You Could Definitely Be Using Your Freezer More
Learn how to freeze fresh produce and savor peak flavors year-round.
My google search history consists almost entirely of questions related to freezing food. A cook for one who is perpetually annoyed that you can only buy scallions in thick bunches, I’m always scheming ways to curb food waste. And this quest becomes even more apparent in the summer, when fresh produce is abundant and I can’t bear to part with peak flavors.
Freeze Fresh, written by Crystal Schmidt, makes the case for freezing as the ultimate form of preservation. Schmidt is the creator of Whole-Fed Homestead, a website dedicated to sharing the skills of growing, cooking, and preserving whole foods.
“While I still use other preservation methods to put up our homegrown produce every year, I think freezing has a lot of advantages over canning and dehydrating,” says Schmidt. “It’s refreshing not to have to worry about safe-canning rules, acidity, and botulism; this allows me to be more creative in the kitchen. Plus, no standing in front of a hot canner for hours! Dehydrating can be useful, but rehydrated food, especially vegetables, always falls a little flat for me.”
In addition to providing recipes fit for cold storage, Freeze Fresh also shows you how to best prepare ingredients so that their flavor is retained once packed in ice.
If you wish to treat a future version of yourself, follow along for these tips on maximizing the use of your freezer.
Be proactive about your freezing needs
We’ve all been there: Your bananas start to brown, so you chuck them in the freezer for a future smoothie or banana bread. But it’s best to freeze fruits and vegetables a day or two after buying or harvesting, when the nutrients are at their peak. If the item of produce starts to deteriorate, the quality will not improve in the freezer. So if you know you won’t be able to finish that bag of spinach, ice up half of it before it starts to go to mush.
Blanch vegetables before you freeze them
“Learning how to best prepare each fruit and vegetable for the freezer will go a long way,” Schmidt says. “Don’t just toss things in there. Freezing produce is not hard, but you’ll have the best outcome if you have a little know-how, like whether or not to blanch, which blanching method to use, and how an item is best packaged.”
Blanching typically requires a quick steam or dip in boiling water, which helps to preserve vegetable nutrients after it hits the ice box. Fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that cause them to deteriorate over time, explains Schmidt. Freezing will slow this enzymatic activity but will not stop it completely. The acidity in fruits naturally neutralizes the enzymes, but most vegetables need that extra step—a brief moment of heat—to deactivate them.
Whichever method you choose might depend on the vegetable (some veggies might even require a post-blanch ice bath). The end result is worth it: Once your vegetable thaws, you’ll notice a vibrant color and firm texture. Vegetables that are blanched can last six months longer than those frozen raw.
Consider flash freezing
The faster an ingredient freezes, the better it will taste once thawed. When water freezes, ice crystals form first, eventually increasing in size. Slow freezing rates create bigger crystals that rupture the cell walls of fruits and vegetables and result in a mushy texture once thawed. Fast freezing creates smaller crystals, which are less likely to rupture the cells.
Flash freezing is the technique of creating space in between pieces of food and freezing them separately, rather than packing them all together in a container and freezing the bunch. The space offers more circulation, resulting in a quicker freeze.
Next time you have some peach slices or broccoli florets, consider spreading them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and placing it into the freezer. Once the individual pieces harden, you can then toss them into a plastic bag or container. You’ll never deal with huge clumps of frozen food again.
Get rid of air, the enemy of frozen food
It’s important to get rid of excess air before sealing your freezer container or bag. Exposure to oxygen causes freezer burn, which “isn’t a matter of food safety, but food quality—it doesn’t taste good,” Schmidt says. “I think we’ve all pulled a half-used bag of frozen veggies from the back of the freezer to find it looking dried out and discolored.” If you’re freezing fruit in a Ziploc bag, for example, close the seal except for the corner, press down to expel the air, then quickly close the seal.
You can freeze more than you think
Freeze Fresh contains freezing instructions for foods you might not have otherwise thought of adding to the freezer, like jams, green juice, and avocados. Schmidt’s favorite unlikely food to freeze is lettuce. “I blend it up and freeze it in little bitty cubes,” she says. “Once thawed, it’s certainly not the lettuce you’d use for your garden salad, but it’s perfect for adding to green juice or smoothies. It’s a fantastic way (and dare I say the only way!) to preserve lettuce.”
Conduct a regular freezer inventory
Prevent your freezer from turning into an endless abyss, a place where potential meal ideas go to die. Labeling containers and bags of frozen food by date will make your life much easier. When it comes to ingredients that you will find yourself using precise measurements of—like tomato paste or pumpkin pureé—try to freeze the exact amount your recipes will call for. Schmidt is a fan of keeping and updating a list of what’s in her freezer, which can indicate which foods need to be eaten faster so that they may be used up, or slower so that they may last longer.
“To make the best use of all that precious freezer space, a good organizational system is vital, especially if you have a chest freezer,” Schmidt says. “We use open top cardboard boxes and cloth shopping bags to keep things neat and tidy. This allows us to easily lift out the top layers and get to the lower ones without having to swim through a sea of loose bags and packages. Having things organized ensures that everything gets used up, and nothing gets lost at the bottom, never to be seen again.”
Don’t be afraid to use frozen fruit in baked desserts
Frozen fruit can be difficult to work with in desserts like pies, cobblers, and crisps, because it releases more liquid, leaving your dish a bit mushy. Plus, sugar and thickener don’t stick well to frozen fruit. Schmidt suggests cooking any filling before baking. If you’re making a pie, for example, simply heat the frozen fruit in a pot over medium heat, add the sugar and thickener, and boil. Allow the filling to cool, then add to the pie crust and bake as directed in the recipe.
When in doubt, keep in mind that nothing frozen can ever really go bad
“Frozen food doesn’t go bad in the sense that it rots or spoils from bacteria, but it does still have a shelf life,” Schmidt says. “As long as your produce was of good quality when it went into the freezer, and you eat it in a timely manner (within a year) there is nothing to worry about.”