Preserve your Harvest… in the Freezer
If your garden is producing more than you have time to preserve by canning or dehydrating, freezing is another great option. Nearly everything from the garden can be frozen, with a few exceptions such as potatoes, lettuce and cucumbers. Freezing fruits, veggies and herbs is quick and easy, does not require any special equipment, and preserves everything for up to a year – just in time for your next harvest season!
Freeze Safely with the Right Tools
Before you get started, it is important to have the right supplies. Always use freezer safe containers, and don’t overfill. The container must be able to accommodate expansion from any liquid inside – more for juicy tomatoes and berries, less for carrots and greens, and none for broccoli and other things that don’t pack tight anyway. Label your freezer containers with the contents and the date of preservation. Check your freezer setting to store at 0°F for 9 to 12 months. It is best to freeze your harvest in a thin layer, such as in a vacuum-seal bag or zip-top bag, or spread on a cookie sheet to freeze before putting in a container. That way everything is quickly exposed to the freezing temperature rapidly, instead of cooling slowly inside a big block of food that can encourage the growth of harmful microorganisms. Once frozen, avoid making one huge stack of food in your freezer; instead, separate container layers with air space so that everything stays the correct temperature.
A Method for Every Veggie
Most veggies should be blanched before freezing. Blanching only takes a few minutes, and it helps to preserve the flavor, nutrients, and texture of your vegetables. It also helps to clean and sterilize the veggies so they don’t spoil in the freezer. To blanch your vegetables, boil a large enough pot of water to submerge them. Place the veggies in the boiling water for a brief time, and then remove and submerge in an ice bath for an equivalent time. The exact amount of time your veggies should be blanched can be found in this handy chart from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. For elevations over 5000 ft, add a minute to the blanching time. Herbs do not need blanched before freezing. To preserve fresh herbs, run them through a food processor to make a paste, and freeze in containers or as single servings in ice cube trays. You can also place whole leaves in ice cube trays with a tablespoon of water. Once frozen, move cubes to a freezer container. Frozen herbs are best used in hot recipes such as soups and stews; simply adjust the amount of water in the recipe to account for any used in the ice cube tray. Watch our video for more on how to freeze herbs. Fruits can typically be frozen straight from the garden, with little to no preparation required. Small fruits such as blueberries and raspberries just need washed. Strawberries and anything larger should be sliced. Be sure to remove the pits of stone fruits, cores of apples, and other inedible parts of fruits before freezing, as it is much more inconvenient to remove them later.
Taking Freezing a Step Further
If you are not in a hurry now, freezing also is a great way to preserve your harvest in a ready-to-use form to save time later:
- Herbs can be made into in sauce, such as pesto or chutney.
- Garlic paste – puree one part garlic to two parts olive oil. This will stay soft in the freezer, just scoop out what you need without defrosting the whole container.
- Stew tomatoes or make into spaghetti sauce or masala.
- Roasting veggies before freezing adds extra flavor. Roasted red pepper sauce is another way to prepare them before freezing.
- Pureed fruits can be preserved as popsicles or sorbets.
Don’t get overwhelmed when your harvest basket is overflowing… just freeze it!
For other tips on preserving garlic, see our Tip of the Week.