Freezing your fall produce bounty to enjoy year-round

I know this is late in the season, but someone recently asked me about tips for freezing some of the items from their garden.

You gardeners know what it’s like to have 50 zucchini sitting on your table staring at you in the face at the end of the growing season.

You give away as much as you can, but even then it gets tough to find takers.

And sometimes we go overboard when there’s a great sale on produce, or overestimate what our produce needs are for a party. We certainly hate to throw food away, so what to do?!

Canning your over-abundance of produce is an option, but it can be time-consuming and messy.

Freezing is a great option, but how do you go about it? So glad you asked!

First of all, choose ripe, high-quality fruits and vegetables.

Before you freeze, make your vegetables “ready-to-eat” by peeling and/or chopping them before they go into a container.

Peel bananas, remove the strawberry stems, etc. Consider the serving size. Freeze in ready-to-eat sizes that you and your family regularly consume.

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 process as they are easy to add to tomato sauces, soups, etc.

Most fruits can be frozen raw. A great trick for freezing delicate berries is to arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet before sticking them in the freezer.

Once frozen, transfer to a plastic freezer bag or container.

You can also prepare delicate berries with sugar or sugar syrup.

For fruits that tend to brown, such as apples, peaches, nectarines and apricots, treat with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C.)

Look for the powdered form in health food stores, drugstores, and some grocery stores in the vitamin aisle.

To make an ascorbic acid wash, dissolve half a teaspoon of ascorbic acid powder (or finely crushed vitamin C tablets) in three tablespoons of water and sprinkle over the cut fruit.

An acceptable substitute is to slice the fruit and dip the slices in an acidulated (isn’t that a cool word?) water bath—about one quart water plus a tablespoon of lemon juice—before drying and freezing.

Many vegetables need to be blanched or partially cooked before they are frozen which will ensure good quality, color, and texture.

It’s best to steam them quickly on the stove or give them a speedy zap in the microwave. In most cases, one to two minutes is all that is needed.

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 great because you can see what is in them and they take up less space. Make sure you remove as much air from the bag as possible.

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.

Certain types of produce, such as melons, cucumbers and lettuce, do not lend themselves well for freezing due to their very high water content.

However, you could make a melon or cucumber soup/puree first and freeze that as texture won’t suffer nearly as much.

You can also freeze fresh herbs. For best results, chop the herbs and mix them with a little oil. Freeze ice cube trays and then place frozen cubes or chunks in sealed plastic bags.

Frozen herbs are wonderful to use in homemade pesto.

For those of you interested in 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.

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.

Consider measuring the amount of puree that is needed for baking purposes prior to freezing so it can be quickly added when you’re ready to bake.

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. For best results, they can be steamed for two minutes and frozen in single serving sized packages.

Berries – Freeze berries in bags or containers. Use them in smoothies, muffins, quick breads or pies.

Broccoli – Blanch for one to two 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, grate freeze. You can also grate and freeze.

Cauliflower – Trim into florets and steam for two minutes. Freeze in small serving sizes in sealed bags or containers. Cooked cauliflower can be mashed just like potatoes, and can be done 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  which can also be freezed.

Grapes – Freeze grapes in small bags—makes an excellent frozen fruit treat.

Mushrooms – For best results, rinse, slice, saute in oil, and freeze in sealed bags or containers.

Peaches – Freeze wedges for  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.

Potatoes – Cut into cubes or slices. Bake or boil until almost fully cooked, about 15 minutes, then freeze in bags or containers.

Rhubarb – Cut into chunks, freeze in bags for pies 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 tomato sauce first and freeze it in meal-sized bags.

Again, sorry so late in the season, but cut this out and put it in your cookbook for next year!

I hope everyone has had a great summer and has had a chance to get out and enjoy the farm fresh bounty at the Old Forge Farmers Market!  Don’t forget, it runs until October 14th!

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