Summer is a time of abundance, when farms and gardens begin exploding with life. If you grow a portion of you own food, or have a farm share, it can sometimes be difficult to eat all of it before it goes bad. Canning is always an option, but is labor intensive, and canned vegetables lose their fresh flavor.
That’s where freezing comes in. Most vegetables can be prepared for freezing in under 10 minutes. And, if you freeze them soon after picking, frozen vegetables retain much of the flavor and nutrients they had when they were fresh.
Most vegetables need to be blanched in boiling water or steam before they can be frozen. The only exceptions are herbs and green peppers. Blanching stops the enzyme action inside the vegetable, which will prevent the loss of flavor, texture, and nutrients. It also destroys any surface dirt or bacteria and softens the vegetables so they pack more tightly in their containers during freezing.
For most vegetables, freezer bags are a great option. They are moisture and vapor resistant to prevent freezer burn, and can be flat packed on top of one another to maximize freezer space. In addition, it’s easy to push all of the air out of a small opening at the top of a freezer bag before sealing for optimum freshness. Square or rectangular plastic containers are another good choice, as they can be easily stacked.
Before blanching, first wash your vegetables thoroughly in cold water and cut them up into small pieces. Large root vegetables should be cut into half-inch cubes, broccoli and cauliflower should be separated into small spears, and carrots, parsnips and other long vegetables should be cut into half-inch slices. Small vegetables, such as lima beans or peas, and very narrow vegetables, such as green beans or asparagus, can be left whole. Cabbage, spinach, or greens should be shredded or separated into individual leaves.
To blanch in boiling water, boil one gallon of water in a large kettle with a lid. Using a metal basket or cheesecloth, lower one pound of vegetables into the water and cover. To steam blanch, boil two inches of water in a kettle with a tight-fitting lid. Place a steaming basket at least three inches above the bottom of the kettle. Lay a single layer of vegetables in the basket, cover and keep on high heat.
Blanching time varies, depending on the size and density of the vegetables you are preparing. It’s important to get the blanching time exactly right, because under-blanching can stimulate the enzymes in the plant, making it break down faster, while over-blanching will strip out valuable vitamins and minerals. Steam blanching takes longer than boiling. Consult the table below for boiling times. For steaming, add another minute for every five minutes of boiling time.
Once the vegetables have been blanched, it’s important to plunge them into a container of ice-cold water for the same number of minutes you blanched them. Fill the container with one pound of ice for every pound of vegetables. This will stop them from cooking any more, and becoming soggy. After cooling, remove the vegetables from the water and drain them well.
After cooling, your vegetables are ready to freeze. Simply place them into freezer bags or containers, leaving a little headspace so they have room to expand while freezing. Half an inch in rigid containers, or three inches in a freezer bag, is plenty.
Be sure to label each bag or container with the contents and the date of freezing. Food frozen to 0° F is safe to eat indefinitely, but the quality may begin to suffer over time. Most vegetables will retain their freshness in a freezer for several months to a year.
Here is a handy guide to blanching times for some of the most popular vegetables:
Asparagus: 4-5 minutes, depending on size.
Beets (whole): 25-30 minutes. (Slice after blanching).
Broccoli: 4 minutes.
Brussels Sprouts: 4-6 minutes, depending on size.
Cabbage: 2 1/2 minutes.
Carrots: 3 minutes.
Cauliflower: 4 minutes.
Corn on the Cob: 8-12 minutes, depending on size.
Eggplant: 5 minutes.
Green Beans: 4 minutes.
Greens: 3 minutes. (Beet Greens, Collard Greens, Kale, Chard, Mustard Greens,
Turnip Greens, Spinach).
Lima Beans: 3-5 minutes, depending on size.
Onions: 2 1/2 minutes.
Parsnips: 3 minutes.
Peas: 2 1/2 minutes.
Potatoes: 4-6 minutes
Rutabagas: 3 minutes.
Soybeans: 6 minutes.
Summer Squash: 4 minutes. (Zucchini, Yellow, White Scallop).
Turnips: 3 minutes.