When I wrote something on this topic last year about this time, I got a lot of questions from readers about different preservation methods. That’s why, this year, I’m focusing my column on freezing techniques. Of course, you’re always welcome to email me with any questions you have, too.
Freezing is one of the easiest ways to preserve herbs, vegetables and fruit. And though you hear talk to the contrary, most will keep well in the freezer for many months. The best time to harvest is in the morning because that’s when stems and leaves are in their best shape — not shriveled or dried out from the hot sun. Do your harvesting on the same day you’re going to freeze things because the longer fresh edibles sit on the counter, the less fresh they’ll taste when it comes time to use them.
As I said last year, before you freeze vegetables it’s a good idea to blanch them. Blanching stops, or at least slows, the enzymes that cause vegetables to lose color and flavor. To make it easier to use them later, chop veggies into bite-size chunks before you drop them into boiling water to blanch them.
Cooking time varies depending on the vegetable. You’ll only need to wilt leafy vegetables like kale, for example. The general rule is one gallon of water per pound of vegetables. If you put the veggies in the water and it doesn’t go back to boiling right away, you’ve put too many in at one time. Once they’re done cooking, vegetables should be drained and dropped into a bath of icy water to stop the cooking process. Next, drain your veggies again and either freeze portions in individual bags or containers or, if you don’t want them to clump up as much, spread them out on baking sheets and freeze them before putting them into containers.
Tomatoes are an exception to this freezing regimen because you don’t chop them. Instead, you want to freeze them whole, usually. Once they thaw, their skins will come off easily. You can also peel, chop and puree them for sauces, of course.
Freezing fruit is as easy as freezing vegetables, though you will notice that berries lose a lot of their shape once they thaw. To freeze berries, wash them and spread them on a baking sheet before popping them into the freezer. Store the frozen berries in freezer bags or other containers and always remember to label everything you freeze with its name and the date. One other thing, when you freeze apples, pears, peaches and other fruits that might brown, you’ll need to toss them with an ascorbic acid preservative (you can find this in any grocery store) once you’ve chopped or sliced them before freezing.
If you haven’t frozen your herbs by now it’s probably too late for delicate ones like basil. You don’t want to wait until the end of the season to harvest herbs because by then they’re often tough and scraggly and not at their peak flavor. Always harvest the freshest herbs you have and wash them (if you need to) and pat them dry. Next, spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. Once they’ve frozen, you can put them in baggies or containers and just use them whenever you want. (If you’re in a hurry, you can always just put the herbs right into the containers and skip the cookie-sheet step if you don’t mind them being chunky.)
Basil is a bit trickier than other herbs because it’s best if it is blanched briefly, so treat it as you would spinach or kale. Once it wilts, drop it into an ice water bath briefly before patting it dry and freezing it. You can also preserve basil and other fresh, chopped herbs in ice cube trays. Add about a teaspoon or two of fresh herbs to each square in the tray and fill with water (or chicken broth, if you like). Because the leaves will float to the top, you may want to add half your liquid and freeze it before adding the rest to the tray. When the cubes are frozen solid, pop them into baggies and keep them until you’re ready to grab a few and drop them into soups, stews or chili.
Meleah Maynard is a Master Gardener and freelance writer. If you’ve got a gardening question you’d like her to address in her column, you can email it to