Is there anything better than eating fresh picked vegetables right from your own garden? Absolutely not. Is it possible to enjoy great tasting food from your own garden all year long? Definitely.
Freezing is the easiest way of preserving fresh picked vegetables from your garden without going through the more labor-intensive process of canning. I’m the first to admit that mastery of the latest kitchen tools usually leaves me several years behind the curve. Rachel will attest that when I do find a new toy, I embrace it wholeheartedly.
I’m proud to say that I’ve recently come to enjoy the convenience of using vacuum sealer bags. There are many good ones on the market for less than $100. Most importantly, they’re easy to use.
I don’t know about you, but Rachel and I have pretty much given up on making New Year’s resolutions. Unless we are highly motivated to do so, we try not to make promises we can’t keep. This year, we’ve decided to reduce the amount of food that we waste. We usually grow more food in our garden than we can eat at one time. No matter how hard we try to space out the timing of our crops, we usually wind up with an overabundance of one thing or another. Even after giving some away, we still wind up throwing food out. This really is irresponsible and we need to do better.
A vacuum sealer works by removing the air from specially designed plastic pouches. Food spoils when exposed to oxygen. Vacuum sealers remove most of the air from theses pouches. Now your homegrown vegetables can be frozen and enjoyed all winter long.
These pouches can also be safely boiled, microwaved or opened and prepared anyway that you like. Most vegetables must be blanched before freezing. Blanching is the process of quickly boiling vegetables. This process deactivates the enzymes that cause vegetables to lose their nutrients, flavor and texture when frozen.
The size and density of the vegetable determines blanching time. The vegetables must be cooled in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Blanching times for any vegetable can easily be found online. Make sure to select young, crispy vegetables in their prime. The sooner they’re frozen after harvest, the better they’ll taste.
In January, Rachel and I start planning our spring garden. Seed catalogs have already started to fill our mailbox. “How do I know what to plant?” is the most common question that people ask us. Just plant the things that you like. You’d be surprised at how many people grow things they don’t like, or won’t eat.
Be sure to purchase more seeds or transplants than you think you’ll actually need. Some will inevitably fail. We never seem to plant enough sweet corn or green beans to get us through the season. We have more than enough asparagus from March through July. The rest of the year we don’t eat asparagus at all.
And finally, if we utilized our tomato crop more wisely, we could be eating salsa, soups and stews all winter long. Our goal isn’t to be self-sufficient, just more efficient with what we already have. Fortunately for us, sweet corn is an easy vegetable to freeze. Husk the ears and remove the silk. Bring sufficient amount of water to boil and blanch several ears at a time for precisely 4 minutes. After blanching, immediately submerge the ears of corn in a bath of ice-cold water. Remove the whole kernels from the cob. An electric knife works perfectly for this job. Add a few pats of butter and place in a vacuum sealed bag. Freeze immediately and enjoy for up to one year.
Tomatoes are easy to freeze. It’s possible to enjoy homegrown, heirloom goodness all year long. You can’t really freeze tomatoes for slicing. The tomatoes won’t be solid after they’ve thawed. Frozen tomatoes are best used for cooking. Place whole tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for precisely 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of ice water. This will make the skins easy to remove. You really don’t want to eat the skins because they will become tough and chewy.
Slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and juice. Just squeeze them with your hands. Place the fresh-squeezed tomatoes in a colander and allow them to drain even more. You can save the juice for drinking or discard. Whichever you choose. Once the tomatoes have completely drained place them in a vacuum-sealed pouch and freeze immediately. They should be good for up to a year.
Homegrown frozen asparagus tastes better than almost any asparagus that is available during the winter. The most important thing is to use only fresh, crispy spears that are at least the diameter of a pencil. For the best tasting asparagus, blanch immediately after harvesting. Place medium-sized spears into boiling water for exactly three minutes. Remove the asparagus from the boiling water and immediately shock in an ice-water bath. Allow the spears to dry on paper towels and then vacuum seal. Now you can enjoy your homegrown asparagus long after the season has passed. Vacuum sealing and freezing is an easy and inexpensive way to preserve the food from your garden.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth.