Once you know how to save produce properly, you know the trick to stretching your grocery budget by shopping wisely when fruits and vegetables are in season. Right about now Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores and gardens are bulging with fresh produce. That includes our garden, too. Fortunately, I know how to can stuff and I enjoy doing so … except when it’s too hot to even think about firing up the stove. That’s when I use these easier methods to save summer’s bounty for use throughout the year.
IMPORTANT: Be sure you thoroughly wash your produce before cutting it, even items that you’ll be peeling. Between all of the bugs and other things that crawl on produce as it grows, and all of the (often unwashed) hands that touch it before you bring it home, the stuff can be crawling with bacteria that will make your family sick. You probably already have everything needed to make your own fruit and vegetable wash, so get to it!
Cooking Techniques To Save Produce
Blanching: Although you can slice and stash many vegetables in freezer bags, some do best with blanching — a quick immersion in boiling water by a plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process.
Sauteing: Some vegetables need quick cooking over medium-high heat before saving. Use a neutral oil (grapeseed, safflower), or butter. Consider using clarified butter or ghee — melted butter without the milk solids, which makes it digestible for those with lactose intolerance. (Here is how to make clarified butter using your crockpot.) Or, if you’re watching your fat intake closely, you can even “saute” in a small quantity of hot broth or stock.
Pay Attention To Size When Saving Fresh Produce
- To “mince” something means cutting it into less than 1/8 inch pieces using a rocking knife motion.
- To “dice” something is to cut it in small, even pieces around 1/8 to 1/4 inch, also performed with a rocking motion.
- To “chop” something means to cut it into bite-sized pieces, as close to uniform as possible, with a chopping — not rocking — motion.
If you’re being particularly lazy, food processors will “chop” food in one or two pulses, dice them in four to five pulses, and mince them if you run it non-stop until all the food clings to the side of the processor bowl.
How To Save Produce
Apples: Core, peel and slice them, then dip them in 1 gallon of water into which you’ve squeezed the juice of one large lemon. Spread on a cookie sheet to freeze individually then store them in freezer containers. Use in pies or apple butter.
Artichokes: It’s not easy to preserve whole artichokes, but if you’re willing to steam them and strip them down to the hearts (eating the leaves as you go), they’ll keep wonderfully for a couple of weeks in flavored olive oil when stored in the fridge. Be sure to return to room temperature before using, though.
Beets: Wash them thoroughly and remove the leaves to within 1 inch of the beet top. (See how to store beet greens, below.) Cook beets in boiling water until tender, about 25-30 minutes for small beets, 45-50 minutes for medium ones. Cool until you can handle them, then promptly slip the peel off and cut away the tap-root. Cut into slices or cubes, freeze in one layer, then pack into freezer containers.
Beet greens: Select only the young, tender greens. Wash them thoroughly in multiple changes of water, then blanch for 2 minutes. Plunge into ice water, drain and spin dry. Store them in freezer bags.
Bell peppers (green, red, yellow): Wash and remove core, seeds and membrane. Slice or chop as desired, spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Slip frozen pieces into a freezer container and store.
Berries: Rinse, drain well and spread on a cookie sheet to freeze. Transfer to freezer containers.
Carrots: Scrub thoroughly and peel if desired. Blanch in hot water (5 minutes for whole carrots, 2 minutes for slices) then plunge into ice water. Drain, spread on a cookie sheet and freeze.
Corn, kernels: Blanch whole ears of corn for 5 minutes and plunge into ice water. Slice kernels from cob, spread on a cookie sheet to freeze, then store in freezer containers.
Corn, whole ears: Remove husk and silk. Trim ends. Blanch in water for 8 minutes then plunge into ice water. Drain. When dry, wrap each ear in plastic wrap. Pack several wrapped ears into a freezer container for storage.
Cranberries: If you buy them in a plastic bag at the grocery store you can stick the unopened bag directly into the freezer for future use. Otherwise, rinse them and spread them on a cookie sheet to freeze individually then store them in a freezer container.
Eggplant: Peel and slice into circles. Blanch for 5 minutes in 1 gallon of water to which you’ve added 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Plunge into ice water, drain and spread circles on a cookie sheet to freeze. Slip into a freezer container for storage.
Melons: Scoop balls of melon and dunk them in 1 gallon of water to which you’ve added the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. Remove with slotted spoon, set on a cookie sheet and freeze them before transferring to freezer containers.
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Pears: Use only ripe pears. Wash and peel them, then cut them into quarters and remove the core. In a sauce pan combine 1 cup water and 2/3 cup sugar. Add pears and heat (but do not boil). Remove pears with a slotted spoon, transfer them to cookie sheets to freeze. Cool the syrup. When pear slices are frozen move them to a freezer container and top them with the cooled sugar-syrup.
Plums: Follow the same directions as for pears.
Pomegranates: Carefully free seeds from membrane and spread on a cookie sheet to freeze, then scoop into freezer containers for storage.
Potatoes, grated: Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, rinse in cold water and drain well. Pat dry with paper towel to remove excess moisture but don’t squeeze. Spread on cookie sheet and freeze, then scoop into freezer containers. Works great for hash browns. (You can also blanch diced onions with them. See instructions below.)
Potatoes, whole: Baking potatoes freeze better than new, red potatoes. Peel then blanch in hot water for 5 minutes, rinse in ice water, pat dry with paper towel and freeze.
Sweet potatoes: Peel, cut into slices and blanch for 3 minutes. Rinse in ice water and spread on cookie sheet to freeze separately. Store in freezer containers.
Tomatoes: Using a paring knife, gently cut an X into the blossom-end of the tomato then plunge into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to remove and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Slip the skins off. Core each tomato and cut it in half, then remove the seeds. Cut into slices or dice, spread on cookie sheet to freeze.
Zucchini, grated: Steam over boiling water for 3 minutes, rinse in ice water and drain well. Spread on cookie sheet to freeze then scoop into freezer containers. (Suggestion: peel it before grating, then slip it into spaghetti sauces, chili, stir-fries and quiche or frittata. Your family will never know.)
Zucchini, sliced: Blanch for 3 minutes in hot water and rinse in ice bath. Drain, spread on cookie sheet to freeze individually and store in freezer containers.
As you can see, knowing how to freeze produce is just a matter of knowing the proper technique. And it’s SO WORTH the time involved, since you’ll be able to stock up when fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale during peak seasons. Even better, you’ll have a head start on using them in recipes since they’ll already be sliced, diced or chopped!
Equipment I Use For This: