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Learn to preserve the produce you grow in your home kitchen garden. This home canning starter kit includes everything you need to can your first batch using the boiling water bath method for high-acid foods. Find it and other canning supplies at the Home Kitchen Garden Store.

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preserving fruit

I love having a few bags of blueberries in the freezer. While my mom used to add them to grapefruit-based fruit salads, I prefer to sprinkle frozen blueberries into puddles of pancake batter I’ve just poured on the griddle. Then, as the pancakes cook on side one, I drizzle a bit of extra batter over the blueberries so they’ll cook inside the pancakes when I flip them to side two. Using frozen blueberries to make pancakes, I set the cooking temperature lower than I would for plain pancakes. This gives the blueberries more time to thaw before the pancakes finish cooking.

Is your home kitchen garden producing well? This time of year, a kitchen garden can overwhelm its caretaker with produce. Beans are typical offenders along with tomatoes, eggplant, and various types of squash. Fruits can also present excesses.

If you’re facing a glut of vegetables or fruit… or if you simply want to store some goodies now so you can enjoy them until next year’s harvest, a deep-freeze makes a great food-preserver.

Why Freeze Produce?

Of all methods of preserving goods, freezing maintains flavors and textures the most faithfully. But freezing isn’t a perfect solution. Fruits especially suffer from freezing. As a rule fruits become mushy when they thaw, though their flavors remain true. If you plan to cook the fruits before you eat them, they’ll be great after freezing. If you’re going to eat them raw, find applications where the altered consistencies suit your sensibilities.

When it comes to frozen vegetables, I’ve never wanted to eat one raw after thawing it. These, I think, you should plan to cook… but trust that the outcome will be very similar to that of cooking the vegetables when they’re fresh. Root vegetables—carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and so on—do not thaw well, but they do keep a long time unfrozen in a cool, dry storage area.

I line jelly roll pans with waxed paper and then add single layers of blueberries or other produce. These I set uncovered in the deep-freeze overnight. The frozen berries easily come loose from the waxed paper and from each other.

Freezing Fruit

How you prepare fruit for freezing depends on what type of fruit it is. I suggest making it bite-sized. So, if you’re freezing peaches, pears, apples, or pineapples, peel them and cut them into pieces. If you’re freezing berries, they’re already in bite-sized pieces.

Pack fruit in freezer containers or in food storage freezer bags. Vacuum-seal them for the longest freezer life, but a zipper-style bag with the air squeezed out around the fruit should keep the fruit in decent shape for close to a year. Place only as much fruit in each bag as you’re going to use in one meal or service. Alternatively, follow the instructions below for Individually-Frozen Vegetables and Berries.

Freezing Vegetables

You can freeze vegetables raw and they’ll be fine when you cook them up later… as long as it’s not too much later. Conventional wisdom is that certain enzymes in vegetables promote aging and they continue to work even when the vegetables are frozen. This means the quality of frozen vegetables decreases rapidly over time unless you stop the enzymes. To “turn off” enzymes and increase the freezer live of vegetables, blanch them before you freeze them.

Individually-frozen, blueberries are hard, cold marbles. You have ten or fifteen minutes to package them and return them to the freezer before they soften noticeably.

How to Blanch Vegetables

Blanching is a breeze. It involves cooking the vegetables only long enough that they heat through, and then rapidly cooling them to stop the cooking before their texture changes significantly.

To prepare vegetables for freezing, first wash off the dirt, discard the bad spots, and cut the vegetables into sizes you’ll want to cook later. Peas, I remove from the pods and leave whole. Beans, I snap into ¾ inch lengths… some people prefer to cut them rather than snap them.

Set a very large pot of water to boil. I use my canning pot filled about ¾ of its depth. Fill a second very large pot with cold water, and have some ice on hand to add to that water.

Fill a strainer or a steamer’s colander with prepared vegetable chunks, then plunge the strainer into the boiling water so that all the vegetables are in the water. This may stop the boiling, so cover the pot to help bring up its temperature.

I use my canning pot or a very large stock pot for cooking, and another for cooling when I blanch vegetables for freezing. The colander is an insert from a pasta-cooker, though I might just as well use a strainer. I used to let the vegetables float free in the cook-pot, but it took so long to fish them out that some were nearly totally cooked by the time I’d finish.

When the water starts boiling again, leave the vegetables cooking for three minutes. During this time, add ice to the pot of cold water. Then, at the end of three minutes, lift the strainer from the boiling water and submerge it in the cold water. Stir the vegetables around in the strainer to promote rapid cooling. In about three minutes, the vegetables should be at or below room temperature; remove them from the water and let them drain.

Put one-meal-sized portions of the blanched vegetables into freezer containers or bags, and toss them into your deep-freeze. If you can vacuum-seal the containers, your vegetables may keep well for 18 months, but even in a heavy-weight hermetically-sealed bag they should be acceptable for eating up to a year after you process them.

As with fruit, blanched vegetables tend to stick together when they freeze, resulting in a brick that may be hard to separate until it thaws. You can simplify your freezer space by freezing the vegetable parts individually, and storing them in much larger bags or containers.

Individually-Frozen Vegetables and Berries

Typical instructions for freezing fruits and vegetables result in large clumps of frozen-together stuff. Blanch beans, toss them in a bag, put them in your freezer, and soon you’ll have a brick of frozen beans. If you want to use a portion of the beans, you may need a hammer or an ice pick to break them free of the bean brick.

When last I froze wax beans, I ran out of waxed paper so I tried plastic wrap as pan-liners. I much prefer the waxed paper because it’s far more biodegradable than plastic. I had so many beans to freeze that I layered them in the pans: first wax paper, then beans, then paper, and then beans. This worked well, and let me double the amount of produce I could freeze in one night.

The same goes for fruits: Wash a quart of blueberries, put the berries in a bag, freeze them, and you’ll need to chip them apart when you want to use them.

You’re best off freezing packages of beans or berries in modest amounts—no more per bag than you’ll use for a single meal… unless you freeze the beans or berries individually. Here’s how I do it:

After washing berries or blanching beans (or peas or broccoli spears or cauliflower florets), drain them and then dump them onto a towel. Gently roll the fruits or vegetables around on the towel to remove as much moisture as you have patience for.

Then, line a jellyroll pan or a pizza pan with waxed paper (plastic wrap works as well) and cover the paper with produce only one layer deep. If you like, cover the produce with more waxed paper and put a second layer of beans or berries on that.

Place the uncovered pan of beans or berries in your freezer over night. Then, retrieve the pan (I actually do as many as four pans in a single freezing event), break the individual fruits or vegetables off of the waxed paper, and load a container with the frozen produce. Put the filled container back in your freezer.

When you freeze fruits and vegetables this way, you can grab a handful, a pint, or a quart as-needed without having to bust a clump loose from a frozen produce brick.

Why So Much Boiling Water?

You can blanch stuff in rather modest amounts of boiling water. However, when you plunge vegetables into the water, you rapidly lower the water’s temperature; it is likely to stop boiling. At low volumes, the water may take many minutes to heat back to boiling. If the size of your blanching pot is dramatically bigger than that of the strainer-full of vegetables you put into it, it may not stop boiling at all… but even if it does stop it remains much closer to the boiling point than a small volume of water would.

You’ll blanch more produce more quickly if you work with a large vat of boiling water.

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