vegetables are better if they are picked early in the morning, right when the dew is off the vines. When picking vegetables to freeze, remember tender and just-matured ones are best.
The first step to prepping vegetables is a thorough wash. This is the perfect time to look for inferior or overly mature vegetables; remove those. After washing, it is time to blanch.
Blanching is a cooking method in which the vegetables are quickly cooked with water to stop the enzyme action. If not blanched, this enzyme action can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.
“Properly blanching vegetables is a must,” Hall said. “This stops the enzymes from destroying the fresh flavor of the vegetables, while also removing bacteria.” After the vegetables have been properly blanched, they must be “shocked” in cold ice water to stop the cooking process.
“To stop the cooking, submerge the vegetables into cold water that is at least 60 ºF or below,” Hall said. “Blanching and cooling should take about the same length of time.”
Choosing the right container is essential when packing vegetables for the freezer. Instead of large bunches, Hall suggests packing meal-size portions firmly in moisture- and vapor-resistant freezer containers. Use containers that are odor-free, grease-resistant and crack-proof at low freezer temperatures.
“It is important to check approved recipes for the required headspace,” Hall said. “Headspace is the distance from the opening of the container to the packed food. It allows for expansion of the food as it freezes.”
Label and date containers before storing in the freezer. Freezer tape is another way to identify vegetables and packing dates. Do not overload the freezer, as this will add to the freezing times. For optimal quality, place the containers in the coldest part of the freezer and store at 0 °F or below.
In-depth freezing instructions are available in the Alabama Extension publication Freezing Summer’s Bounty of Vegetables available at www.aces.edu.