Monday, July 28, 2014

Food Preservation: Freezing

Now that the garden is more or less on auto-pilot, it's time for me to focus on getting things brought in and stored for the winter. With the weather still being really warm, however, I don't really have an interest in breaking out the canning supplies and making up huge batches of... anything. I'd much rather put that sort of project on hold for a rainy day. So, I turn to my freezer. It's a great way to put up small batches of produce, keeping things manageable in the kitchen.

Berries lend themselves particularly well to freezing. Yes, the texture can change dramatically once thawed, but with frozen berries I feel like I have more options on their use. I can put them in baked goods, use them in smoothies, make fruit leather, or even make a jam out of them. If I were to can them up front, I'd lose that flexibility. 

Freezing berries couldn't be any easier. First, wash your fruit and let them dry a bit. I just leave them to drip dry in a colander for a few minutes, while I gather up my baking sheet and make sure there's a space cleared in the freezer. Then, I spread the berries out in a single layer, and pop it in the freezer. The next morning (or in a couple of hours, if I remember) the berries are frozen solid and can go into a freezer bag or your container of choice. Since they were frozen individually, they stay separated and I can just measure out whatever I need as I go. 

Veggies are also easy to freeze at home, but they generally need a quick blanch in some boiling water, in order to halt enzyme activity and keep the texture/color at its best. Here's a handy link to the National Center for Food Preservation website and their list of blanching times, by veg. Once the blanching is done, I treat them the same as I do the berries: freeze in a single layer, then portion out into vacuum-sealed bags. I even have a couple of bags of green beans left from last year in the freezer, and they still look and taste great!

I also like to make use of my freezer for pre-cooked meals. Whenever I make a batch of something that I'd consider a one-dish meal (soup, stews, chili, etc.) I like to make a little extra so I can freeze it for lunches or a fast dinner. I like using my straight-sided canning jars for this, as they can go right from the freezer to the microwave (minus the metal ring/lid), if someone's in a hurry.Otherwise, they thaw nicely in the fridge. I generally avoid using jars with a necked-down opening, just because it's harder to get something out if it's still frozen. 

The key to using glass in the freezer is to always remember that liquids expand as they freeze. In order to avoid any shattered containers, I do two things: first, I make sure to leave at least an inch of space between the food and the top of the jar. Second, I initially freeze the jars overnight without their lids on, and then cover them the next morning- no lid means that the filling in the jar has a place to go, if I happen to have overfilled it. If you're not keen on leaving something uncovered, then use some plastic wrap or foil in the interim. Once everything is frozen and the lids are on, the jars stack nicely in the freezer until you're ready to use them. 

Do you make use of your freezer to preserve foods from your garden? Stop by Facebook and tell me about it!

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