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Garden Bounty All Year Long
Summertime is the best time to find the freshest vegetables around as it is the natural harvesting season. Preserving fresh vegetables is not only a money-saving option, but a great way to make those summer flavors last for months to come. An easy way to preserve those flavors and nutrients is to use the freezer.
Before you begin, here are a few tips:
Fresh Is Best: Use produce from home gardens, buy locally or select vegetables in season from supermarkets for the best quality.
Keep It Clean: Prevent bacterial contamination by cleaning all equipment, surfaces, hands and vegetables thoroughly before starting.
Leave Room to Grow: Freezing causes expansion. Follow the recipe and leave proper head space [space between food mixture to lid] to allow growth.
Label, Label: Always label frozen or canned foods with the date processed and content of container. Properly frozen and stored products should be used within one year.
There are three vegetables that are always bountiful this time of year: tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. Here is how to freeze them:
Tomatoes: To freeze whole tomatoes (no need to peel), wash thoroughly and cut away the stem scar. Place the tomatoes on cookie sheets and freeze. Tomatoes do not need to be blanched before freezing. Once frozen, transfer the tomatoes from the cookie sheets into freezer bags or other containers. Seal tightly. To use frozen tomatoes, remove them from the freezer a few at a time or all at once. To peel, just run a frozen tomato under warm water in the kitchen sink. Its skin will slip off easily. Use frozen tomatoes in any cooked-tomato recipe.
Onions: Wash, peel and chop raw, fully mature onions into about ½-inch pieces. Bag and freeze in freezer bags for best quality and odor protection (no need to blanch). Squeeze out the air and place bags flat on cookie sheets or metal pans until onions are frozen. Then remove from sheets or pans and restack as flat bags will take up less room. Use in cooked products, such as soups and stews, ground meat mixtures, casseroles, etc. For most dishes, frozen onions may be used with little or no thawing. Frozen onions will maintain good quality in the freezer for three to six months.
Bell Peppers: Select crisp, tender peppers. Wash and cut out stems and cut peppers in half. Remove seeds and membrane. Cut peppers into strips, dice or slice, depending on how you plan to use them. Freeze peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet with sides, about an hour or longer until frozen. Transfer to a freezer bag when frozen, squeezing out as much air as possible. The peppers will remain separated while frozen this way. Hot peppers can be washed and stemmed, then subsequently frozen. It is not necessary to chop hot peppers prior to freezing.