As a giant ‘thank you’ for all our tender loving care the garden has begun producing. Last night I harvested our second (and largest so far) batch of beans, and I froze about four or five pounds of summer squash. Sam has also picked a basket full of gorgeous jalapenos and within the next week we’ll be enjoying our first cucumbers of the season. We even have some cherry tomatoes that are orange. Won’t be long before we’re enjoying those straight off the vine! Yum.
Once the crops come on strong gardening, or rather preserving, becomes a full time job – as if the weeding, watering, and fertilizing wasn’t enough work. Most master gardeners (they have more expertise than I do) recommend harvesting produce first thing in the mornings. We don’t do that just because it’s not convenient for us – we like to do it in the evenings when we’re out doing our usual chores. But what does one do with all that produce once it’s off the vine? Well, the obvious choice is eat it, but there are times that there’s just too much to eat in a couple of days – like the summer squash plants that seem to produce in excess overnight!
If you’re like us you’re trying to get yourself set up to make it through winter with as little fresh veg expense as possible in your grocery budget. So that means lots of canning and freezing to be done. And the good news is, most fresh veggies can be preserved either by canning or freezing – the choice is yours. For me, freezing is a much more practical approach to preserving if you have a smaller batch of produce to deal with. No point to drag out the pressure cooker and worry about sterilizing lids and jars for a couple of pounds of veg. Plus, freezing is just so darned convenient I handle almost all of our produce in this manner. So don’t let those summer veggies go to waste.
* Ziplock freezer bags – quart or gallon sized works best (NOTE: yes, you want to spend the extra money and get the FREEZER bags – they will keep your veggies fresh much longer than the regular storage bags).
* 3 quarts of water
* couple large pinches of kosher salt
* half sink full of ice water
* large colander and slotted spoon or spider
1. Prep your veggies right before you use them to prevent browning or oxidation due to excess air exposure. The easiest way to prep your veggies is to slice them into medallions or to roughly chop them into 1″-2″ pieces.
2. Place water in a 5-quart dutch oven over high heat and bring to a boil. Toss in a couple large pinches of salt, and working in batches so as not to overload the pan, blanch your veggies for 3 minutes (start timing from when you put the veggies into the boiling water).
3. Remove veggies from water and into the colander – then immediately submerge the colander full of produce in the sink of ice water making sure the cold water completely covers the veggies (add more ice as it melts); this is called ‘shocking’ and the cold water stops the cooking process.
4. Leave the produce in the water for a couple of minutes, or until it has cooled down and can be handled without burning your fingers. Remove the colander from the water and allow the produce to drain well.
5. While your produce is draining, label your storage bags with the contents and the date – the date is especially important as fresh veggies will keep up to a year in the freezer, but it is really helpful to know when they went in the freezer to begin with.
6. Once your veg has drained and you’ve prepped all your storage bags, scoop enough produce for one meal into each Ziplock bag and seal – squeezing as much air out of the bag as you can. Lay the bag down on the counter and even out the contents – creating one layer of produce in the bag – this makes thawing a snap and ensures easier stacking in the freezer.
**Repeat steps 2-6 until all your produce has been blanched, shocked and bagged.**
7. Freeze bags in a single layer overnight. Once bag is completely frozen, stack and store for up to a year.