Friday, May 20, 2011

Wholesome Wednesdays: Frozen Vegetables

When it comes down to it, we hope to have harvests that yield many more veggies than we could possibly eat in season. It's nice to have extra produce to give to friends or sell at market, and even more important to put some of your yield by to feed you in the off seasons. There are several options for storing your produce for the next season, and they're not all created equal or all suited for every crop.

  • Canning
  • Deydrating
  • Freezing
  • Root Cellaring
  • Brining
  • Fermenting

These are some of the methods you can use to extend the life of your freshly picked harvest, and most are best employed as soon after picking as possible so plan ahead. One of my best resources for learning preservation methods and honing my recipes is a great little book Putting Food By, by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertberg and Beatrice Vaughan. I have the 4th edition full of some interesting 'modern convenience' minded recipes. Apparently there's a 5th edition! I might have to get my hands on that. The book has specific recipes to broad techniques and suggestions on what preservation method is best for each crop. I'll be using this book as a reference for the information below.

Not all freezers were created equal, and not all crops were created well suited for freezing. I think we're all too familiar with slimy okra and summer squash, rubbery carrots, or frost bitten crystally freezer burn. Eventually, we'll be investing in a chest freezer, large enough to accomadate large harvests of animal meat as well as vegetable crops. Chest freezers maintain their even temp more easily and need to be defrosted less often. For now, i'm stuck with a tiny side by side that makes me want to cry. Certain varieties of crops are also better at being frozen than others. Green beans make good frozen veggies, but check with the seed company or package to be sure the variety of bean you're growing is good for the freezer.

Preparing tomatoes for sun drying in my hatchback car.

How does freezing extend storage life and when is it the better option than canning? Freezing does not kill bacteria and other nasties that can cause soilage like canning does. Freeze things fast and keep them frozen: as soon as they reach temps warmer than zero the bacteria will begin to dance about and multiply again. That lack of killing temperatures is actually what makes freezing ideal for some crops. More nutrients are preserved in frozen vegetables than some canned vegetables, depending on the processing time in the canner. It is ideal to flash freeze your items to be stored first at negative 20, then suspend at zero degrees. You can store most foods for up to a year, but freezers cost money and keeping things frozen for much longer than a season or two isn't very economical.

Ready to freeze? Just like canning, freeze only the best and fittest veggies - usually young specimens. For most vegetables it is necessary to blanch them first, but i have great success with hot peppers by popping them right in the freezer after only cutting the stem end off. For the rest, wash the vegetables well and blanch by either dropping in boiling water for the amount of time specified in a good preservation guidebook (like the one i'm reading now, or a reputable online site), in steam, or in a microwave. Blanch in large kettles with plenty of room for the veggies to toss about and drop into cold water as soon as you remove them from the blanching kettle. Stop the cooking fast, package, suck out the air, label and freeze. Voila! It's important to label your frozen goods well, and employ the 'first in, first out' technique when choosing your frozen veggie packs from the freezer.  Similar methods are employed for meat: harvest your meat, clean and package in well sealed packaging, label and freeze fast.

This isn't quite what i had in mind...

My favorite frozen vegetables are peas, green beans and corn. I love to sprinkle frozen peas and corn on my salads and frozen green beans are a great last minute addition to many of the weeknight meals i like to prepare. My favorite canned vegetable so far is tomato: takes up less freezer space when canned and is easy to can, requiring only a water bath process. I like to ferment or freeze hot peppers and dehydrate apple or pear slices.

What is your favorite preservation method? What vegetable do you like best for freezing?

This post can be found at the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

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