Harvesting your own vegetables to cook up in the evening meal is a uniquely rewarding experience that also has many health benefits. Home grown vegetables are tastier and contain more essential nutrients than supermarket vegetables, but often the garden provides much more food than we can use in a short length of time. Watching your lovely home grown produce turn to mulch in the bottom of the refrigerator is not only wasteful but heartbreaking after all the care and time taken to grow it. To make the most of this overabundance, it becomes necessary to learn how to freeze and keep the vegetables you have grown for an extended period.
Freezing vegetables prevents bacteria, yeast and mould spores that may be present in and around them from multiplying and spoiling them. When vegetables are prepared and frozen correctly they should keep well and retain all their nutrients, flavour and texture for up to six months. After this time the quality will gradually deteriorate until the vegetables are no longer suitable for eating. Preparing and freezing vegetables as soon as possible after harvesting will ensure maximum freshness and flavour.
Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce don’t freeze well as the water expands and crystallises, rupturing the cell walls that would usually contain it. When thawed, this causes the texture of the vegetables to become mushy, however, if they are to be used in soups or sauces the texture won’t be a problem and they will still be full of flavour and goodness.
The best method for freezing most vegetables is to blanch first. Blanching involves dropping clean, sliced vegetables into boiling water for a few minutes until their colour starts to brighten, then placing them straight into iced water to cool down and stop the cooking process. This partly cooks the vegetables and slows the action of enzymes that would otherwise cause flavour and nutrients to be lost over time. Blanching also thoroughly cleanses the surface of any dirt and unwanted organisms. When the vegetables are cold they can be placed on absorbent kitchen paper to dry, then packed into airtight plastic bags or containers and frozen. Optimum blanching times vary between one and four minutes depending on the size and type of vegetables. Over or under cooking will mean maximum storage times are shortened.
Vegetables can also be cooked and mashed or made into soup or sauce, then frozen in conveniently sized portions. Onions and garlic don’t need to be cooked before freezing. Separate garlic into cloves, and slice onions into rings then package and freeze.
Whatever type of packaging you use to freeze your vegetables, make sure to remove as much air as possible then seal well to prevent moisture loss and transference of smells from one type of food to the next. It is a good idea to pack onion and garlic in two layers of plastic or solid containers as they tend to transfer flavour as well as scent into anything and everything stored with them in the freezer. Lastly, mark all packaging with the name of the food it contains and the date so nothing is left in the freezer for longer than it should be.
A well planned and prepared vegetable garden can provide year round food for a whole family. Freezing all your excess vegetables makes this possible by lengthening storage time, ensuring no part of your precious harvest is lost.