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Freeze fresh produce to enjoy later

July 07, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Many people have planted vegetable gardens this year. They'll enjoy eating fresh produce this summer.

If you want to preserve garden vegetables for when the growing season is over, freezing is a viable option. The color, flavor and texture of the produce is maintained when it is frozen, and the freezing process is easy and less time-consuming than canning.

Freezing cannot improve the flavor or texture of any food, but, when properly done, it can preserve most of the quality of the fresh product.

The first and very important step in freezing vegetables is blanching. Blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. It also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack.

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In addition, blanching is necessary to inactivate enzymes. The enzymes are proteins in the plant that help with the ripening and maturing process. If vegetables are not blanched, this maturation process can continue in the freezer. To blanch vegetables, place in boiling water or steam and then cool quickly in ice water.

Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size. Blanching for the correct amount of time is important. Over-blanching can result in a cooked product with less flavor, color and nutrients. Under-blanching can make the food undesirable for eating.

To find out how long each vegetable needs to be blanched, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation, www.uga.edu/nchfp and click on "Freeze."

Freezing tips



· Freeze foods at zero degrees or lower. To facilitate more rapid freezing, set the temperature control at minus-10 degrees or lower about 24 hours in advance. Once foods are frozen the thermostat can be set back to 0 degrees.

· Freeze foods as soon as they are packed and sealed.

· Do not overload your freezer with unfrozen food. Add only the amount that will freeze within 24 hours, which is usually 2 to 3 pounds of food per cubic foot of storage space. Overloading slows down the freezing rate, and foods that freeze too slowly might lose quality.

· Leave space among new, warm packages so the cold air can circulate freely around them. When the food is frozen, stack and store the packages close together to conserve freezer space.

· For best results, maintain a temperature of zero degrees in the freezer. Quality deteriorates quickly at temperatures above zero. The same loss of quality for frozen green beans stored at zero degrees for one year will occur in three months at 10 degrees, in three weeks at 20 degrees and in five days at 30 degrees.

· Eight to twelve months is the recommended freezer storage time for vegetables. A good policy to remember and follow is "first in, first out." Rotate foods so that you use the older items first.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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