How to Freeze and Thaw Fruits and Vegetables
This one goes out to the CSA members, avid gardeners, and overambitious farmer's market shoppers.
Green thumbed gardeners, CSA members, and frequenters of the farmer's market are all too familiar with the dilemma of having tons of fresh produce and not enough time to use it all. That's where our friend the freezer comes in.
Freezing your fruits and vegetables will not only reduce food waste, but also allow you enjoy the unique flavors of seasonal produce year round. In order to ensure your freezer technique is as effective as possible, use these tips and tricks to make the most of your produce.
The golden rule of freezing fruits and vegetables is that it should be done when the produce is at peak freshness, rather than when it has started to bruise or wilt. This will guarantee the highest quality and best flavors after thawing. You'll have to rely on some foresight to determine how much produce you're going to use fresh and how much you'd like to preserve for later.
If you're growing your own fruits and vegetables, it's best to pick your produce in the morning while it's still cool and freeze it within a couple of hours for the freshest result possible. To maintain the best quality, freeze your produce as quickly as possible, laying out your bags in a single layer in the freezer until completely frozen, with the temperature set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Both fruits and vegetables should always be washed, dried, and cut up before being frozen.
Use airtight containers, like Tupperware or zip-top freezer bags, to maintain freshness; the more heavy-duty the container, the better. When filling your containers, try to use up as much room as possible to limit space for excess air, which can lead to freezer burn.
If using freezer bags, force out as much air as possible and wrap the bags in a heavy-duty freezer foil as an extra layer of protection. Be sure to label all of your containers with the date it was packaged to make sure its contents are used within the recommended time frame.
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In general, frozen fruits are best used in their frozen state, as a snack or a smoothie addition. While it's completely safe to thaw your frozen fruit at room temperature before consumption, the texture quality is likely to decrease significantly.
Frozen fruits will become much softer and more watery after thawing, altering the texture but not the flavor. Therefore, frozen fruits work extremely well in Mixed Fruit Cobblers, pies, breads, and other baked goods that don't require the fruit to hold its shape, as well as jams and preserves. In the case of baked goods, there's no need to thaw the fruit before integrating it into your recipe.
One trick for preserving fruits that are more susceptible to browning and bruising, like stone fruits and apples, is to use a bath of acid or Vitamin C. One option is to create an acidic water mixture using the juice of one lemon and one quart of water, and bathe your cut fruit in the liquid prior to freezing. The other is to buy powdered ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) from the vitamin section of the grocery store, mix 1 teaspoon with 6 tablespoons of water, and trickle this mixture over your fruit slices. Just make sure any fruit treated with either method is dried completely before heading to the freezer.
When working with delicate fruits, like berries, try completely freezing them in a single layer on a baking sheet before moving them to an airtight container. Most kinds of berries will also benefit from being frozen in a layer of sugar or syrup.
For the highest quality fruit, store your frozen batches for up to a year. While they're safe to consume after this date, you're likely to notice a further decline in texture and flavor quality.
Before heading to the freezer, vegetables should be blanched quickly in boiling water and dipped in an ice water bath before being dried thoroughly and tucked away in airtight containers. This blanching process will help to maintain the nutrients and destroy any lingering microorganisms, as well as preserve the flavors and colors of your vegetables.
Certain vegetables are more receptive to freezing than others. Generally, vegetables that are less affected by cooking, like peas and corn, will freeze better than more sensitive produce. Low-acid vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, and zucchinis, are also typically the best candidates for freezing. For more detailed instructions for prepping individual vegetables for the freezer, check out this list.
The most effective way to reheat frozen vegetables is to add them directly to a pot of boiling water straight out of the freezer. If you'd rather use the microwave, add your veggies to a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water and heat until completely cooked. Vegetables will keep well in the freezer for about 18 months, but are still safe to consume after this time.
A little bit of effort put towards prepping and freezing your produce will be more than worth it when you're able to get a taste of summer-fresh berries, wintery stone fruits, and more seasonal goodness all year long.