Preserving the harvest: Part 1 – Freezing

If you grow your own food then you will invariably get gluts – too many courgettes, too many runners etc, it all seems to come at once. July, August and September are, for me, the months where I have never ending veg and not enough meals in the day to use them. For those things where the season is relatively short, tomatoes, strawberries etc I always want to find ways to preserve the season so I can enjoy them for longer. But at the end of the day we have a finite length of cropping time on our fruit and veg if we want to eat it fresh and if, like me, you try to eat as seasonally as possibly , you don’t want to be eating strawberries in winter, grown in Egypt!

garden-glut-main-image bbc.jpg
Image credit: BBC Good Food

Not only does knowing how to freeze veg benefit the home-grower with storing their harvests, it can benefit anyone who buys veg too. Knowing how to properly freeze fruit and veg means you can make you food last longer saving money on your food bills!

There are lots of different ways to store fruit and veg but this first article is just focusing on how to freeze your fruit and veg in the best way so that you can enjoy a little bit of summer even in the winter.

We are lucky that we live in today’s modern society where we have the advantage of being able to freeze things. Freezing produce is probably dependent on the amount of storage capacity you have. Those of us who have room for large chest freezers will be able to freeze more but some of us have tiny iceboxes at the top of our refrigerators so freezing would not be so much of an option and we may need to look at other methods of preserving and storing. One thing to consider, is that if you are aiming for better sustainability and to reduce your carbon footprint, running a large chest freezer is not always the best thing to do and will certainly increase your electricity consumption (unless you can make energy saving changes elsewhere to compensate!)

You can freeze most fruits and vegetables in my experience (there are a few exceptions) – it’s just about knowing how to freeze them properly. You should only freeze clean fruit and veg and they should be frozen when at their best i.e. when they are ripe. Don’t freeze veg that are past their best as the results may be less than desired. If I ever buy reduced veg that I want to freeze, I make sure the quality of the veg is still good.

Basically, the main technique you need to know about is open freezing. This is a process of laying out your fruit/vegetables individually on a baking sheet and putting them into the freezer to freeze individually. Once they are frozen you can then bag them up and put them back in the freezer. This process stops the fruit/vegetables from freezing together in a clump so you can then take out as much or as little as you want to use at a time. I still freeze some fruit in clumps, but this fruit is normally specifically used for cooking with, such as making jams or pies/crumbles where a large amount of fruit is cooked down.

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Lay fruit out individually on baking parchment and place in freezer to free individually!

The next question to ask is whether you freeze your produce raw or you blanch it first. Mostly, for fruit you would freeze it raw but in some cases you may want to cook it first. I certainly stew apples and rhubarb and then pop it in a container and freeze it that way for using in crumbles during the winter months. Apples are one fruit that tends to go brown when you freeze it raw so it is best to cook it first and use it in desserts.

For fruits such as berries it is very easy to open freeze them. If you have larger fruits, top, tail, core, de-stone and cut up first and then lay them out on a baking sheet. I cut the tops off of strawberries and the quarter them as you can see in the picture below.

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Strawberries have their tops cut off and are quartered, washed, patted dry and then layed out on a baking sheet for freezing.

You should also make sure you wash any fruit first but be sure you pat it dry before freezing otherwise you get lots of ice crystals forming. Fruit will go a bit mushy after defrosting but I love adding some frozen berries to my bran flakes in the morning. I just take out the fruit about 15 mins before I am going to eat it so it has softened slightly when I add the bran flakes and yoghurt!

Bananas are also good for freezing and frozen banana makes a delicious and healthy alternative to ice creams – just remember to take the skin off before freezing!

For vegetables, you will mostly blanch them before freezing. This is not always the case and some people prefer to just freeze everything raw – you will have to determine whats best for you! The main reason people blanch is that the temperature destroys enzymes that can degrade the quality of the vegetable. It helps the vegetable to retain flavour and colour. If you do blanch first, here is a link to an excellent guide to blanching times! http://www.halfyourplate.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CPMA.Freezing_Guide_Fresh_Vegetables_EN.pdf

Blanching means to cook rapidly and you do this by heating a pan of boiling water on the stove. The water must be at a full rolling boil and then you quickly add in the veg. I have a timer nearby so I can start that as soon as the veg goes in. Once you have reached your allotted blanching time you then have to stop the cooking process which is achieved by rapidly cooling the veg. Before you start the whole process of preparing your veg and blanching it – you should place a bowl of cold water into the freezer to allow it to get really cold. Alternatively add ice cubes to a bowl of cold water to bring the temperature down. I have the reusable plastic ice cubes to cut down on my water usuage and I just add these to a bowl of cold water which I keep stored in the freezer whilst I am blanching. I strain the veg into a colander or sieve and then immediately dump the veg into the cold water which will stop the cooking process. You can then strain the water off and turn out the veg onto some kitchen roll and thoroughly pat the veg dry! (Remember you can compost down this used kitchen roll so don’t let anything go to waste!) All you then do is open freeze and then pop into freezer bags.

There is one other way to freeze your fruit and veg and that is to process it first for later addition to meals. Tomatoes are a good example of this, as one of the things I make with tomatoes is passata. Passata freezes well and is a good way of using up a glut. They can simply be added to any tomato based sauce you are making. For beetroot, I cook it and then puree it which can then be added to cakes and desserts and courgettes can be grated up and then frozen into ice cube trays. I then add these ice cubes of grated courgettes to cakes and scones etc.

There are some exceptions to the general rules above. Some fruit and veg can’t be frozen; cucumbers generally don’t freeze well (see pic below) and neither does lettuce, beansprouts and radishes. They have a high water content and when this freezes the ice crystals that form inside the cells destroy the structure and you are just left with mush when you defrost them.

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Image credit: International produce training

Potatoes are a veg I have had trouble freezing with. In my experience, they easily turn to mush if frozen in the ways described above. I once tried to make frozen chips, cut the potatoes into thin fries, blanched them and froze them. When we got them out to cook with, they went black! Essentially, I find that potatoes should be cooked fully and then frozen and the best results so far are when blanching/cooking with oil, especially if making chips, wedges or hash browns. Mashed potato can easily be frozen as it is cooked and processed first.

To be honest, if you store potatoes correctly then you should never need to freeze them so I  only freeze if I am making chips, hash browns or wedges in advance and want to save time on the day of eating! From information found on the web, most people suggest that you can freeze from blanching but I have had difficulty with this – although I could just be doing it wrong! (If anyone has any more tips on freezing potatoes or potato products then I would love to here from you!)

I have found that knowing how to freeze fruit and veg properly means I can make my shopping last longer too. If I buy some veg and I don’t use it all or have bought it because it was reduced, then I can easily freeze it and use it at a later date rather than having to buy fresh every time – it saves a bit of money too!

I hope you have found this article useful and helps you to make the most of you fruit and veg gluts! If you want to find out more about freezing your produce then check out these links below:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-tips-freezing-food

http://www.growveggies.net/harvesting_and_storing/freezing_vegetables_a_to_z/

http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/freezing/freezing-vegetables-zm0z13aszsor.aspx?PageId=1

http://www.ipt.us.com/produce-inspection-resources/inspectors-blog/produce-storage-and-transport/freezing-problems

 

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