The best vegetables to freeze are fresh from the garden or farmers’ market and at their peak ripeness. Start by trimming and washing your vegetables under cold water. Remove any stems and wash under cold water. Peel if necessary. Cut to desired size, if necessary, according to their intended use (for example, carrots can be left whole or dice them for an easy soup addition).
It is very important to blanch vegetables before freezing them. It stops the enzymes that keep vegetables ripening, helps get rid of dirt and bacteria, brightens color, slows vitamin and mineral loss, and wilts and softens the vegetables so they are easier to pack.
To blanch vegetables, bring a large pot of water to a boil (use at least 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables). Add the vegetables to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, cook the vegetables 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer them immediately to a bowl of ice water until they are completely chilled. Drain the vegetables well.
Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Just wash, peel (if desired) and remove the core.
Freeze fruit that is at its peak ripeness. Fruit like raspberries and cherries will be best just after harvesting, while peaches and plums might need to ripen before freezing. Also, only prepare enough fruit for a few containers at a time if the fruit is prone to browning.
Wash and dry the fruit thoroughly. Remove and discard any pieces that are green or rotting. Remove cores, pits and stones as necessary. Cut to desired size, if necessary, according to intended use.
Frozen food can develop rancid flavors as a result of contact with air. Prevent this by choosing containers that are moisture- and vapor-proof. Opt for glass jars, metal containers, freezer bags or other plastic containers that are designed for storing frozen foods. If using plastic bags, be sure to remove as much air as possible before sealing. A vacuum sealer is also useful for removing air and preserving quality.
There are two kinds of packing: solid-pack and loose-pack. To solid-pack produce, place prepared food in the desired container and freeze. Solid-packing conserves space and is useful when planning to use large batches of frozen vegetables or fruit at one time. To loose-pack, freeze one layer of fruit or vegetables on a cookie sheet. Once the produce is frozen, transfer it to the storage container. Loose-packing takes up more space, but it is easier to remove just the amount desired, such as a handful of peas or a cup of raspberries.
Be sure to leave head space (open space at the top of the freezer container) when solid packing produce, as foods expand as they freeze. When loose-packing frozen foods, headspace is not necessary as the foods are already frozen. Moisture or food on the sealing edges of the container will prevent proper sealing, so wipe all edges clean before sealing. Label each container with the name and date packaged. Most frozen produce will keep for 8 to 12 months.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
Tender herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint and parsley, are best suited to freezing. Blanching them first helps capture their fresh flavor. Drop into boiling water for several seconds, then with a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water to chill for several seconds more. Blot dry with paper towels. Spread a single layer of the blanched herbs on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic and freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Transfer to plastic storage bags. Blanched herbs can be frozen for up to 4 months and can be chopped while still frozen before using in soups, stews and sauces.