You can easily freeze foods for later. Imagine, your CSA just gave you a bunch of extra produce and you know you won’t be able to use it up before it goes bad… Or you really liked the look of the peaches at the farmers market and bought a whole box of them and want to save them for later… Or you started a garden, planted a bunch of green beans at the same time, and are now inundated with them and can’t possibly use them all! What is the easiest method to preserve your food for later? Freeze it!
The easiest way to preserve all your local food is by freezing. It takes the least effort, the least equipment, and has the shortest learning curve. You also can try fermenting, drying, and canning for preservation, but freezing is the best option for a first time preserver. You can freeze food easily and quickly.
The great thing about when you freeze food is that you can always use frozen produce later to ferment, dry, or can if you want. Canning and dehydrating can heat up the house, and fermentation keeps better in cooler weather or the fridge. If you are interested in preserving the bounty of the summer, learning to freeze food is the best first step you can take! Then when the temps cool off, or you find some extra time, you might want to try your hand at some other food preservation techniques.
The standard freezing advice for fresh vegetables is to blanch the produce, then rapidly cool it. Once it has cooled, either pack it into a container suitable for freezing, or freeze food on a tray and then pack it into a container. The latter option means your produce won’t stick together. That’s important if you think you will want to just grab a handful of frozen produce for a recipe later. Otherwise, freezing all at once means you’ll have to thaw out the whole container before you can use it.
Most sites recommend blanching nearly all vegetables before freezing, as it stops the action of enzymes that can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. It also softens the vegetables, so they can be more easily packed into a container. Blanching is the practice of either boiling or steaming veggies slightly, and each type of vegetable has a different recommended blanching time. The University of Georgia has a great pdf chart showing times for blanching and instructions on how to do so before you freeze food.
Freezing fruits is even easier, as they don’t need to be blanched. You wash and prep your fruit first, then you can choose to freeze with sweetener or without. The University of Georgia also has a great pdf for fruits. Freezing without sugar means the thawed produce might not be as attractive as the sweetened variety, but the flavor won’t be affected. You can use ascorbic acid or lemon juice to prevent discoloration of certain fruits.
To freeze fruit without sweeteners, I recommend laying out small pieces (or whole berries) on a tray, freezing it, then packing the frozen fruit into a jar or plastic bag. Your fruit will soften when it is thawed, but will work great in smoothies, yogurt, or in cooked fruit dishes.
Don’t forget, it’s easy to freeze your produce without using single use plastic. You can reuse cleaned plastic containers. You can freeze food in mason jars or any recycled glass container (though mason jars are sturdier when frozen than pickle jars). You can save plastic cereal bags and use them as well!
If you want the convenience of bags, you can buy reusable silicon bags to freeze in. Though honestly, if you already have a bunch of single use plastic bags, you can also clean them out with each use and continue reusing them until they wear out. I would toss any bags that had raw meat in them, but reusing something with frozen strawberries will be totally fine.
Frozen fruits will stay good up to a year. Frozen vegetables, 18 months. They won’t go bad after that time period, but their quality may decline. Ideally, you’ll use them up before you reach the next year’s season! Or you can use fruits up in dehydrated fruit leathers or delicious smoothies. For veggies, make some great veggie soup!
Don’t throw away your scraps, either. Most vegetable scraps can be used with or without meat scraps to make delicious homemade broth! I often will roast a chicken, then take all the leftover bones and throw them in a slow cooker. I add a bunch of leftover frozen veggie scraps, some salt, some herbs, fill the crock with water, and let it simmer on low for 12-24 hours. After I strain it, sometimes I’ll drink it straight, or freeze it for later use.
Of course, not all produce freezes well. In general, vegetables with high water content, like lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, radishes, and melons don’t freeze well. The exception is if they are pickled or fermented, as that changes the composition of the vegetable. Of course, tomatoes certainly won’t look fresh after freezing, but they will still be great in sauces.
A great way to freeze your vegetables is to make soup packs! It’s easy to freeze combinations of vegetables, so that later on you can throw them into a slow cooker with other ingredients and come home to a delicious, warming soup in winter.
And finally, do you want delicious homemade jams without the work of canning them? Then freezer jam is for you! You can make your own freezer jam, finding loads of recipe ideas online. Make your own combinations. Use your freezer jam for sandwiches, for desserts, for homemade yogurt, and smoothies. Any time you want a taste of summer, you can find it in your freezer!