Did you take advantage of a store special on produce? Or perhaps you harvested a lot of items from your garden? Or did you simply buy too much produce to use in a week?
Don't worry, there's good news about the bounty that is overflowing from your refrigerator and countertops, and the answer lies in your freezer. You can actually freeze a whole bunch of different fruits and vegetables to use later!
For Freezer Success, Follow These 8 Steps:
- Freeze ripe, high-quality fruits and vegetables. Freezing won't magically fix any rot, lack of ripeness, or mold -- it will just preserve those pesky problems.
- Only freeze fruits and vegetables that you want to cook or which you can use while still frozen. Things that you pretty much only eat fresh (like lettuce or cucumbers, for example) don't freeze or reheat well.
- Before you freeze, make your vegetables "ready-to-eat" by peeling and/or chopping them before they go into a freezer.
- Think about how you want your fruits and vegetables to appear when you reach for them in the freezer. For example, it might be easy to just toss a banana into the freezer with the skin still intact, but when you take it out of the freezer, the fruit will be mushier and the skin will be more difficult to remove. This difficulty means that the bananas could sit in the freezer for a long time without actually being used. The same rule applies to the stems of strawberries -- it is tedious to remove them from frozen fruits. Instead, remove these fussy pieces before freezing your food.
- Consider the serving size. Freeze in "ready-to-eat" sizes that you and your family regularly consume. A huge block of frozen casserole is only a good idea if you want to reheat the whole thing and serve it all at once. Consider slicing large casseroles etc. into single-serving portions that can be reheated on the go.
- Grated items can often be frozen without being cooked first. Consider using a food processor to make grating faster. Carrots lend themselves well to this because it is easy to add them to tomato sauces, soups, etc.
- Most fruits can be frozen raw.
- Many vegetables need to be "blanched" or partially cooked before they are frozen. This will ensure good quality, color, and texture. It is best to steam them quickly on the stove or give them a speedy zap in the microwave. 1-2 minutes is all that is needed (in most cases). You'll want the items to still be crisp before you freeze them -- this will help keep them from being overcooked when they're heated before serving.
- Freeze your produce in sealed bags or containers. Bags are the preferred method because you can see what is in them and they take up less space. It is important to fold or roll items in the bags so that you reduce the amount of air in the bags. The less air, the better!
- Cook all vegetables straight from their frozen state. Vegetables can go from the freezer to the microwave or steamer directly. Fruits can be thawed or they can go directly from the freezer to a baking/pancake mix or blender. (PS There's an exception for corn -- check it out below...).
- Consider making frozen veggies into soups, stews, and chilis -- it's not much more effort than blanching and then you have a ready-made dish to eat on a busy day.
Want to start stocking your freezer? Here's a guide to freezing common fruits and vegetables...
- Apples - Remove the core and cut it into wedges, slices, or diced squares. Consider making extra apples into apple sauce or apple butter.
- Apricots - Bake or steam the apricots for best results in long-term storage
- Asparagus - Blanch for 1-2 minutes and flash-freeze on a baking tray in the freezer for a few minutes before bagging and storing. This will keep the stalks from freezing into a single solid mass.
- Bananas - Peel the bananas and then freeze them in bags or containers. They are great for baking into muffins or quick breads, or for blending into smoothies. Tip: if your favorite banana muffin recipe calls for 2 cups of bananas, consider freezing them in 2 cup batches. That way they are ready to bake when you are ready to whip up a masterpiece. Consider cutting under-ripe bananas into bite-sized chunks and dipping them in chocolate or nuts for a healthful, frozen treat.
- Beans - Green beans, wax beans, and yellow beans should have their stems removed before freezing. They can be steamed for 2 minutes and then frozen in single serving sized packages for the best results.
- Berries - Freeze berries in bags or containers. Use them in smoothies, muffins, quick breads, or pies. It is best to remove all stems from strawberries first.
- Broccoli - Blanch for 1-2 minutes and then flash-freeze in a single layer on a baking tray in the freezer. Transfer to sealed bags or containers.
- Carrots - Slice, blanch, freeze. You can also grate and freeze.
- Cauliflower - Trim into florets and steam for 2 minutes. Freeze in small serving sizes in sealed bags or containers. Cooked cauliflower can be mashed just like potatoes, and you can do this before or after freezing.
- Corn - Boil the corn on the cob for several minutes, then freeze immediately. Allow to thaw before cooking. You can also remove kernels from the cob after it is cooked, then freeze those in bags or containers. Corn is also great to make it into soup -- then you can freeze the soup!
- Grapes - Freeze grapes in small bags. They can be eaten like frozen fruit treats.
- Mushrooms - For best results, rinse, slice, saute in oil, and freeze in sealed bags or containers.
- Peaches - Freeze wedges for short term use. They go great in pies, cobblers, and compotes.
- Pears - Cut into wedges or cubes. Freeze in bags. Consider making pear butter or pear sauce first and then freezing that for the long term.
- Peas - Blanch and freeze in bags
- Peppers - Roast under the broiler and freeze in bags. (Removing the skin is optional and up to you - we leave it on for more color and flavor).
- Potatoes - Cut into cubes or slices. Bake or boil until almost fully cooked, (15 minutes) then freeze in bags or containers.
- Rhubarb - Cut into chunks, freeze in bags. Rhubarb goes great in pie or cooked rhubarb compote.
- Winter squash - Bake for an hour. Remove the skins and mash lightly. Freeze in bags or containers. Add to pies, soups, or chilis.
- Tomatoes - Bake or sauté, then freeze in bags. You can also make a wonderful tomato sauce first and then freeze it in single dinner-sized bags.
The "Don't Freeze" List:
We do not recommend freezing melon, cucumbers, lettuce or other items that have a very high water content because the end result is mush.
However, you could make a melon or cucumber soup/puree first and freeze that -- texture doesn't suffer nearly as much in that situation.
You Can Freeze Fresh Herbs:
For best results, chop the herbs and mix them with a little oil. Freeze on plastic wrap and then place frozen cubes or chunks in sealed plastic bags. Ice cube trays also make great freezing vehicles for these herbs. Consider making pesto with your frozen herbs.
Cook your homemade frozen veggies just like you would cook frozen vegetables from the store...
- In a steamer on top of the stove
- On a grill
- Bake/Roast in the oven
It is best to take the items (except for corn) directly from the freezer and into the microwave or steamer.
Need some cooking inspiration? Check out the recipe database -- it has over 1,000 healthful recipes. And if you need to brighten up any space (especially the kitchen), consider using some of my favorite pieces of food art...
By Judy Doherty, PC II