Whether you went crazy at the Farmer’s Market and bought too much, or you just want to be able to enjoy them when they are no longer in-season, freezing fruits and vegetables are a great way to preserve them for later use.
Here are some a few things to keep in mind:
- Buy and freeze fruits and veggies when they’re at their peak of freshness
- Know which vegetables should be blanched prior to freezing
- Store in heavy-duty freezer bags, removing as much air as possible
- Date and label freezer bags and be aware when they should be eaten by (before their quality is affected)
Why & What to Blanch?
Enzymes naturally occur in vegetables, and are what help them to grow and ripen. Blanching is when you quickly steam or boil vegetables to stop the enzyme action – otherwise it causes a loss of nutrients, color, texture and flavor. Freezing will slow down the action of enzymes, but does not stop them completely (which is why frozen food still has a ‘shelf life’).
There are a few exceptions like tomatoes, onions, sweet and hot peppers, which can be frozen without blanching.
How to Blanch
The best pot for blanching would be a large stockpot, with a removable metal basket, and a lid. The basket allows you to remove the vegetables quickly, otherwise, you could use a basket ladle or slotted spoon.
With the lid on, bring the water to a vigorous boil, and blanch vegetables in small batches – too many will increase the time the water comes back to a boil, and you could end up over-blanching (cooking) your vegetables.
For a few vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower and squashes, steaming is recommended over boiling, due to the softer texture of the vegetable.
Once you place the vegetables in the boiling water and cover with the lid, start timing once the water returns to a boil (if steaming, start counting as soon as you put the lid back on). Under-blanching stimulates the activity of enzymes (causing spoilage), and over-blanching will cause loss of flavor, color and nutrients. Although there is no ‘perfect time’, due to the size of vegetables you are blanching (whole vs. cut), below is a chart of some of the most popular vegetables to freeze, that will give you the general rule of thumb for blanching times.
Cooling & Packaging
Once you have blanched the vegetables, you must cool them down as quickly as possible to stop the cooking process. Have a sink full of cold water with ice cubes in it ready, and immediately plunge the basket of vegetables into it. Change water as needed, and replace with more ice to keep the water cold. As a rule of thumb, cooling the vegetables should take about the same amount of time as it took to blanch. Drain vegetables thoroughly after cooling, then lay on a dry tea towel to blot off excess water. To package, use heavy duty freezer quality zipper lock bags to ensure that the moisture is kept inside the package, and the air stays outside. Contact with air is what causes freezer burn, which is results in a loss in a color, flavor, and texture. Force out as much air as you can, by squeezing, using a straw to suck it out, or using a vacuum sealer.
Because even perfectly blanched and frozen vegetables will lose some of their nutritional content over time, it is important to accurately label your foods. Write on the bag its contents and the date it was frozen. Or better yet, download our free freezer labels to help make the job quicker and easier (label it and circle the month and day it was frozen)!
Freezer Labels (.pdf)Freezer Labels (.zip)
Preparing the Fruit
Before freezing, thoroughly wash fruit then pat dry. Sort through and remove any damaged or spoiled fruit. Depending on how you want to use the frozen fruit, you can peel or leave the skin on.
Here are a few suggestions on how to prepare the fruit:
- Fruits with cores (apples, pears) – core, slice. If you want to peel the fruit, once you slice it, toss in acidic water bath to prevent browning (4 cups water + 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar). Let soak for one minute then pat dry.
- Fruits with pits (apricots, peaches, plums, cherries): halved (or quartered) and pitted
- Banana’s – freeze whole, with skin on or off
- Berries: remove hull if applicable, leave whole or sliced
- Melons: remove seeds and rind, cut into slices/cubes/balls
How to Freeze
On a lined baking sheet, arrange fruit in a single layer, without touching. Freeze until firm, place into freezer bags, removing excess air, and label with our freezer labels:
Freezer Labels (.pdf)Freezer Labels (.zip)
Quick Fruit Freeze Trick
For peaches, nectarines, and apricots, if you are pressed for time, here is an easy way to freeze – you don’t even have to wash them first!
Place whole fruits (skin on, pits in) into freezer and freeze until solid (24 hours). Place into freezer bags and label. When you want to use them, run them under slightly warm running water for about 15 seconds and gently rub off the skin. By that point they are usually soft enough to cut in half and remove the pit.