Some of my fondest memories revolve around harvest and the times our family spent working together preserving the bounty each year. One of my mom's favorite ways to put up vegetables and meat was to freeze them. Freezing is one of the easiest and quickest methods for preserving food. The fact that it is so versatile explains why it is a highly preferred way of preserving, especially in the North.
It does not come without its cons. Freezing only slows down or stops the growth of micro-organisms that cause food spoilage, as opposed to canning, which kills them. If you lose power or your freezer dies, you run the risk of losing all of that hard worked for food. If you live in an area where you lose power frequently or for long periods of time, freezing may not be for you.
WHAT NOT TO FREEZE
Although you can freeze just about anything, there are certain things that you cannot or should not freeze. The biggest no-no in freezing is a given. NEVER refreeze something that has been frozen previously! Since freezing does not kill the bacteria in the food, it starts growing rapidly again once the food, especially meat, is thawed. Refreezing greatly raises your risks of food poisoning. If meat does thaw out accidentally, you CAN cook it, then refreeze it just fine.
High moisture fruits and vegetables also should not be frozen. This is because the water in them will expand as it freezes, which damages the cells and walls of the produce and turns it to mush. For a helpful graph (pdf) on what can or cannot be frozen, click here.
Many fruits must be blanched to kill the enzymes before they are frozen. How they are blanched and how long to blanch each one differs according to what you are blanching. The Frozen Food Guide has graphs of some of the different vegetables and how long to blanch each one.
One way of blanching produce is by boiling it in water. Bring your water to a rolling boil. Place your vegetables into a basket that will easily fit down inside the pot and into the boiling water. I use my pasta pot, which came with a metal removable basket/ sieve, to do this. This is used to dip the produce into the boiling water and to quickly remove it at the correct time. You must start timing the blanching process as soon as the vegetables are submerged in the water. If the water stops boiling, you have added to much of your produce at one time. You can reuse the water, but be sure to bring it back to a rolling boil before you add more vegetables.
The next way to blanch your vegetables is to steam them. Put 1 to 2 inches of water in the bottom of a pot, and bring it to a rolling boil. Suspend a thin layer of your vegetables above the boiling water using a tray, cheese cloth, or a wire mesh basket, and put a lid over it for the recommended time. My pasta pot also comes with a steaming tray, which is what I use to steam my vegetables.
A freezer is a very dry environment, which is necessary unless you want it to build up with so much ice so quickly that you are constantly needing to defrost it. Because of this, proper packaging is very important. Different things are packaged different ways, but they are all packaged for the same purpose--preventing freezer burn, which is caused by the food drying out.
There are many packaging choice possibilities out there. You can use freezer bags, plastic wrap, jars, containers, aluminum foil, or a combination. For small fruits or vegetables like peas or berries, I place them in the freezer on a cookie sheet in a single layer to freeze, then I transfer them to a glass canning jar and tightly close the lid, which fits wonderfully on my freezer door. For corn on the cob, I blanch them for 3 minutes, place them on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they are solid, then individually wrap them in foil and put as many ears as I can into a gallon-size freezer bag. I wrap meat cuts in plastic wrap, then foil, then stick them in a freezer bag. I double bag anything that I cannot wrap in foil or plastic wrap before bagging. For soups, broths, or anything liquidy, I freeze it in ice cube trays, then transfer it to a freezer bag, which I double up. When packaging anything, the important thing to remember is to make sure whatever the package moisture resistant and air-tight, which includes removing as much air from the package as possible. Remember that the air and the freezer's uncanny ability to suck moisture out of things is what causes freezer burn.
Lastly, do not forget to mark your packages! Using a piece of tape and a permanent marker, write the contents of the package and the date it was packaged on it. It may seem silly, but six months from now, you will not remember if that package of meat is pork chops or round steak. Be sure to be specific in your labeling as well, since "soup" could refer to any number of recipes!
For more information, there is a pdf file that you can download or simply view online for free, called the Frozen Food Guide. You can purchase a printed copy on Amazon.com here for $2.99. It not only gives instructions and many helpful hints for preparing, packaging, freezing, thawing, and using different vegetables, meats, and fruits, but it also has several graphs giving detailed information on how long to blanch and how long certain things can be frozen for.
To those of you out there like me, who love to freeze, but hate to be cold, have a brrreautiful day! And for those just starting out or considering freezing your food as a form of food preservation, try it! You will love it! You will find that freezing is easy, economical, and even entertaining at times!
Until Next Time,
Author of "The Fanatics"