The return of warm weather means garden produce will start flourishing! If only asparagus and strawberry season were all year round and not just a short period in the spring! Freezing, canning, and drying are all safe ways to store garden fruits and vegetables for later use, but all require different equipment, time, space, and knowledge. “Of all the preservation methods, freezing is probably the least time consuming and requires the least amount of equipment. Just make sure you have space,” Lisa Peterson, Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension explains.

The first step for freezing is what we do every time we work with food; wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds under warm water. To remove any harmful bacteria from the garden, the grocery store, or farmers market, wash produce under running water. Rub off the dirt with your hands or for harder produce, use a brush.

For immediate freezing, blanching is suggested for vegetables for the best quality. Fruit does not need blanching. Although blanching is not a safety requirement, it stops enzyme activity, helping vegetables maintain color, texture, and quality while frozen. Water and steam blanching are both recommended methods. Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Timing depends on the type of vegetable and can vary from 1 to 11 minutes. For example, large asparagus should be water blanched for four minutes, while large ears of corn take 11 minutes of blanching. Steam blanching takes about one and a half times longer than water blanching. Microwave blanching is not recommended, since it may not inactivate the enzymes. After blanching vegetables, cool immediately in an ice bath before freezing.

Freezing fresh fruit offers a variety of options, including sugar packing, syrup packing, water packing, pectin packing, or dry packing. Deciding how to freeze fruit often depends on intent for future use. Most fruits have better texture and flavor when frozen in sugar or syrup. Sugar pack freezing is best for recipes requiring cooking and soft fruit like sliced strawberries, peaches, plums, cherries, and figs. For sugar packing, sprinkle sugar over the fruit, stir, wait 15 minutes, and freeze. Artificial sweeteners can also be used but won’t help with maintaining color or texture. Generally, for syrup packing, best for uncooked desserts, you will want to create a 40% syrup mixture. Make sure fruit is completely covered in syrup, weigh down the fruit with water-resistant paper on top of the freezer container before closing. Dry packing is best for berries, and best flash-frozen by placing fruit on a baking sheet freezing for a few hours, then moving to a freezer container or bag. Flash freezing helps prevent clumping while frozen.

Fruit such as apples, apricots, peaches, and pears tend to brown quickly when exposed to air leading to an undesirable flavor and texture when thawed. The most effective way to prevent darkening is by using vitamin C or ascorbic acid. Commercially, the best-known brand of the ascorbic acid mixture is Fruit Fresh. Citric acid, lemon juice, and vinegar solutions may cause unwanted flavors and cause light-colored fruit to turn gray.

Additionally, when freezing fruits and vegetables, remember to use freezer-safe containers and leave ½ inch to 1 inch of headspace to allow food to expand. If planning to freeze a large amount of food in one day, consider turning your freezer down to -10°F 24 hours before freezing. A lower freezer temperature may prevent ice crystals from forming due to freezing food too slowly. Additional questions about freezing certain foods? Please contact the local Extension office, we are happy to answer questions or provide recipes. University of Illinois Nutrition and Wellness Extension team is offering weekly webinars every Wednesday, June through July, from 1-2 PM on preserving garden produce. On Wednesday, June 10 the focus is on freezing food. Call the extension office to sign up or register yourself at go.illinois.edu/nutritionwell.

Sweet Freezer Pickles

2 quarts cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp. salt (table salt, canning salt or kosher salt can be used)

1½ cup sugar

½ cup white distilled vinegar

 

  1. Wash hands with soap and water.
  2. Mix cucumbers, onions, and salt in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl on the counter for two hours. Pour into a colander and drain water from the cucumber mixture.
  3. Combine sugar and vinegar. Stir well and pour over cucumbers. Pack into freezer containers or zip lock bags. Freeze. Pickles are ready in 3-4 days. They will keep in the freezer for one year.

Source: “So Easy to Preserve,” University of Georgia. 5th edition. 2006.

 

Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness