Once you know how to save produce without canning, you can take advantage of sales without worrying about fruit and vegetables spoiling before you can eat them.
Right about now Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores, and gardens are bulging with fresh produce. That includes my garden, too. My tomato plants look like Christmas trees; there are so many round fruits hanging from them. I have a veritable forest of spinach, far more than we can eat in the next week or two before the temperatures soar and the plants bolt. And don’t get me started on how tired of zucchini we already are.
USE THESE METHODS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO CAN
Here’s the frustrating part about vegetable gardening: just as your work starts to pay off, it gets so stinking hot that the thought of spending a day over a steamy canner, processing your harvest, can make you cry.
Now, I’ll gladly go through that misery to can something like homemade salsa, but for most other fruits and vegetables, I’d rather know how to save produce without canning.
COOKING METHODS EXPLAINED
Some vegetables can be preserved for months by chopping and freezing them. To retain their color and texture, par-cooking is often helpful. For those vegetables listed below that need par-cooking, here’s how.
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.
Cut into proper sizes.
• 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 don’t have the best knife skills, use a handy one-step chopper that can mince, dice, or chop for you. I love mine!
How to Save Produce without Canning
Apples: Stir 3 tablespoons of honey into 3 cups of water. Store them in the fridge in the honey-water, or scoop them out after 5 minutes and spread the pieces on a baking sheet to freeze individually. Transfer from the baking sheet into freezer containers to use in oatmeal, 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 taproot. Cut into slices or cubes, freeze in one layer on a baking sheet, 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 dry them in a salad spinner. 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: Wash them according to these instructions then spread on a baking 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 diced or sliced) then plunge into ice water. Drain, spread on a baking sheet and freeze.
Corn, kernels: Blanch whole ears of corn for 5 minutes and plunge into ice water. Slice kernels off the cob, spread on a baking 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 baking sheet to freeze individually then store them in a freezer container.
Eggplant: Peel and slice into circles. Blanch for 5 minutes in 1 quart of water to which you’ve added 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Plunge into ice water, drain and spread on a baking sheet to freeze. Slip into a freezer container for storage.
Melons: Scoop balls of melon and dunk them in 1 quart 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. Use frozen cubes to make smoothies.
Onions: Chop, dice, or slice as desired. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Transfer to freezer containers.
Pears: Use only ripe pears. Combine 3 cups water and 3 tablespoons honey in a bowl. Wash and peel the pears, then cut them into quarters and remove the core. Soak the pears in the honey-water for 20 minutes. If refrigerating, store them in the honey water. To freeze, remove them from the honey-water after 20 minutes using a slotted spoon. Transfer them to a baking sheet to freeze then move them to a freezer container. Use frozen slices in smoothies.
Plums: Follow the same directions as for pears.
Pomegranates: Cut the fruit in half around the middle. Hold one half over a bowl, skin side up. Tap the top several times with the back of a wooden spoon to dislodge most of the seeds. Cut the half into halves again and drop the sections into a bowl of cold water. After 5 minutes use your fingers to roll the remaining seeds out. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet to freeze then scoop into freezer containers for storage. Use in salads or smoothies, or eat as-is.
Potatoes, grated: Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, rinse in cold water and drain well. Dry in a salad spinner then squeeze gently with a paper towel to remove any last moisture. Spread thinly on a baking sheet and freeze then scoop into freezer containers. These work great for hash browns and soup. (You can also blanch diced onions with them.)
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 or dice then blanch for 3 minutes. Rinse in ice water and spread on baking sheet to freeze. Store in freezer containers.
Tomatoes, whole: Core then freeze individually on a baking sheet and transfer to a freezer container. When defrosted, the skins will slip right off.
Tomatoes, diced: 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 a slotted spoon to remove and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Slip the skins off. 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 dry in a salad spinner. Spread on baking sheet to freeze then scoop into freezer containers. Works great in Zucchini Muffins with Sugar Crumb Topping or soups.
Zucchini, sliced: Blanch for 3 minutes in hot water and rinse in an ice bath. Drain, spread on cookie sheet to freeze individually and store in freezer containers. Works great in casseroles or soups.
As you can see, knowing how to freeze produce is just a matter of knowing the proper technique. In addition to letting you stock up on sales, you’ll also have a head start on using produce in recipes since they’ll already be sliced, diced or chopped!
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