Imagine you’ve just woken up, a little bit late even. Everyone is hungry. You grab a baggie full of luscious summer fruit from the freezer and toss it in the blender. On a good day, maybe you also have time to add a bit of yogurt. Blend—and voilà—breakfast is ready to go. Now imagine you’ve just come home from work. Everyone is hungry. You grab a pan from the freezer and pop it in the oven. On a good day, maybe someone also tosses a fresh green salad from the fridge or garden. The pan comes out of the oven in about half an hour—and voilà—dinner is served. A freezer full of ready-to-eat meals and ready-to-cook ingredients is as valuable as gold bullion in households where everyone is busy and time is money. (That’s every household, right?)
Learning to stock and eat from the freezer in ways that maximize efficiency is a solid way to maintain the ability to eat healthy, high-quality foods and avoid opting for delivery pizza yet again. It’s also an excellent way to save money, especially if you buy in bulk and look for deals. Try these smart strategies for getting the most bang for your freezer buck.
A Guide to Freezing Fruit
Depending on how you intend to use it, there are three ways to freeze fruit.
Dry Pack: A dry pack is good for small whole fruits such as berries. Simply pack clean, dried fruit into a container, seal, label and freeze. A tray pack is an alternative that can make fruit easier to remove from the container. Spread a single layer of fruit on shallow trays without letting pieces touch, and freeze. When frozen, package and return to the freezer—fruit pieces remain loose and can be poured from the container easily.
Sugar Pack: Many fruits freeze well packed with sugar. To prevent darkening, first combine lemon juice or ascorbic acid in water (about 1/2 teaspoon per 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle over fruit. Pour sugar over fruit and mix gently. Let stand until juice is drawn out and sugar dissolved, about 15 minutes. Package, label, seal and freeze. Sugar packs are effective for sliced apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, raspberries and strawberries.
Syrup Pack: Nearly all fruits can be preserved in syrup. To make syrup, dissolve sugar in lukewarm water (a medium-heavy syrup is 1-3⁄4 cups sugar to 4 cups water), mixing until solution is clear. Chill syrup before using. Use just enough cold syrup to cover fruit in the container (about 1⁄2 to 2⁄3 cup syrup per pint). To keep fruit under syrup, place crumpled parchment paper or other water-resistant wrapping material on top, and press fruit down into syrup before sealing the container.
A Guide to Freezing Vegetables
To preserve nutrients, flavor, color and texture, most vegetables should be blanched and quickly cooled before
freezing. To blanch, add vegetables to boiling water (about 1 gallon per pound of food) over high heat. Begin timing according to the list at right after the water returns to a boil. This task is easiest if using a blanching basket or pasta pot with holes that can be dunked into your pot of water. You can also steam-blanch in a pot with a steamer basket and tight-fitting lid; adjust cooking time to 1-1/2 times longer than the times listed (unless a steam-blanching time is listed).
When the appropriate time is reached, cool the vegetables quickly by dunking them in a sink filled with ice water or running cold water over them for a couple of minutes. Drain and dry thoroughly before freezing in airtight containers.
Artichoke hearts: Blanch 7 minutes
Asparagus: Blanch 2 to 4 minutes
Avocados: Purée flesh with 1 teaspoon lemon juice per avocado
Beans: Blanch 2 to 4 minutes
Beets: Cook completely
Broccoli: Steam-blanch 3 to 5 minutes
Brussels sprouts: Blanch 3 to 5 minutes
Cabbage: Shred and blanch 1-1/2 minutes
Carrots: Dice, slice or julienne, then blanch 2 minutes
Cauliflower: Blanch 3 minutes
Celery: Blanch 3 minutes
Corn: Blanch shucked, cleaned whole ears 9 minutes; or blanch whole ears 2 minutes, then cool and cut corn off cob (also collect the delicious milk from the ears by scraping them with the back of a knife after cutting off the kernels)
Eggplant: Peel and cut into 1⁄3-inch-thick slices; add 1⁄2 cup lemon juice to blanching water and blanch 4 minutes
Greens: Blanch 2 to 3 minutes
Herbs: Coarsely chop herbs, layer them in an ice cube tray, then cover with water and freeze; store frozen cubes in baggies for up to 3 months; or blend 1 cup herbs with 1⁄4 cup oil and freeze paste in baggie
Kohlrabi: Blanch whole bulbs 3 minutes or diced cubes 1 minute
Mushrooms: Trim off ends of stems and slice or quarter mushrooms larger than 1 inch across; soak mushrooms for 5 minutes in a solution of 1 teaspoon lemon juice per pint of water; steam-blanch whole mushrooms 5 minutes and cut mushrooms 3 minutes
New potatoes: Blanch 3 to 5 minutes
Okra: Blanch 3 to 4 minutes
Onions: Blanch whole onions 3 to 7 minutes (the centers should be hot); blanch separated rings 10 to 15 seconds
Parsnips: Remove woody core and blanch cubes 2 minutes
Peas: Blanch 2 to 3 minutes in shells; blanch 1-1⁄2 minutes shelled
Peppers: Cut into halves or strips and remove stems and seeds, then blanch 2 to 3 minutes
Pumpkin: Make cooked purée before freezing
Rutabaga: Blanch 3 minutes
Soybeans: Blanch 5 minutes
Summer squash: Blanch 3 minutes
Sweet potatoes: Freeze cut, whole or mashed; cook (roast in oven, boil or steam) until almost tender, then let cool; to prevent darkening, soak cut pieces of sweet potato for 5 seconds in a solution of 1⁄2 cup lemon juice per quart of water before cooking
Tomatoes: Dip whole tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins, then core and peel; to stew tomatoes, remove stems, peel and quarter the tomatoes, then cook down for 10 to 20 minutes
Winter squash: Make cooked purée before freezing
Turnips: Blanch cubes 2 minutes
Choose an Efficient Freezer
Freezers that have earned the Energy Star label are a minimum of 10 percent more energy-efficient than the minimum federal standard of efficiency. Also, newer units are almost always more energy-efficient than older freezers. Visit energystar.gov and search “freezers” to find superefficient combination refrigerator-freezer units and stand-alone chest freezers, plus tips for buying a new model.
Much of the information in this article was sourced from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, an amazing resource maintained by the University of Georgia. For much more information and details on freezing all kinds of food, as well as information on pickling, canning, drying, curing, smoking, fermenting and more, visit nchfp.uga.edu.