If like me you’re beginning to get a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of produce coming from your garden, there is a fast, fuss-free and convenient way to put aside some of this plenty for later on in the year. Yes, it’s the trusty freezer. But space in the freezer is often at a premium. Time, then, for some clever tactics to make the most of this valuable asset...
Preparing Vegetables for the Freezer
Almost anything can be frozen, with the exception of salads and vegetables like cucumbers with a very high water content. Only ever freeze produce that’s in good condition and that you wouldn’t mind eating fresh – no stringy beans or woody roots please!
Harvest as close to freezing the produce as you can to lock in freshness at its peak. Process picked fruits and vegetables in batches, so you can get it into the freezer as fast as possible.
Beans, peas and other vegetables with a high sugar content like sweet corn and young carrots are staples of the freezer. Top and tail beans then chop larger beans in half. Whole cobs take up a lot room, so if space is a concern, remove the corn from the cob beforehand. A clean and tidy way to do this is to carefully pop out the first row of kernels with a knife before simply pushing out each successive row of kernels using little more than your fingertips. This method preserves the entire kernel, minimizing waste.
Prepared vegetables must be blanched before freezing to stop the enzymes within them from changing the color, taste or nutrient content of your produce. Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to a rolling boil then plunge small batches of your vegetables into the water so it quickly returns to a boil. Once it has the blanching begins. Blanch small vegetables like peas for just one minute, beans for around two, and sliced whole vegetables like carrots for three to four minutes. Remove the blanched vegetables to a waiting bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat your blanched vegetables dry, ready to pack and freeze.
Freeze in Portions
Freeze in meal-sized portions so you only ever defrost exactly what you need. Pack into freezer bags labeled with the contents and date so you’ll be able to see what you’ve got at a glance. If you want vegetables to retain their shape, space them out onto trays lined with parchment or greaseproof paper then freeze for about an hour before you pack them up. Keen on cutting plastic use? Then reuse, for example, old bread bags and label with stickers.
A quick word about freezer burn, which is when produce reacts with air to compromise its appearance and taste. To avoid this, we need to remove as much of the air from our freezer bags as possible. One way to do this is to squeeze out the air before sealing the bag closed, but I prefer the straw method. Pop a straw into the bag, seal up the bag around it, suck out the excess air, then quickly remove the straw and finish sealing. Job done!
Unlike vegetables, berries and currants do not require blanching and can simply be frozen whole. Space them out onto trays so they freeze separately then pack them away into portion-sized packs. If the fruit is intended for later pureeing or use in smoothies, you can skip straight to packing it.
Fruits for cooked desserts can be thoroughly coated in sugar before freezing, which helps retain the fruit’s firmness. Or add a splash of water and a little sugar to your fruit then cook it down into a ready-to-go puree for the freezer.
Tomatoes turn to mush once they’re defrosted, so process them into sauces before freezing, which should also save on valuable space.
More Ways to Save Freezer Space
Bags of sauces and purees can be made to stack by first freezing the liquid in a rigid container. Once frozen solid, remove the block from the container and transfer to a freezer bag for long-term storage. Or pop freezer bags filled with sauce into a box and then remove it as soon as it begins to solidify.
Of course, Tupperware containers or old take-out boxes make efficient use of space when they’re filled up – just be sure leave a slight gap at the top to allow the contents to expand as they freeze.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs are always welcome, so make time to preserve some of summer’s excess. Begin by washing then very finely chopping or mincing freshly picked leaves. Now transfer your chopped herbs into ice cube trays. Pack them in as tight as you can then pour on water to cover. Freeze them solid and then, to save space, pop them out of the trays to pack into labeled bags. You’ll now have a fresh hit of herbs on hand for whenever you need it.
Freezing is the best way to preserve the original flavor and freshness of your produce, and it’s also the simplest. What are you freezing this summer, and do you have a favorite freezer-ready recipe? Let us know in the comments section below.