Every homestead exploits various techniques for preserving homegrown produce since having a well-provisioned home is a fantastic convenience. In the winter, when your pantry is stocked, and your freezer is full, you won’t have to go to the grocery store to buy organic produce.
Food preservation includes various skills that can be easily learned through practice. If you pay attention to details and if you follow the instructions to the letter, you can expect great success with your food preservation project.
One of the most common food storage methods is freezing, and it’s perhaps the easiest of them all. When you have no time to use other methods for preserving the produce, freezing your homegrown produce is the most common method at hand.
❄️ Freezing your homegrown produce properly
In the homegrown pantry, a large freezer is a sound investment, and it becomes a ready to use kitchen assistant. When you lack the time or the tools needed to work on a food preservation task, your freezer can probably provide a fast and easy solution. After years of toying with food preservation, I’ve realized that some vegetables and fruits are at their best when frozen. Even more, the fruits your garden produces each year can be frozen in a pinch.
For example, most of the tomatoes we collect from our garden are dried or canned, but by fall, we also save up several gallons of whole tomatoes in the freezer. These are all from the days that brought perfectly ripened tomatoes, and we had no time to deal with them.
The downside (as I see it) of freezing your homegrown produces is that sometimes it’s very easy to lose track of what you have. Over the years, I’ve developed the habit of keeping a list in my survival notebook of my freezer contents. Some folks simply divide their freezer space into logical sections or dedicated shelves for their foods (veggies, fruits, meats, dried foods, and juices and stocks).
One tip I can give you is to also build the habit of cleaning out your freezer every spring. By that time, it should be close to empty, and the produce left should be used as soon as possible (frozen produce should be kept in the freezer for six months). Dried foods and seeds can be stored for more than a year in the freezer, but for the other foods keeping the six months limit is recommended.
In some cases, we also temporarily stored excess vegetables and fruits in the freezer that were later processed for long-term storage. For example, whole, frozen tomatoes can be thawed and transformed into sauce, and pre-frozen cherries dry better than fresh ones.
We also store frozen berries that we make into jams, or sometimes we preserve them for as-is use since the freezing and thawing break down cell walls. This also works extremely well when preparing apples or pears for fermenting into wine.
🥕 Containers to use for freezing your homegrown produce
Many folks who grow and preserve their own food are often reticent to using food-safe plastics containers for freezing their homegrown produce. We often use paper-thin plastic freezer bags (or freezer-grade vacuum-sealed bags) since these are capable of expanding slightly along with its crystallizing contents, and they provide airtight conditions in a puncture-resistant package.
One additional reason for doing so is that foods frozen in bags are easily stackable if you freeze them flat on a plate or cookie sheet. Rigid plastic food containers make good freezer containers, too, but over time I’ve noticed that snap-on plastic lids tend to crack. If you want to go with plastic containers, go for the ones with screw-on lids since these will last longer.
Some people freeze liquids in a clean canning jar, and even if this is not ideal, the rules can be bent a little. We often store fruit juices in such jars, and the trick to prevent the jars from exploding is to leave plenty of headspace, because liquids expand as they freeze. I leave 1½ inches in pints, or 2 inches in quarts.
The lids from the “freezing jars” should never be reused for canning, because they cannot be trusted to form a sound seal. However, when you are freezing your homegrown produce in canning jars, you don’t want a perfect seal, and the expansion of the freezing contents will push on a seal anyway. It’s best to screw on lids loosely at first, and you can tighten them after the jars have frozen solid.
Canning jars take up a lot of freezer space, so I mostly use them for fruit and veggie juices, which can be a mess to handle in bags. I also use canning jars to freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, which last two years in the freezer but only one on a cabinet shelf.
💨 Freezing tip – Expel air to prevent freezer burn
Unless you are freezing liquids (which require space for expansion), it is mandatory to remove as much air as possible from within the freezer container to avoid freezer burn.
Freezer burn is the formation of ice crystals that refreeze around the edges of the food and compromise its taste and texture (making it mushy). Freezer burn can be reduced when the food fits tightly in the bag, with very little air.
I’ve used Ziplock freezer bags, and I’ve squeezed the air out by hand or by sucking it using a drinking straw before sealing the bags. You can also submerge the bags almost to the seal in water, and the pressure of the water will push out the air from the bags.
However, my preferred method remains the one involving a vacuum sealer. A vacuum sealer and bags are an extra expense, but I can guarantee that they are worth it because they make frozen and dried foods last longer.
🍅 How about freezing vegetables and herbs?
Freezing vegetables is fast and easy, and many kitchen vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini, can be frozen without hassle. The best part of freezing vegetables is that you can do it in small batches or in big batches, depending on how much produce you can harvest from your garden.
Unlike in the case of canning, you don’t have to pay attention to acidity or salt if you plan to freeze vegetables. Even more, you can mix and match veggies based on pleasing colors and flavors. Some folks are using carrots for color, bulb fennel for texture, and green-leafed herbs for extra flavor to create mixed packages with frozen goodies.
When freezing your homegrown produce, use only the vegetables that are in excellent condition that has been thoroughly cleaned. Except for peppers, tomatoes, and a few other food crops, veggies should be cooked before they are frozen. This is usually done by blanching the vegetables in steam or boiling water, as described in the article below, but you also can use your oven or grill to prepare foods for freezing.
Recommended reading: Blanching Vegetables For Long-term Storage
As an alternative to blanching, I also roast or grill vegetables before freezing them, which often adds flavor. Peppers and squash, in particular, benefit from grilling or broiling.
Note: You also have the option of freezing complete dishes, ready to thaw, cook, and serve. People often freeze slow-cooked green beans or creamed corn, while others, instead of freezing pumpkin or squash purée, they go ahead and make pies, and freeze the tightly wrapped, ready-to-bake pies.
🥬 How to freeze vegetables
Set up a two-piece steamer or pot of boiling water for blanching on the stove. Also, set out a large baking dish to use for cooling the blanched vegetables. Bring the water to a slow boil.
Thoroughly clean and cut the vegetables into pieces of uniform size.
Place about 3 cups of the prepared veggies in the steamer basket or boiling water, put on the lid, and set your timer for a minimum of 3 minutes. Check for a color change, which indicates the pieces are almost cooked through.
Put a dozen or more ice cubes in the baking dish, and transfer the hot, blanched vegetables to the ice bath as soon as you remove them from the pot. Blanched veggies keep their color best if they are immediately cooled with ice or in ice-cold water.
When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, pack them into freezer-safe containers, and freeze them immediately.
❕ Additional tips
When freezing green beans, include a few pods of a purple-podded variety, and use them as blanching indicators. The purple color will change to green when the beans are perfectly blanched.
Use a silicone muffin pan for freezing pestos or other vegetable or herb purées, or any veggies you often use in small amounts. After the food is frozen hard, transfer to freezer-safe containers. I’ve also frozen eggs using this method.
Blanch perfect leaves from cabbage or collards and freeze them flat for later use as stuffed cabbage leaves. Blanch and freeze hollowed-out summer squash or sweet peppers for stuffing, too.
Freeze vegetables and companion herbs together. As a quick example, snap beans with basil or creamed sweet corn with parsley or cilantro. Add the herbs during the last minute of steam blanching, so they barely wilt.
🍓 How about freezing fruits and berries?
If you have fruit trees or berry bushes on your homestead, your freezer will play a vital role in making sure you have top-quality homegrown fruit to eat year-round.
Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries can be frozen as they are harvested, and you can transform them into preserves, jam, juice, or wine whenever you feel like doing so. Freezing is also a convenient way to store apples, cherries, and other tree fruits that will be used in baking.
Home winemakers often freeze fresh fruit before fermenting it because the freezing and thawing process encourages any fruit to release its juices.
🍬 Freezing fruit with and without sugar
Most folks stay away from added sugar in their foods, and there is no sound reason to add sugar to bags of frozen berries or any fruits that will eventually be blended into smoothies or processed into preserves or wine.
No sugar is needed when individual berries or cut pieces of fruit are frozen on cookie sheets and then moved to long-term storage containers.
However, we also must look at the benefit of adding sugar to fruits due to its tenderizing effect, which is especially beneficial with soft-fleshed fruits like strawberries and peaches.
If you plan to use any frozen fruit as a dessert topping, tossing the fruit with sugar ( ½ cup sugar for each pint of fruit) or covering it with a sugar syrup (half sugar, half water) before freezing will enhance the fruit’s color and texture, and upon thawing you will have a delicious fruit syrup, too.
🍋 How to prevent fruit discoloration
When exposed to air, many cut fruits oxidize, which causes that unappealing dark color. Unwanted color changes can easily be prevented by placing cut apples, pears, or peaches into cold acidified water, then draining the water before freezing the fruit. Simply place a large bowl of cold water next to your cutting board, and add to it any of the following acidifying agents.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is highly effective and does not change the flavor of the fruit. Dissolve one 1,500 mg tablet in 1 quart of water.
Citric acid is widely available as a powder, and while it does prevent discoloration, it also introduces a noticeable acidic flavor to some fruits.
Lemon juice contains both ascorbic acid and citric acid and makes a handy acid bath when three tablespoons are mixed into a quart of water. The slight lemon flavor is pleasing in some fruits, such as pears.
As you saw in this article, freezing your homegrown fruits is the easiest food preservation you can use on your homestead. It doesn’t take too much of your time, and it also helps you to preserve your produce short-term and use them later for various other purposes. Every family has a freezer or two in their homes, and it’s smart packing it with organic produce from your garden to avoid going to the grocery in the middle of winter.
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