The first full day of Fall and the air is crisp! Growing season is winding down yet the harvest is still abundant. The Farmer’s Markets and your garden are bursting with fresh produce and you can only eat so many in a day… if only they would last us all winter; but wait! They can!
I don’t have crazy amounts of time to preserve food, so I have found easy ways to ensure that I do not waste my fresh food bounty come Fall. Freeze and dry! So simple.
What you need is freezer space, freezer zip lock bags or sealable containers to freeze food in, and a cheap food drier. A vacuum sealer is very handy to ensure there are no air pockets to avoid freezer burn, but it is not necessary (cost for a vacuum sealer ranges from $55-$300).
Here is what I do
Blanch and freeze in freezer bag or zip lock bag: green beans, corn (cut off cob), peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Prepare them to blanch and freeze how you would cook with them when thawed. Experiment with other vegetables with low water content (maybe carrots or parsnips?).
Steam or lightly cook and freeze in freezer bags of zip lock bag: kale, chard, other fibrous greens (not lettuce). I have been known to freeze them raw, without steaming, but only with the vacuum sealer. Do be aware that these will not thaw later to be crisp greens. They will be best used for soups, smoothies and stir-fries.
Cook/prepare and freeze in zip lock bag or plastic containers: sauces (like tomato sauce), salsa, stewed tomatoes, beets, roasted vegetables. When I have a bunch of random veggies that need used I tend to make soups and freeze them for a cold winter day!
Cut and freeze peaches, cantaloupe, berries, and others with a higher water content. First spread out individual pieces on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for several hours, then transfer to large plastic baggie with a seal (not as important to get all air out when you freeze first before putting in the baggie).
Dry and store in pantry in jars or other sealed container: sliced thin pears, plums, apples, and tomatoes. No need for a fancy food drier, I use one with only an on/off switch, no temperature gauge. I dry sliced fruit for 10 hour, overnight. (Price range for food driers $35-$250.) Place the dried fruit (or veggies!) in sealable containers and store in dry place.
Store all winter in cool dry place (refrigerator or pantry or box in the garage): potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, winter squash, pumpkin.
Blanching= boil water, add veggies of choice and let cook 2-3 minutes. Remove veggies and cool immediately in ice bath or in refrigerator.
Vacuum freezer bag freeze= follow instructions on vacuum sealer. Put in freezer immediately. Best to use within 9 months.
Zip lock freeze= Submerge the baggie with the veggies in it in water up to the seal (be cautious not to let water get in). This should force all air inside the baggie to escape. Seal the baggie while still submerged. Check to make sure all, or most, air is gone. Wipe dry and put in freezer. Best to use within 6 months. NOTE: This method NOT to be used for food already frozen, like the cut and freeze method above; use for fresh or cooked veggies.