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The Busy (or Lazy) Mom’s Guide to Food Preservation

I know the thrills of garden produce are gone when my kiddos start groaning every time they see me chopping zucchini or green beans. The tomatoes they never seem to tire of, but they seem to lose enthusiasm for everything else by mid-September.

I’ve spent about ten years experimenting with different ways of preserving my garden bounty. Early on I really enjoyed making up different jams, salsas, compotes and chutneys. I still enjoy making those, but as the years passed and the demands of home and family compound I look more for the utilitarian methods that require very little time and effort. Here are my favorites. You will need only a few basic supplies:

  • shredder (a food processor works well, but you can do it by hand if you prefer)
  • steamer (this can be as simple as a colander set into a big pot)
  • lots of zip-top freezer bags in whatever size you prefer
  • permanent marker for labeling your goodies
  • some freezer space (I know! This is the toughest one for me, too.)

Zucchini is always on my list of end-of-summer veggies to process. Shred the zucchini using a coarse shredding blade on your food processor. Measure into quart-size plastic freezer bags, label and freeze. I like to freeze zucchini in one-cup portions, but if you have a favorite recipe that calls for a different amount then freeze that much in each bag.

If you really want to you can draw out some of the water before freezing by salting and squeezing your shreds. But honestly I never do this. I let it drain after thawing and haven’t had problems with it.

Tomatoes I used to have a complicated process of peeling, chopping, and canning my tomatoes so that I could use them throughout the winter. I would usually do a batch of tomato sauce, too, which required me to get out my foodmill and spend lots of time boiling off extra water from the tomatoes. No longer! Last year a friend of mine and I were working together to put up some veggies. She had several bags-ful of tomatoes at her house and didn’t know what to do with them until we could get together. I mentioned that I’d read somewhere that you could freeze them whole and suggested we try that. Friends, I have not looked back!

After thawing from the freezer, the skins slipped off so easily and they were a piece of cake to chop. You wouldn’t want to use these in a salad or something fresh like that, but they are tasty and easy to use in soups, chili and the like.

I recommend spreading your tomatoes on a cookie sheet and popping the tray in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, drop them into a zip-top freezer bag, label and freeze. If you just pop them all in a bag and freeze them that way you will have a solid chunk of tomatoes and will have a hard time getting one or two out without all the others.

Green Beans I like to do a quick blanch in the steamer and then freeze. This year I’m “frenching” my beans before I freeze them. My family really enjoyed this method of Sally’s and this will make my freezer to table time even faster.

Cut your beans into whatever length you want. Get your steamer going and steam the beans briefly, about three minutes is all you need. Rinse them with cold water and spread out on a towel to cool and dry. Drop into a zip-top freezer bag, label and freeze.

Carrots I handle the same way as my beans. Chop or shred into whatever size you want. Drop them briefly into a steamer (again, three minutes should do it). Rinse with cold water. Spread onto a towel to let them cool and dry. Bag them up and freeze.

Peaches, Plums and other Stone Fruits freeze well. I usually do one small batch of jam or preserves and then freeze the rest. Because one the fruit is in my freezer, it’s already prepped and I can easily make another batch of jam in the middle of January, when it’s not so gorgeous outside. For all of these fruits, simply remove the stone (for plums or apricots, I cut them in half, but peaches get cut into eighths). Plums get dropped straight into a bag and then into the freezer. The peaches I steam briefly, let them cool and dry, and then freeze them in freezer bags. If I’m feeling ambitious I will peel my peaches first, but really it’s not neccessary.

I’ve read that you can freeze peaches whole (just like I described for tomatoes above), but haven’t tried this method. I’m so curious though, and the next bumper crop of peaches we get I’m going to give it a shot.

Berries aren’t usually on my list since we tend to just eat them up straight out of the garden. But on the occasions that I’ve needed to, I spread them out on a cookie sheet (so they don’t stick together) and put the sheet in the freezer. Once they’re frozen put them into a zip-top bag, label and freeze.

I’m curious to know what your preferred methods are? Do you have any simple preservation tips that I don’t know about? Please share with the rest of us in the comments!

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