The rain at the right time and the cool weather is making for bountiful gardens, whether it be your own or produce you buy at one of our many local vegetable stands.
My favorite way to preserve vegetables is freezing. I like working with small batches of fresh vegetables and blanching for the freezer.
If you are a gardener or have access to vegetables, plan to harvest young, tender vegetables as they reach the peak of flavor rather than trying to preserve the whole crop at one time.
Even for those of you who go to the u-pick markets or purchase large quantities to freeze, the microwave is the answer when it comes to blanching.
I encourage you to work with the specific amounts that I suggest. If you have several batches to blanch, microwave the first batch while you clean and trim the second. Your kitchen will still be cool and the small batches will be more uniform and easier to handle than a steamy kettle full of hot water for conventional blanching.
When freezing vegetables, you need to blanch them to stop or deactivate the enzymes and preserve the vitamin content of the vegetables. When vegetables are not blanched, they become tough, lose their nutritional value, change to an unattractive color and are not very tasty.
- Start by cleaning the vegetables thoroughly. Let the vegetables soak in cold water for a few minutes. Plan to add some table salt to the water so you can get any critters that may be hiding in the vegetables to crawl out and surface.
- Then rinse and cut vegetables into small pieces. If possible, slice in one-inch lengths or cut/break into flowerets. Place pieces in a casserole dish with water and cover.
- Microwave until vegetables are vibrant green or pliable but crisp, and then drain them.
- Next, immediately plunge vegetables into ice cold water to cool completely. This prevents further cooking; then drain thoroughly.
- Use clean kitchen towels to absorb all the moisture. Pack small amounts tightly into freezer bags, boxes or pouches, leaving half-inch airspace at the top, and seal.
- For larger quantities, you might want to choose the loose-pack method. For this, spread the pieces on a baking sheet and freeze; once the pieces are frozen solid, pack in bags or boxes and seal.
- Remember to label with name of vegetable and date. Frozen blanched vegetables will keep for 9 to 12 months.
For yellow or green beans, work with one-half pound. Cut or break into 1½ inch pieces, put in a 3-quart covered casserole with one cup of water. Microwave 5 to 6 minutes; remember to stir twice during the cooking process.
When blanching lima beans, work with three-quarters of a pound. Place the lima beans in a 3-quart covered casserole with one cup of water and microwave 3½ to 5 minutes, remembering to stir once.
For broccoli or cauliflower, cut into pieces or flowerets, use 4 cups in a 3-quart covered casserole with 1 cup water and stir twice during the 4 to 5½ minutes.
Use 2 to 2½ cups of whole Brussels sprouts in a 2-quart covered casserole with 1 cup water stirring once during the 4 to 5 minutes.