Easy Pea-sy Tips for Freezing Fresh (and Cheap) Summer Produce

Couple looking at best tips for freezing produce

If you’ve tasted ratatouille that was cooked and frozen during the harvest months, you know the surprise of those first delicious bites. There is nothing like the taste of freshly picked summer squash, zucchinis, tomatoes and herbs when there is snow on the ground. It’s like a warm bowl of summer in winter.

How to find the cheapest fresh produce

The joy of eating summer-fresh fruits and vegetables all year long isn’t the only benefit to freezing fresh food. Local produce purchased in-season can also be significantly less expensive. According to the USDA, for example, the cost of shipping field-grown tomatoes accounts for approximately ¼ of their total cost.

If you’re in Wisconsin, consult this list from the Department of Health Services to know when produce is in season.  Then make a stop at your farmer’s market or, better yet, take a tip from this budget-friendly meals SafetyNet ™ blog post and find a friend or colleague with too much produce on their hands. Luckily for those of us without green thumbs, there comes a time when the most prolific gardeners just need to get their goods out the door.

Remember, too, that fruits and veggies on the reduced price rack make for perfect freezing. After all, while you might not want to feature a slightly blemished red pepper on your relish tray, no one is the wiser when you add it to your chili in frozen form.

Finally, if you’re feeling really ambitious find a pick-your-own farm near you and make a day of it.

Tricks to remember when freezing fruits and veggies

Managing moisture is the key to managing the mush factor.  That’s because, when the water in fruits and vegetables freezes, the ice crystals expand. Those large ice crystals are what break down the cell walls and result in a mushy texture once thawed.

Keep these 4 tips in mind when preparing your stash:

  1. Pat it Dry: After cleaning and prepping the produce, pat each piece dry with paper towels.
  2. Aim for Air-tight: To reduce freezer burn, store frozen produce in air-tight containers (freezer bags wrapped in aluminum foil are perfect) and squeeze as much air out of the bags as possible. You can even use a straw to suck the air out of the bag.
  3. Freeze it Fast: The faster the produce freezes, the better it will hold up. Remember: don’t over load your freezer making freeze time longer.
  4. Keep it Cold: Fruits and veggies will freeze and store best at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and below.

Best tips for freezing fruits

Berries, grapes and cherries freeze well whole. After patting them dry, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them first like that. Then, transfer them to an air-tight container.

Peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums should be sliced first before they hit the baking sheet. They also do well with a light dusting of sugar. To prevent browning, dissolve ½ teaspoon of ascorbic acid power into 3 tablespoons of water and sprinkle the mixture over the cut fruit.

Apples get mushy. While you can slice and freeze them with mediocre results, consider instead making applesauce to freeze and using it as a compote when thawed.

Best tips for freezing vegetables

Unlike fruits, most vegetables will need to be blanched before freezing in order to stop the enzyme action that contributes to them breaking down. This entails dropping them into boiling water for a minute or two and then immediately dousing them in very cold (or ice) water to stop the cooking process. To find boiling times for specific vegetables, consult this University of Wisconsin-Extension site.  For the most part, the post-blanching process is the same: dry and prepare, freeze on a cookie sheet, transfer to an air-tight container and enjoy your asparagus, squash, peas, beans, cauliflower, corn, peppers (and more!) all winter long.