There’s no need to resort to insipid produce from across the globe once the local growing season has ended.
At this point in the season the farmers market tables are a riot of color, piled precariously with mountains of perfect produce – succulent heirloom tomatoes in their misfit beauty, corn fit to burst at the touch, luminous summer squash lined up in flirty nonchalance. But you know what will happen. The abundance will slowly dwindle as the apples start taking over, and all of a sudden, it’s roots and kale until spring.
With the canning revival in full swing, sterilized jars and water baths are covering the counters of many a kitchen. But if you shy away from canning or have ample freezer space to supplement the pantry, freezing produce is an excellent way to preserve the local harvest for the bleaker months. Although frozen vegetables have taken a bad rap in the past, I’d take frozen produce in a heartbeat over old produce, commercially canned products, or produce imported from afar. Nutrients aren’t lost, and if frozen properly, neither is texture nor flavor.
- Use the freshest produce you can find, and freeze it as soon as you can – the quicker the better. Make sure to avoid the produce ranked for highest pesticide residue.
- Wash and dry everything thoroughly. Remove pits and cut into uniform sized pieces.
- Pick your containers – and remember to leave headroom for expansion.
- If you are watching your use of plastic, the ever-popular Ball makes freezer safe glass jars. Label with contents and date.
BlanchingAlthough freezing slows enzyme action, it doesn’t completely stop it – therefore, most produce requires some method of heat treatment, generally blanching, to inactivate the ripening enzymes and to preserve color, texture, and flavor. To blanch vegetables, place the washed, prepared vegetables in a pot of boiling water. Roughly use a gallon of water per pound of prepped vegetables. Boil water, and time the blanching as soon as the water returns to a boil after submerging the produce. After the recommended time has elapsed, remove the vegetables and plunge them into very cold (you can add ice) water for the same amount of time that you blanched them for.
Most frozen produce should be good stored for nine to 12 months. These are the basic methods for summer’s most popular produce.
BeansWash and trim ends, cut if desired. For whole beans, blanch for three minutes, for cut beans, blanch for two minutes. Dry, pack, seal and label.
CornFor kernels: Remove husks and silks and trim ends. Blanch medium-sized ears, 3-4 ears at a time for five minutes. After blanching, remove kernels from cob, pack, seal, and label. For corn on the cob: Remove husks and silks and trim ends. Blanch medium-sized ears for eight minutes. Wrap each individually, and store in bags. Seal and label.
EggplantCut into slices, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 30 minutes. Pat dry and sauté gently in olive oil until just tender. Cool, pack, seal, and label.
HerbsFor basil only, water or steam blanch 1 minute. For other herbs, blanching is not necessary. Freeze in a single layer on cookie sheet. Freezing pesto in ice cube trays and then popping the pesto cubes into a bag for easy dispersion is a handy and popular trick, but Jacques Pepin has a different take on this. He prefers not to freeze finished pesto and opts instead for freezing a basil puree that he then transforms into pesto after defrosting.
PeasShell garden peas, there's no need to shell snow or sugar peas. Blanch for one and a half minutes, dry, pack, seal and label.
PeppersPeppers, from bell peppers to all types of chili peppers, are one of the vegetables that don’t require heat treatment. Freeze them whole or sliced.
TomatoesMethod 1: Wash, cut into halves, quarters or leave whole. Pat dry and pack into freezer bags. Remove air, label and seal. Method 2: Dip into boiling water 1 minute. Remove and peel. Place on a tray and freeze for 30 minutes. Place in plastic bags, remove air, seal and label. Method 3: Simmer chopped tomatoes in a pan for 5 minutes or until soft. Push through a sieve or food mill to remove skins and seeds. Cool and pack in plastic containers, leaving headspace.
Zucchini and summer squashWash, trim ends, cut into slices or strips and water blanch for three minutes. Pat dry, pack, seal, and label.
This updated story was originally published in 2012.