When the hard freeze comes and the garden starts the day under a frosty blanket, the last of its fare will freeze, too--either in your freezer or in nature's! If those foods are meant to grace your table through the winter, they will often fare better from a blanching before you freeze them.
What is blanching, you ask? Blanching involves dipping vegetables in boiling water. This process slows the negative effects of enzymes on the food while it is in the freezer.
And blanching isn't just for gardeners! As your farmer's markets close for the season, or even in the produce section of the grocery stores, the last of the seasonal food can often be purchased in bulk at cheaper prices than will be found for that fresh produce for many months to come. Now is the time to buy that produce and freeze it for yourself. For instance, I purchased a large batch of broccoli and big bag of cranberries with the intention of freezing most of it.
But if you're going to blanch those veggies, you should know that everything has different blanching requirements, and some things need no blanching at all, for example, the cranberries need no blanching; so it is good to have a chart of blanching recommendations handy. I have a home preserving cookbook that includes a blanching section. According to it,the Ball Blue Book, you should begin by washing and cutting vegetables as if for cooking fresh. Use a ratio of 1 gallon of water per pound of vegetables. A wire basket, mesh bag or metal strainer works adequately as a blancher. Use the blancher to lower the vegetables into vigorously boiling water. Begin timing as soon as you put the vegetables into the water. Keep the heat on high as you blanch. Either stir the water or keep the container covered while you blanch.
An important point to note: underblanching increases enzyme activity, so you're better off not doing it at all if not taking care to note the time recommendations. On the other hand, overblanching decreases vitamins, minerals, flavor and color. Obviously, it is vital to note blanching times!
When the blanching is finished, immerse the vegetables in icy water to stop the cooking process and pack loosely in airtight freezer containers. I like using freezer bags that I can label with the food type and the date. You can remove most of the excess air with these bags, but they don't store as tidily as stackable freezer containers.
Here are a few commonly frozen foods and their blanching times:
Asparagus: 1 1/2 min. small spears to 3 min. large spears
Snap beans: 3 min.
Broccoli: 3 min. (large sections need 4 min.)
Carrots: 3 min. for cut carrots to 5 min. for whole
Greens: 2 min.
Fresh herbs: don't blanch!
Onions: wash and chop but freeze without blanching.
Peas: (sugar or snap) 2 minutes
Peppers: neither hot nor sweet need blanching.
Potatoes: wash, peel, wash again and blanch 3-5 minutes.
Tomatoes: must be made into sauce before freezing. No blanching.
Tomatoes (green): wash, core, slice and freeze with freezer wrap between the slices. No blanching.
Plums, pineapples, kiwi and many berries such as blueberries, gooseberries and cranberries can be cut (if needed) and dry packed to freeze. No blanching is required. Others like cherries and strawberries fare well in a sugar pack. To sugar pack, use one part sugar for every six parts sliced berries or one part for four parts with pitted cherries. Allow to stand for 10 minutes for sugar to dissolve, then freeze.
Apples and pears often call for specific syrups. (More on these syrups in a future blog.)
Finally, who can boil mass quantities of a vegetable, fill the kitchen with its aroma and not make something for immediate consumption, too! So as a bonus, I'll share my broccoli quiche recipe. It was the main entree for dinner the day I froze broccoli. As a side? Cranberry salad, of course!
Italian Broccoli Quiche
2 cups of broccoli
1 unbaked pie crust
1 medium onion chopped
1 cup cooked Italian sausage
4 beaten eggs
2 cups light cream (half and half)
1 T flour
1/2 t salt
1 t Italian seasoning
1 1/2 shredded cheddar
Prick pastry shell and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 325 degrees.
Crumble sausage after cooking and cook onion in the sausage drippings. Drain.
In a bowl, stir together cream, eggs, flour, salt and seasoning. Stir in the broccoli, sausage, onion and cheese. Mix well. Pour into the pastry shell (still warm) and sprinkle with another 1/2 C cheese if desired. Bake in 325 degree oven 45 to 50 minutes. (Cover edges with foil to prevent browning if desired.)
Happy blanching (and baking)!