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Purple Onion Food 8/23

Put the fresh taste of summer on ice by popping fresh summer produce into the freezer.

First it was bread flour and yeast — folks staying home decided to take up baking.

Next, it was a run on seeds, bedding and vegetable plants and soil — folks staying home decided to give gardening a chance.

Now, it’s canning equipment — jars, lids, rings and canning supplies — are in short (read nonexistent) supply, because folks are trying to put up all the things they are growing and buying fresh.

That could spell trouble, but at The Purple Onion, we think not. We say freeze it! Quicker, for the most part, than canning, freezing is easy to accomplish and mostly requires some freezer bags, freezer-safe containers and not much else.

From asparagus to zucchini, there are so many vegetables and fruits that can be easily and safely stored in your freezer for a later date.

We’ll consider some of the most popular produce here. Let’s start with some preliminary tips:

  • Start with fresh, blemish-free produce from your garden or your market vendor.
  • Consider how much you will reasonably use. By that we mean, don’t freeze an abundance of a vegetable or fruit if, realistically, you’ll only use it a few times in the next six months to a year. Share the excess with friends, family or a local food bank.
  • Buy or pick your produce as closely to the day you’re going to freeze it as you can. Set a plan for what you’re going to freeze and when you want to do it. Don’t stress yourself out by trying to do all that work in one or two days. There’s no joy in that unless you have plenty of help.

Have your supplies at the ready. Our checklist includes:

  • Freezer bags in gallon and quart sizes
  • Freezer containers in quart and pint sizes
  • Marking pen
  • Baking sheet or disposable aluminum baking sheet that fits in your freezer
  • Magnetized notepad
  • Acrylic magazine holders (3 to 5, depending on how much and what you are freezing)

Make sure your freezer is ready to load. In other words, clean the dang thing out!

We think most of our checklist will make sense to you.

Be selective. If you don’t want to eat the produce now because it’s blemished or bruised, you sure won’t want it later. And, if you aren’t eating it now because it’s not your go-to favorite, that’s not going to change by November, either.

Fresher is better when you’re canning or freezing produce. You want the best of the vibrant colors, nutrition and freshness in your saved produce.

When you get ready to package for freezing, consider what you will use the produce for and remember that one size doesn’t fit all. For instance, if you’re going to use the berries for smoothies or muffins and you only need a couple of cups, portion them out correctly and use the smallest bag for storage.

Or, say you are freezing corn. You might use a large amount for a family holiday corn casserole, but for the most part, you are only going to need a few cups for family dinner, pot pies and your signature, double-corn cornbread. Portion the corn out with a couple of gallon bags and other small ones. Same goes for those green beans. Most of the time, you might need some for Mom’s stew or soup, but you only make that killer green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.

You’re going to want a marking pen so that you can identify what’s in each bag. Here’s a tip from a customer who has floundered in the past. BEFORE you add those rascally corn kernels or soft blueberries to the bags, mark clearly what it is and when you froze it on the bag.

If you are really organized you will, at the same time, get that magnetized notepad out and start your list, including how many of what item you froze and what size containers. Remember the corn and bean message above!

The marking pen is also helpful if you are freezing something that needs an addition later. For instance, when we freeze pestos, we don’t add the cheese and nuts before we freeze. We prefer to add that to the thawed ingredients later so these two add-ins are fresh and not watery. In that case, when we mark the freezer bag with PESTO and the date, we include this: ADD ½ CUP CHEESE AND NUTS. This keeps us from forgetting.

The baking sheet or disposable baking sheet will come in handy as you freeze. Once you put the produce in the freezer bags, lie the bags flat on the sheet and place them in the freezer to freeze. You can pile a few bags up at once and you should let them freeze for a few hours. Here’s a note of caution: Measure the space in your freezer to decide what size pan will fit. A side-by-side freezer does not have the width of a full-size freezer.

Now, you ask, what’s up with the acrylic magazine files? Well, we say: Have you ever opened your freezer and had bags of frozen veggies and fruit piled helter-skelter and had to take most of them out to find your produce of choice? The magazine files are a simple filing system.

You lay them down in the freezer, the open top facing out and you neatly stack your frozen goods in the files. A file will easily hold four to five freezer bags of each item and you can see at a glance where the corn, beans and berries are. The files can be stacked up three or four high. If you do stack them, you might use twist ties to hold them together so they don’t do the slip-and-slide on you.

As for the freezing itself, there is plenty of good information on the internet and in cookbooks, but we thought we’d share some tips are some of the often-frozen produce that we sell at The Purple Onion.

Green beans

Select tender young beans. Sort and snip the ends before you wash them. Blanch for three minutes in hot water and cool immediately in cold water. Drain and package.

When freezing green beans, you should know that 1 pound equals about 4 cups of chopped beans. And, you should think about how you are going to use them. If you want to use them in soups or recipes, you might want to go ahead and cut them into bite-sized pieces before you freeze them. If you’d like to have some long beans for a special recipe, freeze some whole.

Corn

For whole kernels, work with a small batch of freshly picked corn at a time. Husk, remove silks and trim ends. Blanch for four minutes and chill immediate in cold water. Cut corn from the cob, put in freezer containers and freeze.

If you want to freeze the corn on the cob, husk and remove the silks. Blanch corn for six to eight minutes and chill completely in cold water. Pat ears dry. Package ears individually by wrapping them and then place in freezer bag. If steam forms on the wrap, ears have not completely chilled. Remove and let chill before trying again.

Peas

Shelled peas should be washed and blanched for about two minutes. Cool immediately in cold water, package and freeze.

Snow peas should be young and tender. Wash, remove stems and strings, leaving the peas whole. Blanch one to two minutes, cool immediately in cold water. Package and freeze.

Sugar snap peas should be washed and the stems and strings removed. Leave the peas whole and blanch for two minutes. Cool immediately in cold water. Package and freeze.

Peppers

To freeze peppers, first wash them thoroughly. Do not blanch them.

For red or green bell peppers, cut out the stem end and remove the seeds. You can halve, slice or dice these, depending on what you plan to use them for later.

Hot peppers can be frozen whole.

Summer squash and zucchini

Frozen squash works best in baked goods. You can freeze them sliced, cubed or mashed.

To freeze sliced squash, choose young squash with soft skin. Wash and slice, then blanch in boiling water for three minutes. Cool immediately in cold water, drain and put into freezer containers to freeze.

For mashed squash, wash, slice and cook vegetables in a small amount of water until just tender. Mash. Pour into a bowl set in ice water to cool quickly. Package and freeze.

Tomatoes

Canning is best for tomatoes, but they can be frozen and will last about three months in the freezer. The canned tomatoes are good for sauces, stews and soups.

To freeze tomatoes whole, lay the washed tomatoes in a single layer on a pan in the freezer. When tomatoes are solid, package in large bags and remove single tomatoes as needed. You can core and peel these tomatoes while they thaw.

For stewed tomatoes, first wash the tomatoes. Scald them for two minutes in boiling water to loosen the skins. Then peel, core and seed. Simmer prepared tomatoes for 10 to 20 minutes until they are tender. Cool and package in rigid containers, leaving one inch of head space.

Blueberries

Wash and sort berries. Drain. Now, you can go ahead and package them after draining or place them on a tray and freeze in a single layer for one to two hours before packaging.

Strawberries

Sort berries and wash gently. Drain well. For an unsweetened loose pack, place berries on a tray in a single layer and freeze for one to two hours. Place in freezer bags or containers.

You can also use a sugar pack for strawberries. To do this, take the drained strawberries and place them in a bowl and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Mix gently until the sugar is dissolved. At this point you can pack and freeze the strawberries whole or slice them before packing and freezing.

Allan Hathaway is the owner of The Purple Onion and WV Marketplace at Charleston’s Capitol Market. For more information, visit the web pages at capitolmarket.net/merchants/purple-onion and capitolmarket.net/merchants/wv-marketplace; call The Purple Onion at 304-342-4414 and WV Marketplace at 304-720-2244. Email Allan at purpleonionco@aol.com.