Freezing 201: How to Freeze Your Favourite Produce

Hopefully, you caught our valuable tips in our Freezing 101 blog post.  These suggestions will help ensure that you find it easy to actually use all the fruits and veggies that you freeze this summer.  In this post, we’ll go over the best way to freeze the most common types of produce – but remember to keep your own cooking style in mind when freezing foods.  The most important tip is to freeze in amounts that’s easy for you to use later!

FRUIT

Berries:  Rinse off your strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries and drain off extra water.  Place berries on a cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze for at least a couple of hours.  Once frozen, you can remove your berries and place them in a freezer bag.  Use a straw to suck out any extra air in the bag before freezing.  Freezing berries on the cookie sheet before placing them in a freezer bag ensures they don’t get crushed.  When you want to use your frozen berries later on in the year, they won’t stick together in a big blob, and you’ll be able to sprinkle the amount you need from the bag before refreezing.

(This is the classic way to freeze berries, but we got a tip from a mom last weekend who simply stuffs snack-size Ziploc bags full of clean berries and freezes them all smooshed together – it’s the perfect amount for her kids to add to their school-morning breakfast smoothies.  She said freezing them on the cookie sheet ‘is too much like work’ for something that’s going to end up mushy anyway!)

Rhubarb: Sturdier fruit like rhubarb can be chopped and placed directly in a freezer bag.

Stone Fruit:  Peaches, nectarines and plums are quite delicate and tend to lose some of their flavour when simply cut up and frozen.  They tend to retain their color and flavour best if packed in sugar, a sugar-based syrup, or fruit juice.  If you like making pies or crumbles, you can cut up your fruit and add a bit of lemon juice and sugar or other sweetener before freezing.  You can also prepare peaches in a honey syrup or fruit juice and freeze them instead of canning – the texture will end up quite similar with both techniques.  If you don’t like the idea of adding extra sugar, you can freeze your whole fruit, and when it’s time to use them, run the frozen fruit under some warm water for about a minute, and the skins will slide right off.  The remaining fruit can be cut off the pit, and is wonderful to drop into a smoothie.

Apples and Pears:  These fruits store really well in root cellars or in your fridge.  However, if you have more than you think will last, you can make it into applesauce or pear puree and freeze it in small containers.  I’ve also sometimes frozen tart apples that don’t keep very well, like crabapples.  Peel and slice as if you’d be making pie, and sprinkle with some lemon juice and sugar – and then freeze in freezer bags, with the air sucked out.  Perfect for a mid-winter apple pie or oatmeal crumble.

Tomatoes:  You can freeze tomatoes in a variety of ways, depending on how you like to use them. I really like using Marla’s recipe for oven -roasted tomatoes, and then freezing the end result in flat ziploc bags, which makes it easy to break off a chunk of frozen tomatoes to use in a pasta dish.   If you have less time for prep, tomatoes actually freeze fairly well completely whole, if you’re planning on cooking them later in some kind of sauce down the line.  For example, if you want to make salsa from your own tomatoes, you can toss them in the freezer as they ripen and when you have enough for a batch, you can let them thaw out and use in your recipe as you normally would.  Thawed tomatoes will let off a lot of their juice, which is actually a good thing when it comes time to making sauce or salsa – you don’t have to cook it down quite as much!  The peels will also be very easy to slip off once they’re thawed.  You can also prepare your stewed tomatoes, and just freeze them in blocks instead of canning.

VEGETABLES

Spinach and other greens:  Spinach, beet greens and kale are great to freeze when you have a bumper crop.  All you need to do is wash and chop the greens (and remove stems for beet greens or kale.)  Steam for two minutes, then cool down in an ice bath.  Freeze in air-tight containers or bags.

Green Beans, Peas, Broccoli, etc:  This type of vegetable does really well with a simple blanching before freezing in an air-tight bag or container.  To blanch green or yellow beans, I usually cut cleaned beans into  1 1/2 inch pieces, and then drop them into rapidly boiling, salted water for about four minutes. When the boiling time is up, remove the beans and immediately cool in an ice water bath.  When beans are completely cool, place them into an air-tight freezing bag.  You can do the same thing with shelled green peas, but you only need to blanch them for 2 1/2 minutes.  You can also blanch your sugar snap peas; remove the blossom and stem end of the pod, and steam for 3 minutes.  Broccoli or cauliflower can be blanched as well – 3 minutes in boiling water, or 5 minutes in steam.

Peppers: I had never had much luck freezing green or red peppers until I roasted them first.  For further instructions on roasting peppers, check out this post.  The only thing I like to do differently is store the peppers in a little bit of olive oil and garlic before I freeze them.  They’re an instant flavour booster of soups, omelettes, and more.

Corn:  I like to cut the kernels off of cooked corn on the cob and store it in Ziploc bags, with the air removed.  I tend to use corn as an ingredient rather than a side dish on its own – and the simple blanching allows me to shake corn kernels directly in my soup or stew pot without thawing out the whole bag.  If you do like eating corn as a side dish, you can also just freeze the entire cooked cob to reheat later, but this seems like a waste of freezer space to me!  My mom actually has her own version of the ‘peaches and cream’ style canned corn that she freezes:  Cut raw corn kernels off the cobs, and cook in water with a tablespoon or two of sugar and some salt. Store the corn with some of this liquid, and it will taste great simply warmed up as a side dish.

Summer Squash (zucchini, pattypan) : Summer squash are is one of those vegetables that you tend to have too much of at one time, which makes it a popular candidate for freezing.  However, it’s a very watery vegetable, so simply freezing it in chunks leaves you with a soggy result.  A lot of people swear by using  zucchini up in chocolate zucchini cake or zucchini fritters, and freezing some grated zucchini in the amounts you need for these recipes will help ensure you get to enjoy your muffins all winter long.

Winter squash (pumpkin, buttercup, butternut) – Winter squash keep quite well in a cold room or root cellar, but I also like to freeze prepared squash.  I have a favourite pumpkin bread recipe I like to make all winter long.  I cook and puree my squash, and then freeze 2 1/2 cups of  puree in a flat Ziploc bag.  It thaws out quite quickly when it’s frozen flat, and it’s easy to squeeze out of the bag into my mixing bowl.   You could use the same puree for a Christmas pumpkin pie!

HERBS

The difference in flavour between drying and freezing herbs is ten-fold. Some of the essential oils in herbs are better preserved when frozen. There are a few different approaches to freezing herbs out there, and many have to do with preference. We experimented with two ways to freeze herbs.

Rolling herbs in parchment or wax paper:
1. Gently wash and dry herbs, and break off the leaves or leave stems on – up to you!
2. Place herbs in parchment paper and avoid overlapping herbs.
3. Role the parchment paper tightly with herbs, and place it in a freezer bag – voila!
When you’re ready to use the herbs, simply unroll the paper as you need them.

Freezing herbs in ice cube trays with oil:
1. Chop herbs.
2. Place herbs in ice cube trays.
3. Pour oil over the herbs and freeze. (You can use melted butter too. Water is also an option, but this doesn’t keep the flavor as well and oil is great for throwing right in a pan for cooking.)
4. You can leave the herbs in the ice cube trays, or place the ice cubes in a separate container.
You can also blend the herbs with oil and pour this mixture in the ice cube trays. Depending on how much is in each ice cube tray, this is typically enough for one serving of soup, pasta, etc, to make a tasty difference to your meal. If you are concerned with your herbs changing colour when frozen (e.g., basil will turn black), then you can also blanch some herbs for a very short period of time before freezing. We typically skip this step.

DEHYDRATING

Another option for preserving fruit is dehydrating. The only berries we’ve had success dehydrating are strawberries and cranberries. Any berry with lots of seeds, like raspberries and blackberries, will not dehydrate well at all (you end up with a bunch of seeds), and wild blueberries end up so small it’s not worth it. High bush blueberries, which are much larger, may work but we haven’t tried them.

Strawberries should be rinsed, hulled and sliced. We usually slice the strawberry in about 4 slices. If they’re sliced too thin they’ll be impossible to get off the dehydrating rack. You could leave the berry whole or sliced in half; it will just take longer to dehydrate.

Cranberries should also be rinsed and then put into boiling water until the outside skin “pops” or cracks. This requires more time than just blanching. We’ve tried this method once and the result was ok, but not all the berries cracked and they took forever to dehydrate. The second time we dehydrated the cranberries, we just cut them in half which decreases dehydration time. Soak the cranberries in apple juice or honey if you mind the tartness of the berry.

Lay berries in a thin layer and set temperature to 135°F and dehydrate for 12 – 24 hours, checking several times. It’s better to lay the strawberries on a teflex sheet, as the berries are easier to remove. If you don’t have enough sheets, parchment paper can be used.

Miscellaneous items we’ve recently dehydrated:

– Cherries: clean and slice cherries in half and dehydrate.
– Kale: wash, remove thick stem and dehydrate (spices and tamari can be added for kale chips). Grind up the dried leaf and use in powdered form.
– Stevia Leaf: dehydrate and grind into a powder.

For more information on freezing, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation Website.

Do you have a special way you freeze produce that really maintains the flavour?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

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