Do you have a vegetable garden at home, or a farmer’s market nearby? Summer is a great time to grow or buy fresh fruits and vegetables and preserve them for use later in the year, when produce prices are much more expensive.
One of the easiest ways to preserve fresh fruits and vegetables is to freeze it. A surprisingly large variety of fruits and veggies can be frozen as is, or you can wash and chop them into a form that’s easy to pull out and cook with down the road. This won’t take long and will make cooking that much easier when it’s time to use them later in the year. Cutting up the produce before freezing also allows you to pack them in tighter, giving you more space in your freezer.
Here are some tips and ideas for freezing fresh fruits and vegetables:
Berries are one of the easiest fruits to freeze.It’s best to freeze them whole. It’s a good idea to spread the fresh berries out on a cooking sheet and place them in the freezer for a few hours before packing them into freezer bags or containers. This process is called flash freezing, and it ensures they don’t freeze into a big solid lump. Keep them in the freezer, then pour them out as needed to make smoothies, to stir into yogurt or onto oatmeal or to bake a pie or other yummy desserts.
Other fruits like peaches, bananas, and pineapple freeze really well, but they should be washed and chopped before freezing. Again, flash freezing is recommended.
When you have bananas that are getting too ripe to eat, throw them in the freezer to use for smoothies or baking. If you plan to use the bananas in smoothies, I recommend peeling and slicing them up and storing them in freezer bags after flash freezing. If you are going to use them in recipes for banana muffins or banana bread, you can throw the bananas in the freezer still in the peels. (They will be mushy once thawed.)
Apples and pears don’t freeze well unless you turn them into pie filling first. I’ve also had success making up big batches of applesauce and pear sauce and freezing that in containers.
Grapes can be frozen, but don’t thaw well at all. If you have too many grapes, toss them in the freezer and eat them frozen. You can also use frozen grapes to flavour your water or use as ice cubes in drinks.
Freezing Fresh Vegetables:
Lots of fresh vegetables can also be rinsed, chopped and frozen. Some veggies that freeze well include green beans, peas, squash, corn, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and spinach. If you see it in the frozen food section at the grocery store, chances are it will freeze well.
Just rinse the produce as it comes out of the garden or from the farmers market, chop it and put it in freezer bags. Most vegetables will benefit from blanching before freezing (see the video below to learn about blanching). Again, flash freezing is generally a good idea to keep the vegetables from sticking together once frozen.
Raw potatoes generally do not freeze well at all – they have a tendency to turn black and/or mushy. However, it is possible to freeze potatoes a few different ways. You can freeze cooked mashed potatoes, grated potatoes or hash browns, or french fries. Blanching the grated or french fried potatoes is highly recommended.
Peppers and onions do well chopped and frozen, if you plan to use them for cooking. The texture will be a bit different once thawed, so don’t plan on eating them raw.
Zucchini is one vegetable that can be very plentiful in summer, but does not freeze particularly well due to its high water content. You can freeze it however, if you grate it first. When you’re ready to use the grated zucchini, thaw it and drain it before adding to your baking recipe or making zucchini pancakes.
Freezing tomatoes can be a bit tricky. I often freeze bags of cherry tomatoes when I have more than I know what to do with and use them in recipes later on. If you don’t have the time to do anything with larger tomatoes right away, chop and freeze them. You can use them to make salsa, pasta sauce or tomato soup down the road.
If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, I find you get much better results cooking the sauce or soup now and then freezing it. This also makes it much easier to put together a meal down the road. There is nothing more convenient than a batch of tomato sauce to pull together a quick dinner. Grab a container of frozen tomato soup, slowly heat it up on the stove while you make a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches for a quick and easy lunch or dinner.
Fresh herbs can also be frozen, but they can be a little tricky. Some herbs, like rosemary and sage are better preserved by drying or dehydrating. Herbs that are good candidates for freezing include chives, mint, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano and tarragon. The easiest way to freeze fresh herbs is to wash and chop them and scoop them into ice cube trays. Top them with water, chicken broth, or olive oil and freeze until solid. Once solid, you can pop them out of the ice cube tray and put them into freezer bags. Use one of the frozen herb cubes whenever you want to add some flavour to a meal you’re cooking.
Last but not least, try making your favorite freezer friendly meals with the leftover produce. Soups, chilis and stews work really well as do pot pies and casseroles. Cook up a big batch of chili or vegetable soup. Serve some for dinner and freeze the rest for future lunches and dinners.