Freezing and Storing Vegetables

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vegetables_cHome-grown vegetables freeze extremely well if young, tender and at the peak of perfection. Shop vegetables are rarely fresh enough to freeze though imported delicacies such as peppers and aubergines are worth freezing for variety. Vegetables should be prepared for freezing in small quantities, and are best prepared immediately after picking, preferably in the early morning.


Vegetables should be prepared for freezing in small quantities, and are best prepared immediately after picking, preferably in the early morning. They must be blanched before processing, as the heat stops the chemical action of enzymes which affect quality, flavour and colour, and nutritional value during storage.

Do not freeze these vegetables

Vegetables which do not retain their crispness such as salad greens and radishes should not be frozen. Tomatoes, celery and onions can be frozen for cooking, but not to serve raw; cucumbers do not freeze well except in a vinegar pack.

Cleaning and grading

Vegetables must be young and fresh. After thorough cleaning, they should be graded for size and cut if necessary. Vegetables must be fast frozen for best results, and should only be prepared in small quantities (normally 3 lbs of food per cubic foot of freezer space can be frozen every 6 hours). Excess supplies can be stored in polythene bags in the refrigerator before freezing.

Blanching and cooling

Blanching is an essential process in vegetable preparation to retard enzyme action. Timing is important, as too little blanching will result in colour change and loss of nutritive value, while over-blanching results in loss of crispness and flavour.

Blanching may be done by means of water or steam.

Water blanching Process only 1 lb of vegetables at a time so that water reaches all the vegetables and does not cool too quickly. Use a saucepan holding 8 pints of water, and a blancher, wire basket or muslin bag. Bring the water to the boil, immerse the vegetables in the container in the fast boiling water, cover tightly and keep the heat high. Calculate blanching time from when water returns to boiling point. Remove vegetables when done, and drain immediately. Water blanching is quicker than steam blanching, though there may be some loss of minerals and vitamins. It is preferable for leafy vegetables which may stick together in steam.

Steamblanching Put enough water in pan to prevent boiling dry. When water is boiling fast, put the container of vegetables into the steamer, cover tightly, and calculate the blanching time from when the steam escapes from the lid. Steam blanching takes half as long again as water blanching.

Cooling Cooling must be done very quickly and thoroughly, the vegetables being cool right through to the centre before packing. Chill in a large quantity of ice-chilled water, drain thoroughly and finish off by turning on to absorbent paper. Vegetables which are not cooled quickly continue cooking in their own heat and go mushy.

Packing

Bags or boxes may be used tor packing, according to the quantity, the frailty of the vegetable and the importance of cheapness. Items such as artichokes or asparagus are best packed in boxes to avoid damage, but boxes are expensive to use for more common items such as peas or beans. Pack in small or large quantities according to ultimate use.

A dry pack is normally used for vegetables, but a brine pack helps to prevent some vegetables toughening in storage; this is particularly found in hard-water areas. Pack vegetables into rigid containers to within 1 inch of top and cover with brine (1 tablespoon salt to 1 pint water) leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Fast freezing

Fast freezing is a method used to ensure vegetables are loose in their packs and can be shaken out in small quantities. If a freezer has no special equipment for this, vegetables can be frozen in a single layer on baking trays before packing in bags or boxes.

Thawing and coking

Most vegetables should be cooked while still frozen for best results. If vegetables are in block form, break them up before heating so heat penetrates rapidly and evently. Broccoli and spinach are the better for partial thawing. Corn on the cob requires special treatment. Completely thawed vegetables should be cooked immediately; 1 lb packets need 6 hours in a refrigerator for complete thawing, or 3 hours at room temperature.

Since frozen vegetables have already been partly cooked in blanching, they requite less time for cooking than fresh vegetables. They should be cooked in very little water (about 1/4 pint water to 1 lb vegetables depending on variety). The water should be fast boiling and the vegetables covered and simmered after boiling point is again reached.

Vegetables may also be steamed, cooked in a double boiler, baked or cooked in butter.

Baking Vegetables should be separated and drained, put into a greased casserole with a knob of butter and seasoning, covered and cooked at 350°F (Gas Mark 4) for 30 minutes.

Cooking in butter A heavy pan should be used, and the vegetables cooked gently in melted butter until separate; they can then be cooked over moderate heat until tender.

Mixed vegetables

Sometimes a mixture of vegetables is required, and these can be prepared and blanched separately, then packed together for freezing. Vegetables should be cut in even sizes for satisfactory cooking. The usual mixtures are of peas, beans, carrots and sweet-com.

Vegetable puree

Vegetables may be sieved, chilled and frozen in rigid containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace. They are useful for subsequent use in soups. A puree for use a vegetable should be reheated in a double boiler with butter and seasoning. Small quantities of puree may be frozen in ice cube trays, each frozen cube being wrapped in foil for storage; these are particularly useful for babies and old people one cube of puree providing an individual serving.

Vegetables in sauce

There is little advantage in preparing and freezing vegetables in sauce, as cooked vegetables tend to lose flavour, texture and colour in the freezer. Better results are obtained by freezing vegetables after blanching, and preparing sauces to be frozen and used with the freshly cooked vegetables later.

If the two items must be put together, before freezing the vegetables should be slightly undercooked, and the complete dish cooled very quickly before freezing. It is best to reheat such a dish in a double boiler.

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