The ultimate guide to freezing summer’s bounty

Guest post by Sylvia
Freezing strawberries

Although we lived in the suburbs, my family lived, in many ways, like homesteaders. Every summer, we would get extra fruits and veggies, and freeze them to eat all winter. Now, my brother has a farm, and so we freeze even more — leftovers that come home from market, or “seconds” — vegetables with some part that is good, but maybe with a bad spot, or maybe they just don’t look nice. I have frozen tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, peas, broccoli, green beans, spinach, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, apricots, plums, peaches, rhubarb, applesauce, and winter squash.

I don’t claim to be an expert on freezing fruits and vegetables; however, from years of experience, I have found a handful of methods that work for me.

Many veggies are easier to peel/slice/grate/chop before they go in the freezer

Notable exceptions being tomatoes (which I core on the way in, then peel and chop on the way out) and hot peppers (which I throw in whole, then stem, seed, and dice on the way out). Some do best fully cooked (applesauce, winter squash), and a few things (carrots, potatoes) really have texture issues, so they’re only really good in puréed soups (which, by the way, mostly freeze extremely well).

You don’t need any fancy equipment

You just need some freezer space, and something to contain your food within it. There are just a few basic techniques I use to freeze a wide variety of foods.
A few tools and materials are handy (although not strictly essential) for making the most of your frozen foods:

  • cookie sheets
  • a spatula
  • a large pot
  • and either a slotted spoon or a sieve (which will act much like a large slotted spoon)
  • freezer bags (I prefer the kind with a zip-type closure at one end, although you can also get ones you twist-tie shut, which do come in even larger sizes than the zippered ones)
  • small containers (I reuse cream cheese containers)
  • and a permanent marker for labeling everything with the contents, month, and year. (Pro tip: bags are much easier to label before they are filled.)

Blanching

Most vegetables have enzymes in them which will continue to be active even at freezer temperature, and will continue to degrade the food over time if they are not killed first. This is where blanching comes in: briefly boiling foods to kill the enzymes. (Blanching can also be used in canning to remove skins from tomatoes and peaches).

Different vegetables require different blanching times; there are many online resources with instructions for blanching, and tables of times for different vegetables. If books are more your speed, I cannot recommend highly enough Janet Bailey’s Keeping Food Fresh as a resource for home food preservation — not only freezing, but how best to keep fresh produce, well, fresh. Blanching is necessary for almost all vegetables; I don’t blanch my tomatoes, peppers, onions (the occasional times I freeze those), zucchini, or eggplant, although some resources do suggest blanching many of those. I do blanch corn, peas, beans, broccoli, and spinach.

Chuck it in a bag

For things that really don’t stick together, like whole fruits (blueberries, hulled strawberries, raspberries, cranberries), hot peppers (stems and all!), and even cored tomatoes, I tend to just chuck a bunch in a bag. If you’re picking fruit into plastic mesh pint, quart, or litre baskets, you can also freeze some things right in the baskets, and then knock the frozen product out into a bag — this works especially well for stemmed currants and gooseberries, although I’m sure it would also work for blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries.

Freezing on trays

This technique is great for anything that tends to stick together — sliced strawberries, apricot halves, blanched string beans, blanched broccoli, even portion-sized lumps of pesto, baba ghanouj, or other thick wet stuff. Arrange your stuff in a single layer on a regular ol’ cookie sheet (fruit and veggies can touch; lumps of sauce-ish-things shouldn’t), stick ’em in the freezer overnight, then use a spatula to pry them off the trays (quickly!) and put them into freezer bags.

Pre-portioning

For things that are really wet, such as cooked spinach or puréed squash, I like to pre-portion them into containers. This is where all my old cream cheese tubs come in handy. Figure out about how much you’ll want to use at once (err on the low side — you can always get out two containers, but getting out half will be much more difficult!) Pre-portioning is also great for things you tend to use in certain recipes — do you already know that your favourite zucchini bread recipe uses 1.5 cups of zucchini? Divide grated zucchini into 1.5 cup portions! You can also pre-portion in bags, you just need to use something else for measuring.

Freezing thin

One of my favourite techniques, which I do with chopped peppers, cubed eggplant, corn (off the cob), puréed green garlic, chopped or grated zucchini, pitted sour cherries, and sometimes strawberries (if I’m feeling too lazy to put them on trays) is to freeze thin (½ to 1 inch) layers in bags. I generally label bags as I go, although if I have a lot of something, I might label a few to start — the idea is to not label too many bags, though. I fill each bag part way, get all the air out, and start building a stack. Once I have all of my produce bagged, I take the stack and stick it on a tray (so that it stays flat), and put it in the freezer. These flat bags pack well together in the freezer, leading to a more efficient use of space than freezing in containers or even non-flat bags.

Using frozen foods

Nearly as important as freezing technique is knowing how to use frozen fruits and veggies. While minestrone doesn’t suffer much from being made with frozen vegetables, the same is not true of salad. The truth is that your frozen goods will not be the same as fresh; the flavour may change a little, and the texture will change a lot. I like to use frozen fruits and veggies in contexts where they’d be cooked to death anyway — soups, stews, sauces, and the like. I use frozen grated zucchini to make zucchini bread and zucchini brownies. We put frozen cherries (my husband’s favourite) or raspberries (my favourite) in our pancakes (along with chocolate chips if we’re feeling extra decadent). Frozen fruits are also sometimes good frozen, mixed into yogurt or puréed to make sorbet — we made a lovely peach sorbet the other week out of some peach halves we’d frozen (they peel like tomatoes on the way out…), and strawberry sorbet is similarly delicious.

What are your favourite fruits and veggies to freeze? How do you like to prepare them for freezing, and what’s your favourite way to eat them? Let us know in the comments!

Comments on The ultimate guide to freezing summer’s bounty

  1. Perfect timing since I planned to go to the farmer’s market this weekend! I keep a BASKET (!) in the freezer to contain the assorted bags of chopped up fruit and veggies that I use in smoothies. It keeps everything from sliding around in the freezer, and I can just take the whole thing out for a couple minutes to assemble a frozen fruity deliciousness.

    I also have been doing small-batch freezing, where I just cut up a couple extra strawberries and throw them in the same bag with the already frozen ones to save on bags.

  2. For me I find it really easy to portion out and freeze things in a cupcake pan, that way you can freeze lots of things at once without taking up a ton of room, but also have nice little portions (this works especially well for things like left over soup too!) then just knock those little hockey pucks out and into freezer ziptop bags and store them away!

    • I learned a lot from this post but your cupcake pan thing–woah. That’s so nifty! Freeze all the things!

      • Yes! I did this when I made chicken broth once. Once they were solidified, I put them in a bag and BAM! I had little amounts of broth to easily add to whatever I was cooking. I’ll definitely have to try the technique on other things…

        • Did you put the broth directly in the cupcake pan? Do they come out easily? I tried to do this but with a whole Saran wrap mess because I thought it would be so easy and help reduce cleanup, but my results were not good. The little pucks worked out great once I pried them out, but it was a long, chicken-ice-shards-everywhere process to get to that point because of the crinkles in the plastic.

          • I’ve had similar problems freezing lemon juice in cupcake pans. My solution:

            Flip the cupcake tin over on a table so all the metal cups are facing up, and use a hairdryer to blow hot air on them for 10-15 seconds. Seriously! It sounds super silly, but it melts the thin layer of liquid stuck to the metal. Then flip it back over and use a fork to pry out the pucks. Transfer to a bag or container and put them back in the freezer.
            I hope that helps!

          • Well, yes, I did have trouble getting them out. I ended up setting the frozen pan upside down on the counter for a few minutes so that the broth pucks would fall out. Next time I do it, I think I’ll use my silicone cupcake pan, instead.

          • I use silicon cups and muffin pans to do the same job. Ingredients slide out super easily and washing up is a breeze.

  3. Freezer hashbrowns! Basically, what you do is bake or boil potatoes, grate the cooked potatoes onto a cookie sheet (they’re easier to grate if you don’t cook them all the way), then freeze, then transfer to a bag or whatever. Pull them out and fry them whenever you want hashbrowns. They come out just like the crispy stuff you can buy in the freezer section.

  4. these are great tips – we have a big garden but our old freezer was *crap*. This year i aim to freeze tons.

    one other pro-freezer tip (but not about food, exactly) – i use tupperware (or whatever leftover lidded container i have around) to freeze the last dregs of wine and then i have it to use in sauces etc. i just keep one container and pull it out and pour whatever i have in glasses/bottles that isn’t going to get drank into it on top of whatever is already there and frozen. I’m pretty lazy about it, i just throw red and white together in the same container. I even (tell no-one) toss in any of my own from my glass if i don’t finish it (like if my white gets warm). it’s all getting cooked anyway, right? it saves using ‘good wine’ if you want to add some for flavour to something.

    i do it with beer too now – i use it in my chili or stews.

  5. Great tips!

    Last year we froze a tonne of strawberries and peaches, and then had a two-day power outage. And then another overnight outage. All of our painstakingly sliced berries and peeled peach slices that had been tray frozen and put in bags for easy extraction became giant lumps of frozen fruit. I can’t decide if I should can the fruit instead since canning is a lot of fun & good for off-grid-ness, or just hope we don’t have massive power outages again.

    Edit to add: I also live in Waterloo (well, Kitchener, but just on the border)! Did you have power outage problems with your frozen foods too last summer?

    • We were in Downtown Kitchener last summer, moved to Waterloo in October (we’re not too far from the border, now, though). We were lucky enough not to have any major power-outages where we were, although I certainly knew others who had trouble. I did a fair amount of canning as well as freezing, which was fun, but certainly more work. There are also a number of things that I like a lot better frozen than canned, and ones that just can’t be canned easily and safely (most veggies fall into that category, although I do now have a pressure-canner). For me, it’s often a matter of time — I can throw things in the freezer in a lot less time than it takes to heat the canner, prep the food, sterilize the jars, can things, and wait for them to cool…

  6. This is a wonderful article! Thank you for posting.

    I also cook and freeze a whole pumpkin each year, and it’s a great base for pumpkin muffins and pies. I roast the pumpkin in halves face-down on a cookie sheet, scoop out the insides and puree them, then freeze in baggies (2 cups per bag, since that’s how much my muffin recipe uses).

    We also freeze lemon juice in ice trays every year. Our lemon tree produces WAAAY more lemons than we use in winter, so I juice all the lemons and freeze them in ice trays, then transfer the frozen cubes to gallon bags. Last year we got 3 gallon bags worth of lemon juice and it lasted all year! (Pro-tip: use your frozen lemon juice when making jams & preserves in the summer).

    • don’t discard the peel! grate the zest (yellow part only) before squeezing the lemons and let it dry on a tray (sun, oven or heater, anything works), and you can keep it in a little jar for a long time, and it tastes and smells amazing in cakes and cookies and chicken and…
      also, i use already squeezed and zested lemon halves in the dishwasher instead of that yucky “rinse aid” that you end up eating off your plates. it makes everything shiny and nice smelling. one half or two per load, then it is finally ready to go in the compost bin.
      I mean, when life gives you lemons… (sorry, that was bad 😉 )

  7. Such a timely post. A farmers market just opened WALKING DISTANCE FROM MY HOUSE!!! This week I was very good and mainly looked, but after seeing all they have I will be buying (and freezing) ALL THE THINGS next week. I expect to be able to do my grocery shop there most weeks and have my freezer bags at the ready to make the most of it 🙂

  8. This post is awesome (I’ve learned a bundle just reading the comments). I picked some currants and mulberries today (the mulberry tree is so huge and laden with fruit it sounds like it is raining while you are picking because the berries are just falling on your head!). Question- do you always have to pre-cook greens before freezing? We had to go out of town for a week and had a CSA box full of spinach so we tossed it in the freezer. Can I still use that in soups and things or do you think it will be gross? In the future, should I always pre-cook the greens?

    • If you’re using it soon, no need to pre-cook. If you’re hoping to store things until winter, then pre-cooking will help keep the flavour and texture from deteriorating over time (although the texture of cooked spinach is pretty mushy anyway, so it might not affect texture much). You should be fine using it for soups and things, but if you’re hoping to eat plain cooked spinach in the middle of next winter, then I’d suggest blanching it (which has the added advantage of drastically reducing the amount of space it will take up in your freezer).

  9. I have a great tip for freezing sliced fruits – line your cookie sheet with plastic wrap (if you use it).

    My pricess is normally to have a few stations set up (salad spinner – don’t use this for raspberries/blackberries!, bowl of water/vinegar for cleaning fruit, cutting board, cookie tray), and I sort, soak, dry, and chop in small amounts, that way as I wait for fruit to soak for a bit, I’m working on something else. My fruit does end up being juicy though (I’m not sure how much of that is because of washing, and how much is just ripe fruit – my guess is both), and I’ve found that unlined cookie sheets are difficult. Wax paper doesn’t hold up well to the moisture, aluminum foil tears, but plastic wrap as a lining makes life super easy!

    If a sliced berry is being particularly stubborn, you can lift up the wrap from the tray and peel it off. I reuse the tray and wrap until all of my fruit has been dealt with, so it isn’t too wasteful if you reuse one piece.

  10. Put a clean dish towel between pan and fruit. It will soak up the water from the fruit and keep the fruit from sticking. Plus, you can pick it up and the fruit will slide right into the storage container.

  11. I always do my pestos in an ice cube tray, and then pop little cubes into a labelled freezer bag once they’re solid. That way, I can toss a cube into soup, spaghetti sauce, whatever, or use a bunch for just something in pesto sauce.
    The only sadness is that I never make enough and always run out in January or February!

    I also do at least one pie or sugar pumpkin every year, and put the puree in 1 cup increments – I use it for both pie and bread/muffins. So much better than the canned stuff!

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