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Nine Tips & Tricks for Freezing Fresh Produce

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Freezer Timeline

FRUIT (citrus)  |  3 months

FRUIT (other)  |  9-12 months

VEGETABLES  |  8-12 months

Commonly Frozen Foods and How to Do It

Mushrooms: Quickly wash mushrooms before blanching (three minutes for sliced and five minutes for whole). Cool mushrooms in ice water, drain, pack, press out air, seal, and freeze.

Broccoli: Soak broccoli in cold salted water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat water for steam blanching. Steam blanch one pound at a time for five minutes. Then cool, drain, pack, press out air, and seal. Freeze.

Strawberries: Wash the berries and let them drain for a few minutes in a colander. Slice off the hulls and spread in a single layer onto trays. Freeze the fruit, uncovered, for two hours. Transfer the frozen berries to freezer bags or containers.

This whole idea started when I reluctantly tossed an unopened bag of expensive, organic spinach in the trash after deeming it stinky, slimy, and inedible. It drove me crazy — not only was I wasting my money but, even worse, I was wasting food that just days earlier was absolutely delicious. We all have these stories of food waste, but — I get it — sometimes we have every intention of using all of these delectable ingredients and then, well, you know … life gets in the way.

With the local growing season coming to a close and winter on the horizon, I’m here to tell you that there is a way to save that almost-expired food in your fridge that you’re kicking yourself for buying, or the heaps of produce from the CSA box that you just can’t quite use up. Below are nine tricks to help you stock up for winter, gathered from various books, web sources, and local experts:

1. Different Produce Warrants Different Freezing Methods: Not all produce is created equal, so it is only natural that items need to be treated differently when freezing (see side bar). When in doubt consult the freezer’s bible, The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food or do a quick online search.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Put Whole Produce in the Freezer: Susie Sutphin of the Tahoe Food Hub puts tomatoes and tomatillos whole, in re-closable plastic bags, in the freezer. This method requires almost no work at all and can also be applied to bread, sweet peppers, and a variety of other produce.

3. When to Blanch and When Not to Blanch: Blanching — a process when fruits or vegetables are briefly plunged into boiling water and then cooled in an ice bath — is required for some produce. Truckee/Tahoe well-being facilitator Polly Triplat prefers blanching foods like beans, peas, and broccoli. Some that don’t require blanching are cucumbers, summer squash, and most berries.

4. Pre-chop Greens and Make Snowballs: When freezing greens to be used for delicious smoothies (or other stuff) make sure to rinse your roughly chopped greens in cold water, blanch them, and absorb as much water as possible before molding them into varying shapes and sizes (think making a snowball), and place them in a re-closable plastic bag to be frozen.

5. Ice Cube Trays Aren’t Just for Ice: Finely chop your herbs and place them in cube trays, not quite filling them up. Top each section off with water or the cooking oil of your choice. To reuse the ice cube tray, once the herb cubes are frozen take them out and place them in re-closable plastic bags.

6. Label, Label, Label: Forget the idea of I’ll remember what this is and when I froze it. Label everything, even that bag of whole tomatoes you froze on Christmas Day. Also, to be safe, rotate anything out that has been in the freezer for more than six months. See sidebar for more specific keeping times.

7. Containers, Containers, Containers: re-closable plastic bags, air-tight containers, and freezer bags are your friend. Invest in these and your frozen produce will have a lower chance of contracting the dreaded freezer burn.

8. Avoid Refreezing: But if you have to, make sure the produce hasn’t been thawing for more than two hours. If it has, throw it away. It is also important to note that freezing and refreezing multiple times will affect the food quality.

9. Fill the Freezer: Believe it or not, full freezers are actually cheaper to run, so be organized enough to not lose your creations, but don’t be afraid to pack in the goods.

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June 14, 2018