When you first start gardening, it is enough to just enjoy what you grow. But even as a beginner you run the risk of growing more than you can use of notorious growers like zucchini. If you don’t keep a garden, but miss the farmer’s market in the winter time, you could think about buying in bulk in the summertime and cooking up some double portions for now and later. Freezing is the quickest, easiest way to save your abundance for later. If you’ve never frozen more than the occasional leftovers, and your freezer is just for ice cream, you’re missing a chance to put a little convenience into your healthy diet.
Not all vegetables are created equal. There are some that really don’t take well to freezing unless cooked first, like cabbage. Others, like cucumbers, you can’t freeze at all. There are some authoritative sites on the web that you can refer to for specific vegetables, and squashes. One of my favorite sites is Pickyourown.org. Clemson University is also a great resource for detailed information. But you don’t have to be an expert to get started. You really don’t have to know much at all. You can freeze most vegetables quickly and conveniently.
Standard directions tell you to blanche your veggies before freezing, by dipping them in boiling water for a minute or two. Then you have to drop them in ice to stop the cooking process. This kills enzymes that break down the vegetables more quickly. But it is not necessary to do this to safely freeze and consume your vegetables. It’s laborious, because you have to do it in batches, and it requires a lot of ice on hand. To me it makes more sense to go ahead and cook my veggies the way I like them, and freeze them like that. Either way you’re going to wind up cooking them, so why not just eliminate the boiling pots of water and bags of ice and go ahead and cook them?
I like the convenience of “TV dinners” in the wintertime, when I get to take an already prepared vegetable dish and simply warm it up. Simply cook your vegetables the way you like them, stick them (in portions that you like to use,) into freezer bags or my favorite, a freezer-to-oven container, and you are through. You will be limited only by the space you have in your freezer.
Sometimes there are too many veggies to cook all at once. Greens come to mind. I never blanche my greens, though. May my foremothers slap my wrists if they want to, but they taste just fine with their enzymes to me. I do make sure to clean those greens at least three or four times. Then I run them through the slicer in my food processor, and then the salad spinner. Zucchini can be shredded and frozen raw, and then used to make zucchini bread. Yum.
Using a vacuum sealer and the bags that go with it eradicates freezer burn. But they can be frustrating to deal with. They are best when used with dry foods. Any moisture can create a problem when you try to seal them. If you put your washed greens through a salad spinner and then still let them drain for an hour or so, you will have much less problems with your vacuum sealer. If you don’t have one and don’t want one, the cheapest alternative is to suck the air out of a sealable bag with a straw, and really it works very well. If I don’t have any other containers on hand, that is the method I use for my cooked veggies that have too much liquid for the vacuum sealer.
String beans are an exception to my no blanching policy. They seem to be just a little bit rubbery, when frozen raw. So if I just can’t cook them all over the course of a day or two, then I will drop them in a pot of boiling water for about three minutes. The waiting bowl of ice water is essential to stop them from cooking immediately when you take them out. You would also do well to let them sit in a strainer and drain after pulling them out of the ice water. They should not have any drops of water visible if you plan to vacuum seal them.
Corn, on the other hand, I like best when it is not boiled but husked and vacuum sealed as quickly after picking as possible (so it doesn’t get starchy.) When I prepare it, I take it straight from the freezer into a boiling pot of water. When the water returns to a boil, I turn it off and leave the corn in the hot water to keep it warm. It comes out tasting so fresh and sweet and just crunchy enough.
At this time of year I have eggplant and bell peppers in abundance. These veggies become main meals ready to eat on a busy night. Smothered eggplant is a recipe I have returned to several times, as well as eggplant parmesan. I also like to make stuffed bell peppers with leftover rice. In the spring stuffed cabbage is another favorite that freezes well. Generally I make enough of each of these dishes to both enjoy for dinner on the day I prepare them, and to feed the five of us again at some point in the future.
If you find that the ease of freezing works well for you, and if you have the space, you might want to acquire more freezer space than what comes with your refrigerator. The cost of the freezer, and the electricity to run them, is minimal compared to what you can save on buying groceries in the winter time.