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Make it Last
by Richelle Stafne - posted 08/01/18


Items to gather to prepare for freezing fruits and vegetables: freezer pens, canning labels, resealable freezer bags, vacuum-sealable bags, plastic freezer containers, canning jars, etc. To save time, gather items in advance to be sure you have everything needed for specific produce.

There is a fine line in a productive summer garden where the harvest goes from plentiful to growing “out your ears.” Of course, you can give extra produce away or donate it to a local soup kitchen, but another option is to freeze the abundant harvest. I grew up on a rural farm where food preservation was a way of life. From snapping green beans for canning to washing blackberries for freezing, we learned to help from a young age. Here are tips to help you get started with freezing produce at home.

 

Selecting Produce

Be sure fruits, vegetables and herbs are harvested at the right time (morning is best) and picked at the peak of ripeness. Freezing will not improve quality. Those to be frozen should be prepared as quickly as possible. In other words, waiting to see how much food is left at the end of the week and hurriedly deciding to throw it in the freezer is not the best way to go. Choose fruit and veggies without disease or insect damage. Rinse produce thoroughly, sort and dry. Pulling out a bag of tomatoes from the freezer only to find a tomato hornworm hitched a ride into the bag is a good way have an entire bag end up in the compost. Though freezing food may change the texture, most of the flavor and nutritive value will remain after thawing.

 

Freezer burn is the name for dry,
tough surfaces that sometimes form on frozen food. Prevent with moisture/vapor-proof containers and remove all air from packages.

Prevent ice crystal
formations
by freezing
produce quickly, only a few pounds
at a time, and by using quality freezer
containers.

Beverage tip!
Freeze whole, rinsed berries in ice cube trays filled with water to add frozen festivity to cocktails, lemonades and iced teas.

Herbs for freezing:
• Clip fresh, young leaves in morning
• Clean the leaves
• Dry them
• Place in sealed plastic bags (remove the air) or airtight container Try these herbs: basil, borage, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, savory, sorrel, sweet woodruff, tarragon, thyme

 
 

Choosing the Right Container

Containers for freezing foods should be airtight, moisture/vapor resistant, capable of withstanding freezing and thawing, and should be able to be labeled. The particular container chosen depends on what is being frozen and what you plan to do with it after freezing. Containers could be glass canning jars (wide mouth is best), plastic bowls with lids or sealable, plastic freezer bags, which includes durable bags used with food preservation vacuum-sealing machines.

 

Gathering the Necessary Tools

•  Washed, cleaned and dried freezable containers

•  Freezer-compatible labeling markers and label tape

•  Freezer paper (used in some circumstances)

•  Clean and sanitized work space

•  Hair net and gloves are advisable but clean hands are fine

•  Colander

•  Knives and cutting board; avoid iron and galvanized cooking utensils and equipment

•  For vegetables, a deep pot for blanching and another container or sink basin for ice water bath

 

Preparation of the Fruit or Vegetable

How to Freeze Okra
1.    Select fresh pods less than 3 inches in length.
2.    Wash and trim pods, leaving cap whole.
3.    Label and date freezer bags/containers.
4.    Blanch okra in small batches for four minutes.
5.    Prepare ice water bath in a large container or sink basin.
6.    Emerge blanched okra into ice water for 5 minutes, until cooled.
7.    Remove and drain okra.
8.    Pack okra pods (whole or sliced) into clean, freezer bags, squeeze out air and seal.
9.    Repeat using the same blanching water and ice water bath.
10.    Freeze up to one year at 32 F or below.
11.    Enjoy deep-fried or add to gumbos, vegetable soup, stir-fry, etc.

Prepare fruit as it will be used – peeled, chopped, pitted, etc. Food that will darken or degrade rapidly should be prepared in small batches so as it is prepared, it is put into containers and frozen. Four types of fruit packing are used: dry pack, sugar pack, syrup pack and unsweetened pack. Sugars and syrups are often used to improve texture and flavor after food is thawed, but is not essential. Berries can be frozen in a single layer on a tray, then transferred frozen to freezer bags. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be added according to package directions to prevent fruit discoloration. Most vegetables (except onions and peppers) should be blanched (briefly heat treated by boiling or steaming) before freezing. Blanch and immediately follow with ice water cooling. Vegetable type and size determine blanching time.

 

Why Blanch Vegetables?


Improperly frozen grapes covered with ice crystals. Avoid by using quality freezer bags and freezing smaller batches at one time to ensure rapid freezing.

•  Stops enzymatic reactions within produce

•  Seals in flavor, color, nutrients, and preserves quality and texture

•  Destroys bacteria and insects

•  Removes dirt

 

Darren Scott, food scientist and sensory specialist at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center at Oklahoma State University, says the quality of frozen food depends on the treatment the food receives prior to freezing, how the food is frozen, and the post-freezing storage conditions. He further states that “freezing does not stop enzymatic action and will not kill bacteria.” Mr. Scott adds that self-defrosting freezers that go through a warm-up phase each day may allow partial thawing of foods. This is important because some bacteria are capable of growth at temperatures just slightly above freezing, and he cautions “bacteria are capable of rapid growth.”

 

Longevity

A general rule of thumb for properly frozen food is that it will last six months to a year. Vacuum-sealed foods usually last longer depending on the food product.

 

Strawberry Kiwi Freezer Jam (uncooked)
Makes 5, 8-ounce jars


This recipe uses freezer jam pectin, which means the recipe uses less sugar
 
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 pouch (1.59 ounces) freezer jam pectin
  • 2 cups crushed, hulled (cap removed) strawberries (or raspberries)
  • 2 cups diced, peeled kiwi fruit (or mashed banana)

In a medium bowl, combine sugar and pectin, stirring until well blended. Add fruit. Stir for 3 minutes. Ladle into freezer jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Apply lids tightly. Let stand at room temperature until thickened (about 30 minutes). Freeze up to one year (or enjoy immediately). Thaw before use.

 

A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Richelle Stafne.

 

 


Richelle Stafne holds a B.S.A. in landscape design, an M.S. in horticulture, is a Certified Professional Horticulturist, member of the Garden Writers Association and an Oklahoma State University research specialist (horticulture) in the Fruit and Vegetable Products Laboratory at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center.