processing vegetables to freeze
What a great idea to freeze the beautiful produce you can buy during the summer, so you can eat it all winter! My favorite vegetables to freeze are broccoli, collards, kale, peas, and winter squash. They all take some preparation and cooking before they can be frozen, but it’s well worth the trouble, even during your busy Alaskan summer, because the frozen vegetables are the ultimate fast food during the winter!
Your frozen broccoli will be tastier, even thawed from frozen, than anything you can buy in the wintertime in the grocery store—even the “fresh” stuff. Just think, if you freeze the vegetables in late summer or fall, they will still be locally-grown when you thaw them out in February!! I buy 20-pound cases of broccoli from the farmers at our market in the early fall, and spend an afternoon processing. It saves me lots of time in the winter, when all I have to do is grab a bag out of the freezer! My family eats through three cases in the winter, but I have lots of space in my chest freezer to store it all, so buy your broccoli accordingly.
a case of broccoli
1. Cut about a ¼” off the stem end of each head of broccoli, and peel most of the skin from the bottoms of the stalks of broccoli, using a paring knife and starting from the bottom of the stem. The thick skin will peel away easily from the outside of the stalk.
2. Slice the stalks into coins about ¼” thick and put them all into a bowl. Cut the florets into bite-sized pieces and put them in a separate bowl from the stems.
3. Fill the biggest pot you have with water, bring it to a boil, and salt it well. Spread some large towels out on your countertop.
4. Dump a batch of broccoli into the boiling water (either stalks or florets, but not both at once). Cook for 3-4 minutes, or maybe 5 for the stalks, until just tender-crisp. Test with a sharp paring knife.
5. Scoop the broccoli out, shake the extra water off, and spread it out on the towels in a single layer. If you can, have a couple of windows open to help the broccoli cool and dry. Spreading the broccoli on towels like this stops it cooking immediately, and dries it nicely by evaporation.
6. When completely cool, put the broccoli in freezer ziploc bags, in whatever portions you like to cook at once. Keep the florets and stalks in separate bags. I like to freeze the sliced stalks separately, since they work so well for roasting, later.
7. Repeat with the rest of the florets and stalks until you’ve worked your way through the whole case. Then freeze the bags!
8. When you want to eat broccoli, just thaw out a bag and proceed with whatever recipe you want. I have several great broccoli recipes in the Farmers’ Market Cookbook—any of them will work wonderfully with broccoli from the freezer.
Check out our YouTube video for the step-by-step process!
If you spend a little time processing it, your frozen cauliflower will be sweeter and yummier (not to mention more economical) all winter than the heads you’ll see in the grocery store. Buy a big case of cauliflower from a farmer in the early fall, and spend an afternoon to blanch and freeze it! It saves lots of time in the winter, when it’s just like fast food—thaw it out and make any of the recipes on the website—or use your own favorite recipes!
a case of cauliflower
1. Using a stout paring knife, trim out the thick stem of the cauliflowers and discard.
2. Cut the heads into bite-sized florets.
3. Fill the biggest pot you have with water, bring it to a boil, and salt it well. Spread some large towels out on your counter top.
4. Dump a batch of cauliflower into the boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or maybe longer (it depends upon how much cauliflower you put in at once, and how hot your burner is) until just tender-crisp. Test with a sharp paring knife, and with your teeth.
5. Scoop the florets out, shake the extra water off, and spread them out on the towels in a single layer. If you can, have a couple of windows open to help the cauliflower cool and dry. Spreading the cauliflower on towels like this stops it cooking immediately, and dries it nicely by evaporation.
6. When completely cool, put the cauliflower in freezer ziploc bags, in whatever portions you like to cook at once.
7. Repeat with the rest of the florets until you’ve worked your way through the whole case. Then freeze the bags!
8. When you want to eat cauliflower, just thaw out a bag, drain off the water, and proceed with whatever recipe you want. I have several great cauliflower recipes in the South Anchorage Farmers’ Market Cookbook—any of them will work wonderfully with broccoli from the freezer. Or you can search for other broccoli recipes on this website—they will all work, too!
Collards, kale and other winter greens are perfect for freezing, because I always parboil them in salted water before I cook them in a recipe, anyway. The parboiling makes the greens tender, and the salt in the water removes bitterness. The greens keep just fine in the freezer for a whole year, packed in zipper-top freezer bags. Cook them up as braised collard greens, or in beans-and-greens soups. Look for recipes in my Farmers’ Market Cookbook!
Several bunches of collard greens
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it well.
2. Cut the leaves away from the long stems of 2 or 3 bunches of collards. Stack the leaves on top of each other, folded in half lengthwise, and slice the leaves into 1” wide ribbons.
3. Plunge the greens into the pot of boiling salted water, as many will fit at one time, and cook until tender. This could take as long as 8 or 10 minutes, but could be much shorter, depending on the age or toughness of the greens. Start tasting after 5 minutes.
4. Remove the greens to a colander, rinse with cold water and let drain for a bit. Squeeze gently to remove some of the water. Transfer to a freezer ziplock bag or a recycled yogurt container (label it first) and pop it in the freezer.
Check out our YouTube video for the step-by-step process!
several bunches of kale—red Russian, lacinata, or curly kale
The only difference between processing kale and collards is the technique for removing the leaves from the stems. If you’re using curly kale, or lacinata or black kale, you can usually just grasp the bottom of the stem firmly with one hand, then strip the leaf off the stem by pulling your clenched fist along the stem with your other hand. If this doesn’t work, though, just use a knife to cut the stem from the leaves. Don’t bother to chop the leaves before boiling them—you can chop them coarsely after you’ve boiled, drained, and squeezed them gently.
I buy 10 pound bags of peas in the summer, boil them VERY briefly and then freeze them to eat all winter. They are so much sweeter and have such better texture than the peas you can get frozen at the grocery store! See the note in Step 2, though, about how NOT to overcook them when you thaw them.
large bag of fresh peas
sea salt or kosher salt
1. Plunge batches of peas into boiling, salted water for 45 seconds. Scoop the peas out into cold ice water, drain, put in ziplock freezer bags, and freeze.
2. When thawing them, it’s very important to remember that the peas have already been cooked, and at their peak of tenderness. So, if you’re taking them out of the freezer, don’t add them to a soup or stew until the last minute—they will overcook if you’re not careful. To cook them, I pop them, frozen solid in a brick, into a pot of boiling water, and fish them out as soon just as they are melted apart from each other. Just keep tasting them until they are done to your liking. It won’t take very long—just a few seconds!
This is Farmer Mark Rempel’s recipe for sauerkraut, and he swears by it! I’ve never made it before, but I thought it would be fun to try it out! It takes five weeks to complete, so I figured I’d put it out there and we can all try it together! You can buy cases of cabbage from most of the vendors at the farmers’ market, and sometimes farmers will be willing to give or sell you split heads of cabbage cheaply. The cabbages are so fresh and sweet and full of moisture right now—the perfect time to make sauerkraut! Then you can make delicious sandwiches (like Reuben sandwiches—using pastrami or roasted mushrooms), or eat it with sausages or as a side dish. I’m thinking I’ll come up with lots of uses for it after I finish it! Then I’ll share them with you!
Check out our YouTube video for the step-by-step process!
I’ve given you the recipe to fill a 5-gallon bucket, but you can make a smaller amount if you want, using the proportions I’ve shown, below.
sea salt or kosher salt
16-17 pounds of green cabbage (this amount will fill a 5-gallon bucket)
1. Clean out a 5-gallon bucket very well. If you don’t have a food-grade bucket, clean it and then line it with a sturdy plastic garbage bags (those trash-compacter bags work great).
2. Wash your hands thoroughly. It’s important to keep your hands and equipment very clean when you’re making sauerkraut, because it is made by fermentation at room temperature, and you don’t want to introduce contaminants to the process.
3. Quarter each cabbage, cut the core out, and then shred the cabbage, using a food processor and a fairly thin slicing blade. (Or you can do this by hand, if you like.)
4. Weigh the cabbage, so you know how much salt to add. For each pound of cabbage, you’ll need 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Measure the salt you’ll need into a small bowl.
5. Layer the cabbage into the bucket, sprinkling each layer with salt as you go.
6. As it sits, the salt will take most of the water out of the cabbage—so much will come out that it will cover the cabbage with briny liquid!
7. Leaving the bag containing the cabbage open at the top, folded down over the top of the bucket (or just leaving the bucket open, if you didn’t line it with plastic), put a double-bagged bag of water on top of the cabbage. This bag of water keeps the cabbage submerged in the briny liquid, but it also lets the carbon dioxide that results from the fermentation escape around the edges. It’s a perfect fitting top!
8. Let it ferment in your house at about 70 degrees. Stir it once a week. It will take about 5 weeks to complete the fermentation, but you can start tasting it after a few weeks. Taste and see, and decide when you want to stop it from getting any more sour.
9. Take the sauerkraut out of the bucket and pack it into ziplock freezer bags and pop it in the freezer!
If you have a rhubarb plant that is producing prolifically and you can’t keep up with it, you can freeze some now for the winter! First of all, it’s very important to break off the flowering stalks as they come up in the middle of your plant. The reason? After the rhubarb flowers, the plant will put all its energy into the flowers and seeds, and the stalks become tough and stringy. If you keep breaking off the flower stalks as soon as you see them (try and be vigilant), the stalks will remain tender throughout the summer (although never as tender as right now!). If you watch carefully, you can enjoy yummy rhubarb crisps, breads, cakes and pies even in late summer!
1. Pull the stalks from their base, away from the plant. They will come off fairly easily, and this is better for the plant than cutting them off.
2. Cut the leaves off and the bottom ends off of the stalks, wash them, and slice into 1” pieces. It helps to have a very large, very sharp knife for this process. Sharpen it before you start. When I’m doing a lot of rhubarb to freeze, I’ll sometimes get a blister on my knife hand!
3. Pile the pieces into gallon-sized ziplock freezer bags and toss into the freezer. Yes, they will freeze into blocks, but next winter, just bang the bag hard on your counter and the pieces will separate and you can measure them out, ready for whatever rhubarb recipe your heart desires.
winter squash puree
Even though whole winter squash will keep for several months in a cool garage, if you buy the big winter squashes you’ll have more squash than you can eat all at once. You can freeze the excess when you’ve cooked one of these big beauties, so don’t be intimidated by their size. The puree really does freeze wonderfully!
1 or more large winter squashes, such as Hubbard
olive oil (in a spray can, if you have it)
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees or so (or whatever is convenient, if you’re baking something else).
2. Cut the squash in half, pole to pole (be careful not to cut yourself while doing this). If you know someone who owns a bandsaw, you may want to ask his or her assistance… Then again, my husband wouldn’t let me saw our squash with his bandsaw. He never lets me have any fun.
3. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with a large spoon. Spray or brush the inside of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle a little salt over it. Invert the squash onto a rimmed baking sheet so the skin side is up (I had to use a whole baking sheet for each half). You might have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your squash and your oven.
4. Bake the squash for however long it takes until tender. This could take an hour, or more or less. You’ll just have to start poking it with a paring knife through the skin after about 45 minutes to see what it’s doing. When your knife meets no resistance and the skin is looking shriveled, the squash is done.
5. Scoop out the squash into a large bowl. You can mash it with a potato masher now, or wait until you thaw it out to mash it. Pack it in labeled plastic tubs and freeze whatever you’re not going to eat in the next few days.
6. The easiest thing to do just to thaw the squash, heat it in the microwave, and add salt to taste as you mash and mix it after heating. If it’s not quite sweet enough, add maple syrup or birch syrup to taste. Just keep adding a little salt and syrup at a time until you’ve got a nice balance of flavors. Instead of the syrup, you can add chipotle chile powder if you’d like a southwest flavor, or soy sauce and toasted sesame oil if you’d like a Asian twist. I like to garnish the squash with toasted green pumpkin seeds (see recipe below).
toasted green pumpkin seeds
Put a ½ cup or so of green pumpkin seeds (not the ones from your squash, but the kind you can buy in bulk at the grocery store) in a skillet over medium-high heat and toast, stirring fairly constantly (with your extractor fan running for the inevitable smoke) until the seeds swell up and turn golden around the edges. Some will make popping noises. Pour onto a plate and let cool for a bit to crisp up before serving.