Choose vegetables that are tender, ripe but just barely ready to eat, and just as fresh as possible. Slightly under-mature vegetables are better for freezing than those that are past their prime. For peak flavor, rush vegetables from the garden to the freezer within two hours. If you can't freeze vegetables within that time limit, cool the vegetables quickly in ice water, drain well, and keep refrigerated until ready to prepare for freezing.
Ice. Since cooling is an important part of preparing vegetables for freezing, you need plenty of Ice at hand to keep the cooling water really cold. Estimate one pound of ice for each pound of vegetables you're going to freeze. Keep a good store of ice in reserve for your home freezing heeds by filling heavy-duty plastic bags with ice cubes, or freezing water in empty milk cartons. Keep adding to your stored ice from time to time, and you won't be caught short in the midst of a big freezing job.
Butter and seasonings. Most vegetables are frozen without any flavoring or seasoning added. However, if you want to freeze pouched vegetables in butter sauce, we suggest a combination of butter, salt, and herbs (oregano, basil, savory, chervil, tarragon, thyme, sage, or marjoram).
Although freezing food is one of the easiest methods for putting food by, that doesn't mean there's nothing to it. If you approach the project carefully and scientifically, you'll be able to get the best frozen food possible and to use energy wisely.
Most vegetables take well to freezing, and, when you serve them at a later date, they'll be as close to fresh as any preserving method can guarantee. In fact, some vegetables shouldn't really be stored by any other method, since freezing has proven to be the best method for preserving them. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, , eggplant, mushrooms, parsnips, edible-pod peas, pumpkins, rutabagas, and winter squash. The only vegetables that don't freeze well are lettuce and other fresh greens for salads, and watery vegetables like radishes and cucumbers.
Other than those, almost anything can be frozen. When you aren't sure whether you'll like a certain vegetable frozen, try a sample batch of just a few packages, bags, or containers. Freeze for a couple o1 weeks, then taste. If you hate it, not much has been lost.
It's a good idea to check with your local Cooperative Extension Service Office for advice on the best vegetables to plant for freezing. Knowledgeable produce people, either in the supermarket or at a stand, can be excellent sources of information, too.
Rule number one is to select the highest-quality food possible. The vegetables you choose should be tender, fresh, and ripe enough to be eaten right away. NEVER use vegetables that have become overripe either before or after harvesting.
As with any preserving method, you must clean
vegetables carefully before freezing. Wash, scrub, rinse, and drain them just as if you were going to eat and serve them right away.
Blanching is a brief heat treatment given to vegetables before they're packaged and frozen. Its purpose is to stop the action of enzymes, which can destroy the fresh flavor of vegetables and cause off-colors. If you want to successfully freeze vegetables, it's generally necessary to blanch them before freezing. This simple technique also helps seal in vitamins, brightens the color of vegetables to be frozen, and shrinks them slightly to make packing easier. When freezing herbs or vegetables such as green onions or hot peppers, which are to be used for flavoring only, blanching isn't necessary.
Follow blanching times given in the freezing recipes precisely. Blanching for too short a time is worse than not blanching at all — enzyme action will be stimulated instead of stopped. And, if blanched for too long a time, your vegetables will cook, losing vitamins, minerals, flavor, and color.
Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables, or two gallons for leafy greens. Blanching water must be boiling when you lower the vegetables into it. Fill the blancher with vegetables and lower it into boiling water; start timing as soon as the vegetables have gone into the boiling water. You may keep the blancher covered during the blanching period or keep the heat on high and stir frequently. Ifyou live at 5,000 feet or more above sea level, blanch one minute longer than the times specified in each recipe. You can also blanch vegetables in a microwave oven. Follow the directions in the manufacturer's instruction book.
When blanching a large quantity of vegetables, start with only the amount that can be blanched and cooled in a 15-minute period, and put the rest in the refrigerator. Package, label, and freeze each blanched group before starting on the next. You can use the same blanching water for several batches of vegetables, adding additional boiling water from a teakettle to replace water lost through evaporation. If you wish, change the water when it becomes cloudy. Keep a second pot or large teakettle boiling, so you won't be delayed when the time comes to change the blanching water.
After vegetables have been precooked the exact amount of time, remove them immediately from the boiling water and cool them. This is crucial for keeping the heating process from continuing past the proper period for each vegetable or food. Transfer the vegetables quickly from the blancher to the ice water. The kitchen sink is a good spot for holding ice water to cool vegetables, but if you want it free for other uses, put the ice water in a plastic dishpan or other large, clean container.
Be sure to add new ice to the Ice water frequently, so it stays as cold as possible. You'll need plenty of ice on hand to keep the cooling water really cold. Plan on one pound of ice for every pound of vegetables you're going to freeze. To have a ready supply when you need it, you'll have to stock up in advance.
The secret to successful freezer packaging is to seal the air out and keep it out. Immediately after blanching and cooling, pack vegetables loosely in proper containers. Plastic freezer bags and boxes or can-and-freeze jars are all excellent. Freezer containers must be airtight, moisture/vaporproof, odorless, tasteless, and greaseproof.
Head space. Since food expands as it freezes, you must allow room — or head space — for this expansion. Otherwise the lids will pop off, bags will burst, and you'll have wasted food, time, and money. Foods that are dry need no head space. Food that's packed in liquid or is mostly liquid needs 1/4 inch of head space for pints, 1/2 inch for quarts. If you pack foods in containers with narrow mouths, the food expands upward in the container even more, requiringA inch of head space for pints and iy2 inches for quarts. We suggest you stick to wide-mouth containers. The recipes in this book give you head space needs for each particular food for wide-mouth containers only.
Sealing. How you seal food for the freezer is just as important as how you package it. After wiping the mouths of your freezer containers with a clean, damp cloth, seal rigid containers by following the manufacturer's instructions (if there are any), or by snapping, screwing, or fitting the lid tightly on the container. If the lid doesn't seem tight, seal it with freezer tape.
Seal bags or boilable pouches with a heat-sealing appliance; follow the instructions that come with the heat sealer. Or seal bags by pressing out the air, then twisting the bag close to the food. Fold the twisted section over and fasten it with a rubber band, pipe cleaner, or twist tie. To get air out of an odd-shaped bag, lower the filled bag into a sink full of water and let the water press the air out. Twist the bag top, lift it out, double the twisted area backward, and fasten.
Labeling. A good freezer label should tell what food is in the package, the amount of food or number of servings, and when it went into the freezer. Better yet, it should tell how the food was packed, and when, for example, "Sugar Pack Strawberries — June, 1976." You might want to include an "expiration" or "use-by" date. Frozen main dishes, sauces packed in boilable pouches, and other more complex items call for a label with description, number of servings, perhaps even heating and thawing instructions.
Select labeling materials that will last. A grease pencil or felt tip marker may write directly on the container. Freezer tape makes a quick label, as do pressure-sensitive labels from a stationery store. Try to print legibly and use standard abbreviations.
Tray freezing. This technique is used with more delicate vegetables — asparagus for example — to keep them from being damaged during packaging. Since individual stalks are frozen separately first, tray freezing allows you to remove serving portions from the pouch when you need them. To tray freeze, blanch the vegetables, cool them in ice water, drain well, and then spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet, jelly-roll pan, or special tray. Freeze until just solid — usually about an hour. As soon as the vegetables are frozen solid, transfer them to containers, bags, or pouches. Seal the containers and store them in the freezer.
The tray freezing technique Is used with asparagus, green beans, lima beans, soybeans.
broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, whole- * kernel corn, kohlrabi, peas, sweet or hot peppers, prepared potatoes, rutabagas, and summer squash. The recipes that follow indicate if tray freezing is recommended.
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