Of all the ways you can put by your homegrown produce for another day, freezing is the easiest. Freezing is the perfect way to preserve small batches of this and that, and freezing garden vegetables is fast and easy compared to canning or pickling. Little can go wrong, because there is no worry about pH levels, salt, or exact ingredients. Best of all, you can combine veggies and herbs from your garden in frozen packets, making it easy to enjoy July’s bounty in January.
Freezing Raw Vegetables
Most vegetables benefit from blanching or cooking before they are frozen, a step that stops enzyme activity that toughens vegetables and reduces their nutritional content. Most vegetables turn into cardboard when frozen raw, but there are exceptions. Peppers and okra freeze well when cut into pieces, frozen on cookie sheets and then stored in airtight freezer containers, and many gardeners toss extra cherry tomatoes into freezer bags for later use in cooked dishes. Peeled raw cucumbers also freeze well, especially when stored in vacuum-sealed bags, or you can make them into freezer pickles. Cleanliness is crucial when freezing raw vegetables because no heat is used to prepare the food for storage.
Steam Blanching Tender Vegetables
Many of the most tender and delicious vegetables you can grow are best preserved by blanching and freezing, including asparagus, peas, kale and other cooking greens, broccoli, and snap beans. Blanching means cooking slightly, until no longer raw, and you can blanch vegetables in boiling water or in steam. I prefer steam because it’s less messy. After about 4 minutes steaming over boiling water, you dump the basket of hot vegetables into a big baking pan to cool, and then pack them into freezer bags.
As a final step, squeeze as much air from the bags as you can before sealing them up. I like to place filled bags on a cookie sheet so they freeze flat, which makes the frozen packets easier to stack in the freezer.
Freezing Grilled Vegetables
Summer is grilling season in many households, and you can boost the flavor of summer squash, eggplant, peppers, and even carrots and parsnips by grilling them before freezing. When freezing grilled vegetables, slathering them with olive oil before they go on the fire helps them pick up smoky flavors and keeps them from sticking to the grill. Marinate them with garlic, herbs or other seasonings if you like. Grilling is the best way I know to take a low-flavor vegetable like zucchini and turn it into a gourmet treat to enjoy when summer is long gone. If you don’t do outdoor grilling, roasting seasoned vegetables before freezing them works well, too.
Freezing Sweet Corn
Freezing is the best way to preserve sweet corn, and there are many ways to prep corn for the freezer. After trying them all, I must report that freezing sweet corn raw is a waste. Blanching or pre-cooking is required to preserve sweet corn’s texture and flavor.
You can blanch and freeze whole ears if you have the freezer space, but it’s much more energy efficient to freeze only the kernels. My favorite method involves cutting the raw kernels from about 20 ears and placing the kernels and milky juice in a large baking pan with a stick of butter. I roast the buttered corn in a hot oven until it’s hot and bubbly and the house smells like roasted corn, about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. When cool, I transfer the corn to meal-size freezer bags.
I dedicate a shelf of my freezer to frozen garden vegetables, starting on the left and working my way across. When the garden stops producing, it is so cool to enjoy the season all over again, starting with spring asparagus and peas and ending with fall collards. To me, this is one of the unique pleasures of this gardening life.