It's high produce season in most parts of the country, with tons of fruits, vegetables, and herbs ripe for the picking. While you're busy making recipes with fresh ingredients, you're probably wondering how to freeze vegetables and fruits so you can carry that fresh flavor and nutrition over into the winter months, when nothing seems to be ripe or cheap. Freezing ripe summer produce is easier and less expensive than canning. All you really need is a freezer (preferably a deep freezer) set to zero degrees or lower, and some airtight containers. Some extra time and a few tools can help ensure top quality. If you know how to freeze fruits and vegetables, they can last more than six months; casseroles, soups, and stews prepared with fresh vegetables can be frozen for up to three months and still retain taste and texture, according to the USDA (and be safe to eat indefinitely).
How to Freeze Vegetables and Fruits for Winter
Summer fruits such as berries and peaches can be frozen with little effort. For berries, just clean them, dry them, cut off the stems if necessary, and arrange them on a cookie sheet so they won't stick together. Once they're frozen, move them to an airtight bag, which makes for easier storage and helps prevent freezer burn.
Peaches and nectarines, among other fruits, turn out best when put in the freezer at peak ripeness and benefit from a light dusting of sugar before freezing. Simply slice them, lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and freeze. Move the frozen slices to an airtight container.
Other fruits suitable for freezing with the sprinkle-of-sugar approach include plums, grapefruits, oranges, and pears, while others, such as grapes and cherries, can be frozen whole. Pineapple, watermelon, and other melons should be cut up in cubes (without the rind) to be frozen. Apples are perhaps best frozen in applesauce form.
Fruits frozen in syrup or liquid can contribute to delectable uncooked desserts. The easiest and most healthful method is to freeze the fruit raw in a compatible fruit juice. If sweetened fruit is preferred, simmer it in a syrup made of water and sugar, honey, or maple syrup before freezing.
Some vegetables are a little more complicated to freeze than fruit because they need to be blanched first. This protects the vegetables in the freezer and helps maintain the proper texture. A nutrition specialist at the University of Missouri Extension provides extensive information on water, steam, and microwave blanching, as well as instructions for specific vegetables including asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, onions, peppers, and potatoes.
Other vegetables such as spinach, bell peppers, and green beans are easier to prepare for winter eating: Simply rinse well, pat dry, and freeze in an airtight bag.
Squash, peas, and beans can be cleaned and frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Like fruit, these vegetables should be moved to an airtight container once frozen.
Zucchini can be grated in small amounts and frozen for use in recipes such as zucchini bread.
We're going to sidestep the debate about whether tomato is a vegetable or a fruit and just suggest turning tomatoes into pasta or pizza sauce and freezing them that way. Another option is to prepare them raw: Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skins, then peel and freeze.
To take advantage of fresh herb flavor year-round, chop them up fresh, place in ice cube trays, and cover in water to freeze. Store the frozen cubes in an airtight bag and use them one or two at a time, thawing only as much as needed for a particular recipe. This works especially well with chives, mint, basil, and parsley, but almost any herb can tolerate the treatment.