When the bounty of your garden harvest or farmer's market explodes into your kitchen, don't let it go to waste. Freezing it is an easy, easy way to tame piles of everything from tomatoes to peppers to grapes to mushrooms.
Certain foods need to be cooked briefly before freezing—not difficult, but a bit time-consuming—but the ones here can go straight into the freezer with only minimal preparation, saving you time and hundreds of dollars by avoiding what could easily be wasted food! Choose ripe (but not overripe) produce, and freeze it ASAP after it's harvested, to keep its best flavor, texture, and nutrition. And try to use up your frozen produce within three to six months.
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Tomatoes: You can freeze tomatoes whole. Just wash them, cut out any bad spots, and set them on a cookie sheet in your freezer. Once they're solid, store them in airtight containers. When you're ready to cook with it, hold a frozen tomato under running hot water for a few seconds to loosen its skin, which will easily peel off, leaving the flesh ready to use however you want to.
With just a little extra effort, you can freeze crushed tomatoes, cooked down and stored in jars, to help in your sauce-making come wintertime.
Mushrooms: No preparation is needed. Brush off any dirt, and pack your mushrooms into a freezer bag; squeeze out as much air as possible, and put them in the freezer. You can also chop them first, but you don't have to.
Corn: If you have the room in your freezer, just put whole ears of corn—still in their husks—into the freezer. You don't even need to wrap them, though it is tidier. When you're ready to eat them, put the frozen ears, husks and all, in the microwave, and zap them until tender. About 3 minutes per ear should work. Then shuck—the silk comes off like a dream after microwaving—and enjoy one of summer's greatest gifts in the dead of winter.
Berries and grapes: Wash and remove stems, if necessary, spread the fruit in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer, and store the berries or grapes in airtight containers once they are solid. To use, just pour out as many as you need and put them directly into your recipe (no need to thaw first). Grapes especially make great frozen treats straight from the freezer.
Stone fruits: Larger fruits such as peaches, apricots, and cherries can be frozen once you chop them up. Wash the fruit and remove stems and pits, then peel if you'd like (though peeling isn't necessary). Cut them into bite-size pieces and spread the pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Transfer them to an airtight container once they are frozen solid. Pears can be frozen the same way, but be sure to core them first.
Melons: To me, nothing says "summer" in the dead of winter like fruit salad made with thawed cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew! Cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds, then either use a melon baller to carve the flesh out of the rind or slice the melon into segments, pare off the rind, and chop the flesh into bite-size pieces. When freezing watermelon, I remove the most obvious seeds and deal with the rest when eating the melon later.
Onions: Sweet onions don't store as well at room temperature as their stronger cousins do, but they will keep all winter long in the freezer. You can also freeze extra green onions/scallions. Peel as needed and cut into rings, chunks, or dices. Freeze the pieces in a single layer on a cookie sheet and store in an airtight container once frozen.
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Peppers (both hot and sweet): Wash, remove stems, cut out seeds and the soft fleshy ribs the seeds are attached to—wear gloves if you're working with hot peppers!—and slice or dice the flesh. Spread the bits out on a cookie sheet in the freezer and transfer them to airtight containers once they are frozen.
Cucumbers: Yes, cucumbers. If you thought extra cucumbers could only be pickled, think again. Peel, remove the seeds if the cucumbers have started to harden, chop into chunks, and freeze. Puree the frozen cucumber chunks for an off-season slushy, or combine with some salsa for a savory cold soup.
Summer squash: Remove its seeds and pulp, peel (unless you can easily pierce the squash with a fingernail), and grate. Pack the grated squash firmly into recipe-portion-size containers, and freeze. Frozen grated squash doesn't hold its texture well, so it's best saved for soups or stews. Use it in winter baking or mix with some egg and a little flour and fry into pancakes.
Herbs: Freezing herbs is easy and it works well for all herbs, especially the ones that loose their flavor when dried, such as basil, cilantro, and chives. To prepare them for freezing, give herbs a quick wash and shake dry. Strip the leaves off the stems and chop larger leaves into useable-size pieces.
To freeze an herb for a month or two, spread prepared leaves on a cookie sheet (parchment paper or a silicone liner makes it easy to remove them later), freeze them overnight, and put the frozen herbs into sealed containers in the freezer for later use. Remember to label them, as green leaves all look and smell pretty much alike when frozen. I like to freeze chives for sprinkling on baked potatoes in the dead of winter, when my herb patch is buried under snow.
For longer storage, freeze herbs by packing prepared bits loosely into the compartment of an empty ice cube tray, filling each about ¾ full with water and using about a tablespoon of herb per cube. For best storage, top the tray off with water the next day and return it to the freezer. This ensures that the herb bits that have floated to the top after the initial freeze are covered with ice, preventing freezer burn. Pop the finished cubes into an airtight container, label it, and store it in the freezer. Drop frozen cubes into soups, stews, and such, for anytime fresh-cut flavor. Or, substitute organic olive oil for the water and thaw the cubes to make salad dressings, toss with cooked veggies, or even use as a sauté base.