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.)
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.
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.
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!