Freeze Summer Produce to Enjoy During Fall and Winter
Fall is upon us, and the last of summer’s bounty is appearing in our supermarkets and farmers’ markets. It’s a shame to let it go to waste, but unfortunately, freezing produce isn’t as easy as just sticking things in the cold box. Try that, and you’ll end up with mushy, insipid produce. Here’s what you need to know so that you can freeze summer produce for optimum flavor and texture.
Knowing Your Freezer
The first step to success in freezing summer produce is to understand your freezer. First, freezers need adequate air flow. The more air can circulate around foods, the faster they will freeze. This prevents the formation of large ice crystals within the food, helping to protect the texture of your frozen items (Kimball, 2010). According to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, you can help air circulate in your freezer by keeping items away from air vents, using wire shelving to allow more items to have air flow underneath them, and by keeping your coils clean by regular dusting or vacuuming.
If you intend to use berries in smoothies or other pureed foods, where mushiness will not matter, line a baking sheet, cake pan, or even a plastic tray with wax paper, parchment paper, or saran wrap. Arrange the berries on the sheet, and move the sheet to the freezer. When the berries have frozen solid, move them to zip-top plastic bags. This will prevent berries from sticking together, and will allow you to remove only the amount you need at any given time.
According to TV chef Alton Brown, larger berries, such as strawberries, can also be frozen using dry ice. To do this, protect your hands with thermal gloves or ski gear, and place a piece of dry ice in in a large metal bowl. Break the dry ice into pieces using a rubber mallet or the end of a french-style rolling pin, and then mix in the berries.
Transfer to a cooler and close the lid loosely, but don’t latch it, since the carbon dioxide will expand so much it could rupture a latched cooler. Once the berries are frozen solid and the dry ice has evaporated, transfer the berries to plastic bags and store in the freezer. The intense cold of the dry ice prevents large ice crystals from forming inside the strawberries, which prevents them from becoming mushy when thawed.
Freezing Peaches and Other Fruits
Cook’s Illustrated recommends making a sugar syrup when freezing fruit, which, like fast freezing, can protect the texture of frozen foods by preventing the formation of large ice crystals. You can make a sugar syrup by adding one part sugar to one part water. Stir, then place the pot on a burner set to medium-low. Stir until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. Allow to cool. Once your sugar syrup has cooled, fill freezer bags with cut fruit, then pour in the syrup. Seal securely, press each bag gently to flatten, and place in the freezer. If you want to freeze savory fruits, such as tomatoes, consider making them into a sauce. Tomatoes contain so much water that they don’t freeze well on their own.
Most vegetables can be frozen on a lined baking sheet, and then transferred to zip-top bags. When freezing vegetables, consider the dishes you might want to make with them once you decide to use them, and prepare them appropriately. For example, if you wanted to make a summer squash soup, you’d want to remove the seeds from summer squashes, such as zucchini, and cut into bite-size chunks. Other vegetables would need to be cut larger or smaller, depending on their final culinary destination.
Kimball, Christopher et al. (2010). How to Freeze Summer Produce. In Cooks Illustrated magazine. Retrieved 7 September, 2010 from https://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/JA07_IlloSpread-FreezingProduce.pdf
Popoff, D. (2002, 2 July). Strawberry Sky. [Television Broadcast]. Atlanta: Be Squared Productions.