There are several good ways to preserve local fruits and vegetables through the colder months–root cellars, canning, drying and freezing. Each technique has its pros and cons, some are particularly suited to preserving particular sorts of produce. Freezing, for example, is a great way to store produce that is not hardy enough to root cellar (if only I had a root cellar) and not acidic enough to can. Yes, I know, anything can be canned but the microbiologist in me is not yet ready to can anything beyond tomatoes and fruit. Freezing is also great because it preserves the most nutrients. So, why not fill every nook and cranny of your freezer with fresh produce?
The downside of freezing might be the electricity used. If one is trying to be as sustainable as possible, is it better to freeze, can or dehydrate? I really don’t know. On one hand, freezing requires a continuous input of electricity. But canning and dehydrating require sizable energy input up front. Unless, of course, you are sun-drying. However, I am quite certain that if your options are either to freeze local produce when it is in season or buy produce from the grocery store out of season that is shipped hundreds or thousands of miles via truck, plane or boat, then the answer is clear: Freezing is the way to go! So, all sanctimony aside, here is a simple guide to freezing produce.
Freezing vegetables can be divided up into two categories: Those that need nothing more than to be sliced up and those that are better if they are blanched first.
Chop it and Store it Works well for berries, cherries, peeled tree fruits (apples, peaches*, pears), carrots, bell peppers, corn and onions.
Directions: Peel and slice your produce into whatever size you like. I once tried to skip peeling my peaches because I was lazy. Bad idea. After freezing the skins get leathery. So, do peel your fruits.
Next, spread a kitchen towel (I use a flour sack towel, or one that does not have fuzzies that might stick to my food) over a sheet tray. Now spread your vegetables in a single layer over the towel and place the entire tray in the freezer until your fruit/vegetable is frozen. Freezing everything in a single layer will prevent it from freezing in one big clump. This way you can take only what you need without having to chip away at a block of peaches, for example.
Once your sliced produce is frozen you can transfer it to a storage container. Depending on the produce, it may stick slightly to the towel but not nearly as much as it would stick to the tray if you didn’t use a towel. Do not try to use plastic wrap in place of the towel–it won’t work as well (and its wasteful).
Blanch First The vegetables in this category require a little more effort but it is well worth it. Blanching prevents your greens from turning dull, army green. It also preserves nutrient content.
Vegetables that go in this category: Green beans, broccoli, hardy leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard, beet greens, turnip greens, etc.)
For blanching, have at the ready at large pot of boiling water and a large bowl of ice water. Place a batch of vegetables into the boiling water (30 seconds for leafy greens, 2 minutes for green beans). Using a strainer with a handle or tongs, transfer the greens to the bowl of ice water, this step prevents them from cooking further and helps retain color. Drain or squeeze out excess water and spread out over a toweled sheet tray to freeze, as described above.
*Here is a quick way to remove the skins from a large amount of peaches: With your knife make an “x” about an inch big on the bottom of your peach, it need only break the skin. Now place your peaches in boiling water as described above for vegetables that need to be blanched. Once the skin starts to peel away from the peach where you placed the x, transfer the peach to a bowl of ice water. Now you can easily pull/rub the skin right off. This is also handy for taking the skin off of tomatoes.