Blanch and freeze with ease

Save summer produce for winter months with ease!

A trip to the farmers market, grocery store or a garden at its peak may provide you with a kitchen full of beautiful produce. Sometimes it isn’t easy to use all the produce before it begins to turn brown, wilt and go bad. In fact, the Natural Resource Defense Council says that cleaning out the fridge sometimes adds up to costing Americans approximately $40 a month or 33 pounds of food ending up in the trash can. The study goes on to say that America is losing up to 40 percent of its food as it travels from farm to fork, adding up to about $165 billion in food being discarded each year!

An easy solution to avoid some of this waste is blanching fresh vegetables for freezing. It is an easy technique that involves submerging fresh vegetables into boiling water to stop the enzyme action responsible for maturing. This preserves the flavor of the fresh vegetables and keeps the color bright. Without proper blanching, vegetables continue to age or ripen, even when frozen and lose their rich flavors and crisp texture.

This is an easy process for those who prefer not to can and an excellent way to store most garden vegetables such as: Green beans, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, carrots, corn, peas, spinach, turnips and summer squash. There are a few products that don’t have to be blanched and can just be cleaned and frozen; such as onions, peppers and herbs. Zucchini can also be grated, portioned into freezer bags and used for your favorite muffins, breads, cookies and pasta sauces.

The blanching process requires just a few pieces of equipment:

  • Large pot for boiling water
  • Slotted spoon
  • Colander
  • Large bowl of cold water with ice
  • Clean dish towels or paper toweling
  • Sharp knives, grater, cutting boards
  • Vegetables of your choice
  • Freezer bags or sturdy plastic freezer containers
  • Permanent marker to label your freezer bags/containers

There are two ways to blanch, in boiling water or by steam. Water blanching is the most preferred method to heat all vegetables in boiling water. One gallon of boiling water per pound of prepared vegetables is recommended. Put the vegetable in a blanching basket and lower into the rapidly boiling water. Place the lid on the pot, water should resume boiling within one minute or you are using too much vegetable to the amount of water. Begin timing as soon as the water returns to a boil. Follow the recommend blanching times from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Over blanching will cause loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals, watch blanching times carefully. Heating in steam is recommended for a few types of vegetables and takes about 1.5 times longer than water blanching. To steam, use a pot with a tight lid and a basket that will suspend the food, about three inches above the bottom of the pot. Add an inch or two of water in the pot and bring to a boil. Place vegetables in a single layer to ensure even heating. Start timing as soon as the lid is on.

Once blanching time is complete, vegetables should be cooled quickly. This is done by immersing the vegetables into large quantities of ice water. Water should be changed frequently, use approximately one pound of ice for each pound of vegetables. Cool vegetables for the same amount of time they were blanched.

Drain thoroughly after cooling. Shake or pat dry with toweling to remove excess moisture, as extra moisture may cause a loss of quality once vegetables are frozen. Fill freezer bags/containers; squeeze to remove excess air, close, label and date. When placing in freezer, place in single layer until frozen. Once vegetables are frozen they may be stored in stacks on shelves in the freezer.

Blanching and freezing is an easy process that can be done in small batches as your produce gradually ripens. Portioning can be done in containers based on family size to reduce waste. The whole process keeps your kitchen relatively cool and children can help with squeezing air out of freezer bags prior to sealing. Your family will enjoy the tastes of summer into fall and winter with a little work now, while nature’s bounty is peaking.

Michigan State University Extension offers programs related to food preservation, food safety, food health and more. To find a program near you visit http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events.

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