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Fresh vs. Frozen: Dos and Don'ts of Saving for the Off-Season

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/16/2012 6:00 PM   :  15 comments   :  8,361 Views

One of the earliest lessons my parents taught me was to eat what's in season.  Being from a farm family, you quickly learn that if food is not harvested at its peak it either goes rotten in the field or becomes a meal for birds, insects, or the Earth.   
 
That's why we eat fruits and vegetables fresh when they are in season.   That means you'll eat your weight in asparagus in May, strawberries in June, pepper and corn in July, and tomatoes in August. 

After eating tomatoes every day for a month, you might be tired of them in late summer, but don't you long for them during the cold winter months? 
 
But wait, you can still enjoy the harvest if you follow the rules that mother Nature gives to the animals:  pack away some of your harvest for the off season.  You don't have to be a farmer's daughter to enjoy the bounty of the harvest.  Check out your farmers market or even your local grocery store during peak growing months and purchase good quality fruits and vegetables then have a freezing party at your home.  If you are too busy to freeze peak fruits and vegetables at home, no worries. You can find good quality frozen fruits and vegetables at your local market. 
 
First we all need to understand how freezing affects our foods.  Freezing is the most dramatic form of temperature change for all fruits and vegetables.  Freezing stops microbes from spoiling food, but it also kills plant tissue.  When frozen plants thaw, the cells leak fluids and some foods can lose their crisp texture.  Freezing can also affect color of foods.  Peaches and apples tend to turn brown once frozen.  The beauty of buying frozen foods from your market is that processing plants tend to be near farmland so that the fruits and vegetables are frozen within hours of picking.  The other plus is that the manufactures are able to freeze at extreme levels of cold, -40 degrees to be exact.  The extreme temperature will reduce ice crystal formation.  Most of us cannot reach that level in our home freezers.  Go ahead and feel good about letting someone else do the work.
 
You can safely freeze foods at home, if you follow these simple rules.
  • Select foods that are at their peak.  Do not freeze overripe or soft fruits or vegetables with brown spots. (The exception: bananas. Go ahead and freeze overripe bananas to use in baked goods later on. Be sure to peel them first.)
  • Pit any fruits that have a stone.
  •  Wash and dry all fruits and vegetables before freezing.
  •   Blanch and shock most green vegetables before freezing.  Place vegetables in a large saucepan filled with boiling water for 1-2 minutes (blanch).  Remove from water and immediately shock in cold ice water to stop the cooking process (shock).  Dry completely before freezing.
  • Use airtight containers.  Foods will expand during the freezing process so leave a little room in the bags or containers.
  • Date and label all containers.  Most frozen foods will last for 8-12 months in home freezers.
  • Store your supply in the back of your home freezer or in a deep freeze if you have one, to shield your food from extreme temperature fluctuations.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables should not be rinsed before consuming.  The texture will be compromised and/or nutrients and juices lost down the drain.
  • Frozen then thawed fruits and vegetables should not be re-frozen because you will adversely affect the texture.
 
With the start of the growing season upon us, it's the perfect time to read up on storing your favorite fruits and veggies. What do I freeze, you ask? Here's a list of Chef Meg's Favorite Foods to Freeze
 
Strawberries:  Cut off green stems and slice in half.  Freeze on a sheet pan then once frozen transfer to air tight containers.
 
Blueberries:  Make sure they are ripe--there's nothing worse than a sour, unripe blueberry.   Freeze on a sheet pan then once frozen transfer to air tight containers.  Use in muffins, smoothies, or straight from the freezer as a snack.
 
Avocados: Puree the flesh and pack in sealed containers.  Have your seen the price of avocados when they are out of season?  I laugh all the way to my freezer.
 
Beans: You must blanch and shock them or they will be freezer burned in no time.
 
Bell or Hot Peppers:  Just slice them and freeze them--no need to blanch and shock. Leave the seeds in the hot ones if you prefer.
 
Corn:  My favorite! I can't stand frozen corn on the cob.  The cob gets all mushy.  Cut the kernels off the corn then blanch and shock.
 
Tomatoes:  I never had luck with freezing raw tomatoes.  I turn my abundant crop into homemade tomato sauce, salsa, and stewed tomatoes then freeze those.
 
Want more info on growing your own food? Check out SparkPeople's Backyard Gardening Lifestyle Center.
 
Do you freeze your own food? If so, which fruits and vegetables are your favorites?
 
 
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Comments

  • 15
    Very useful article! And yes, quick super cold freezing is the best thing to maintain cellular integrity. This is the technique we use in the lab to save our tissue culture stocks. The quicker you can freeze the less damage is done by ice crystals. - 4/17/2012   9:46:01 PM
  • 14
    Great article. - 4/17/2012   11:31:36 AM
  • 13
    I freeze a lot of foods, including cooked beans (pinto, black and chickpeas) and store them in their broth in old yogurt containers. - 4/17/2012   6:03:07 AM
  • NLUCIER229
    12
    The secret to not having mushy berries (not sure how it would work with other items unless they are small as well) is to use dry ice to do the initial freezing so that it freezes faster and creates much smaller ice crystals instead of the "daggers" that the temperature in a normal household freezer allows. This causes much less cellular damage and "leaking" when thawed. All of the grocery stores where I live here in Casa Grande, AZ have 5lb blocks of dry ice for a few dollars right near the checkouts.

    Thoroughly clean an ice chest (sanitize and such). Put the items you want to freeze on the bottom on trays or something else that you can lift them out easily with. Place cooling racks above the food (either using the indentations in the side of the chest like mine has or standoffs from the bottom) and place a several pounds of dry ice on the cooling racks (I use one or two 5lb blocks depending on how much I'm freezing and if I'm using the larger cooler). Close the lid, but DO NOT LOCK IT. Place it outside if you'd like since there will be a concentration of carbon dioxide right next to it until the dry ice fully sublimates. The metal cooling racks will be making pinging noises while the ice is sublimating but that is normal. Once the dry ice is gone, you should have very solidly frozen stuff that should be firmer than you would normally have from the regular freezer. Transfer to containers/bags and store in the freezer by putting the container into the chest, filling and sealing while still in there. If you are careful you will only be putting carbon dioxide into the containers and no oxygen, further protecting the items.

    Works very well with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries...you can figure more.

    All credit of the above to a Mr. Alton Brown. I learned a lot from watching him and reading his books on not just how to cook/bake but why it works. - 4/17/2012   12:48:00 AM
  • 11
    Mom taught us to freeze and can before we were 10.
    I freeze raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, bell peppers (red, green, yellow, orange), grapes (they are a great snack right from the freezer), bananas, green beans, snow peas, sweet peas, asparagus.
    I can peaches, apricots, plums, jams, chili sauce, watermelon pickles.
    The only thing I grow, but don't preserve is summer squash. I don't like the way it thaws after freezing, so the excess goes to the local food bank. - 4/17/2012   12:18:51 AM
  • ANNERBEES
    10
    Love munching on frozen watermelon and berries in the summer ! - 4/16/2012   9:53:07 PM
  • 9
    I love to freeze berries of all kinds and then use them in smoothies and parfaits. Frozen grapes are great o hot summer days as well as a snack! I'll also chop up onions and freeze them in a bag for use later in the week so I have already chopped onion for cooking. - 4/16/2012   9:19:58 PM
  • 8
    I love to freeze fresh picked raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Then in the off season, I place the frozen berries in a container with yogurt for my lunch. By the time it is lunch time, the berries are thawed and taste wonderful with the yogurt. I also don't mind if they are a little, (mushy) which they sometimes might be.
    - 4/16/2012   7:59:09 PM
  • 7
    No, I don't freeze my own foods. - 4/16/2012   7:40:24 PM
  • LRC2020
    6
    I usually like to jar instead of freeze, but I do freeze peppers (both sweet and hot) and chopped onions at home quite often. Peppers work really well!

    I also have a grapefruit tree in my yard, and there's nothing better than frozen grapefruit cubes. Lemon sections are awesome this way too, especially in tea. For a real treat, frozen grapefruit in semi-frozen champagne or any sparking white wine is amazing.
    - 4/16/2012   7:16:59 PM
  • 5
    I like to freeze strawberries on a cooling rack. They come off easier (fewer surfaces to freeze to). I have frozen raw tomatoes as well - I just use them in sauce or soup or something with which they don't need to be intact.

    TCHNCRFT - strawberries will always get mushy after freezing. As explained in the blog, the cells break down when freezing. - 4/16/2012   7:11:41 PM
  • 4
    How does one make tomato sauce straight from the tomato? - 4/16/2012   7:08:22 PM
  • 3
    Every time I freeze strawberries, they come out mushy after I defrost them. Am I doing something wrong? Thanks. - 4/16/2012   7:00:11 PM
  • 2
    The only vegetable I freeze are red, yellow, and green peppers, when they are in season and at a great price, to use over the months when they are out of season and expensive. - 4/16/2012   6:39:28 PM
  • 1
    I love freezing my home grown produce. I often freeze my tomatoes and use them in soups after. All I do is cut the hard core out. Then I toss them in a bag, and put them in the freezer. When I want to add tomato goodness to soups, I just toss one into the boiling soup pot. The tomato dissolves into the soup, and the skin can be fished out, and disposed of. Easy-peasy.... :) - 4/16/2012   3:12:53 PM

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