Around this time every year when I visit my mom in Hickory, NC I leave with several bags full of produce. This is after she’s given a bag to everyone she works with and has kept a few bags for herself. She has so much produce she doesn’t know what to do with it all, and she gives me so much that I can’t possibly eat it all before it goes bad. So what do I do? I freeze it!
Picking produce at its peak and freezing it is a great way to retain the nutritional value of produce without having to eat it immediately. It is one of the most convenient ways to preserve food and is less time consuming than traditional canning. Most fruits and vegetables are great candidates for freezing and can be used later in smoothies, casseroles, or other dishes. When freezing fruits, wash and sort fruit, freezing only the ripe fruits. Be sure to only rinse the fruits due to loss of nutrients when soaking. Fruits can be sliced, pitted, or peeled before freezing for convenience.
Vegetables should be blanched prior to freezing for optimal freshness. Blanching is done by placing the vegetables in scalding water for a short amount of time. Blanching helps to stop the action of enzymes that may cause loss of flavor, color, and texture. A general rule of thumb is to use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Blanching times are very crucial and vary depending on the vegetable. For example, a small stalk of asparagus should be blanched for two minutes, while a large ear of corn needs to be blanched for eleven minutes. For blanching times please visit the National Center for Home Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html.
After blanching, vegetables should be plunged into a large amount of cold water that is below 60 degrees. Cooling the vegetables should take the same amount of time as blanching. Some vegetables do not freeze well (i.e. celery, lettuce) so make sure to check the National Center for Home Preservation website beforehand.
Divide fruits and vegetables into desired quantity and place into freezer bags or vapor-resistant containers. Do not overload your freezer with unfrozen food. Only freeze the amount that will freeze within 24 hours, which is typically two to three pounds of food per cubic foot of storage space. Leave space between unfrozen items for air circulation, and once frozen you may place closer together for greater storage space.
For information on freezing specific produce, please visit the National Center for Home Preservation website at http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html or contact Sydney Johnson.
Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161.