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Freezing vegetables made easy with simple steps
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Freezing vegetables can be a tiresome and difficult task, but the end result is always worth the effort.
Natasha Haynes, an agent in Rankin County for the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said one important step is often forgotten when freezing vegetables. Before freezing, vegetables need to be blanched, which means scalding them in boiling water before cooling them down quickly.
“Blanching stops enzyme actions, which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture,” she said. “Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size. Blanching helps to clean the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps delay the loss of vitamins. It also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack.”
Boiling water is the easiest way to heat vegetables when freezing at home. Haynes suggested using a blancher with a blanching basket and cover. Alternatively, dipping a wire basket into a large pot with a lid will also work.
“Use a gallon of water per pound of vegetables. Put the vegetables in a basket and lower into the water. The water should begin to boil again after 1 minute. If it is not, then there are too many vegetables for the amount of water in the pot,” Haynes said. “Keep heat high for the time given in the directions for the vegetable that is being frozen.”
Blanching times can vary from 3-4 minutes to 2-11 minutes. Be sure to check which times are best for the vegetables being frozen.
Haynes said as soon as blanching is complete, the vegetables should be cooled quickly and thoroughly to stop the cooking process.
“To cool, plunge the basket of vegetables immediately into a large quantity of cold water,” she said. “If ice is used, about 1 pound of ice for each pound of vegetable is needed. Cooling vegetables should take the same amount of time as blanching.”
Vegetables should be drained completely after cooling. Excess moisture can cause a loss of quality when vegetables are frozen.
Pamela Redwine, an Extension agent in Yalobusha County, said selecting the container for freezing is very important.
“The type of container chosen really depends on the vegetable. Make sure that the containers are moisture-vapor resistant, durable and easy to seal and will not become brittle at low temperatures,” she said. “Do not use milk containers, whipped-cream or sour-cream-type bowls, or bread wrappers.”
Redwine recommended several tips useful for freezing vegetables.
“Most food requires headspace between the packed food and closure to allow for expansion as it freezes. Freeze food at 0 degrees or lower,” she said. “Place packages in contact with refrigerated surfaces in the coldest part of the freezer. Leave a little space between packages so air can circulate freely. Once the food is frozen, store packages close together.”
Most vegetables can be frozen, but there are a few that do not do well.
“Cabbage, celery, cress, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, parsley and radishes tend to get limp and waterlogged, developing an oxidized color,” Redwine said. “Irish potatoes that are already baked or boiled also do not freeze well. If potatoes are in vegetable soup that is being frozen, omit them. They become soft and crumbly, waterlogged and mealy. Vegetable casseroles can be frozen up to four months.”