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How to properly freeze garden veggies

Once it’s time to harvest from your garden, you can find the best balance for your household of eating your bounty fresh and preserving some of it. You may have one cherry tomato plant solely for fresh eating, but another whose fruits you freeze, dehydrate, or can.

Freezing may be my favorite preservation method because it lets me store fruits and vegetables safely until I’m ready to process them into jams, sauces, and other foods. It’s hard to muster the willpower to process marinara sauce via steaming water bath on a hot summer day, but I can quickly blanch and freeze tomatoes until a cooler day comes. Then, I can thaw the tomatoes, cook a sauce, and process jars in a water bath so they’re shelf-stable.

At Virginia Food Works, we work with farmers who harvest and freeze berries all summer so come fall, they have a large stock of frozen fruit with which we make batches of jam. It’s more cost and time efficient for farmers to make jam with 100 pounds of berries than in 20-pound increments, and on a smaller scale this is true for home gardeners as well.

To safely freeze fruit and vegetables and maintain their highest quality, texture, and nutrients, it’s important to check if you need to blanch the produce and for how long. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has an extensive list of freezing methods and blanching times for different fruits and vegetables.

You blanch vegetables by submerging them in boiling water for a short time or by using steam. Steam blanching takes a little longer, but it is better suited for broccoli, winter squash and sweet potatoes. To steam blanch, boil one or two inches of water in a pot, hold the vegetables in a metal strainer or basket above the boiling water, and start timing as soon as the lid is on the pot. After blanching by either method, dunk the vegetables in ice water to stop their cooking process. A good rule of thumb is to soak vegetables in an ice bath for the same amount of time they were blanched.

While freezing is great for individual produce items, it also works well for liquid broths, soups, and sauces. I typically freeze cherry tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and berries in plastic freezer bags, but rigid plastic or glass containers work well for freezing liquids-like a garden-grown vegetable stock. Jars made to withstand extreme temperatures, such as Ball and Kerr, work just as well for freezing as they do for canning. The key to freezing in glass jars is to leave enough headspace. Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends a half inch for dry foods and one to two inches for liquids. If the glass jar is too full as the food freezes and expands, it could break and make quite a mess in your freezer.

More gardening and food preservation resources can be found on the Virginia Food Works’ website: www. virginiafoodworks.org/ Home-Canning-Resources.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.