Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Jun

Dear Mark: Freezer Essentials

Dear Mark,

Your website inspired me to join a CSA this year, and I’ve been frequenting a local farmers’ market since May. I absolutely love all the produce selections, but this has me thinking that come late fall/winter I’m going to feel pretty limited by what’s usually available (and affordable) in the grocery store. (I live in the Northern Plains.) I’d like to begin thinking about freezing some items to enjoy them post-season. What tips do you have for doing this? Thank you!

Thanks for the timely question. I’ve actually gotten similar inquiries from a few readers this week. Yes, we’re rounding the corner on June if you can believe it. It’s a great time of year for taking advantage of the variety – try some new items, find new recipes for old favorites. (Anybody wanna share new discoveries?) However, as incredible as it is to enjoy fresh veggies and fruits now, it’s smart to look ahead to the “scarcer” months. One of the best ways to carry over the season’s best, of course, is freezing. (Grok would’ve traded a lot of hides for a deep freeze chest….) As you load up on summer produce, here are a few suggestions (and resources) for best freezer prep and storage.

Set Up

First off, I’d highly recommend investing in a deep freezer. You can certainly make use of the freezer compartment of your refrigerator, but it’s typically a limited space and doesn’t stay as consistently cold as a deep freezer chest. (For best results, freezers should be kept at 0° Fahrenheit or less. A simple freezer gauge can give you an accurate reading.) Although items should still last a number of months, you aren’t going to get the same longevity (8-12 months for most produce when properly prepped and packaged). If you’re worried about initial outlay, keep in mind that there are plenty of good used ones for sale. Check scratch and dent sales, classifieds and Craigslist for starters. And also keep in mind that you have the potential to recoup much if not all of that money within the first year alone, depending on how much you choose to freeze (produce, meats, etc.). It’s less expensive to buy good quality produce in season and make it last through much of the winter than it is to buy your full produce needs in the off-season. When you add the savings of cowpooling or other bulk meat/poultry/game storage, it won’t be long before your freezer will pay for itself.

As for wraps, bags and such, don’t skimp. You’ll need high quality storage to keep out moisture. Lined freezer paper and freezer tape can work for “dry” packing of produce. Another option, particularly for purees or fruits that will be stored with juice, is freezer appropriate canning jars. Many people find it more convenient to use plastic freezer bags (either the Ziploc kind or the self-cut kind that requires a heat sealer). In any case, the freezer wrap or bags should be freezer-designated, vapor proof as well as pliant. The idea here is to mold the packaging as close to the outline of the food as possible and to prevent the exchange of moisture. If the item is allowed to give off its own moisture, freezer burn will set in. You know those brownish, tough, odd-tasting areas on thawed veggies? Spare your produce the calamity and yourself the frustration (and lost money) by investing a little extra change in good storage.

Prep the Produce

For the sake of taste and nutrients, you’ll want the freshest produce you can get your hands on. If you’re not a gardener yourself, the next best thing can be found in CSA packages or farmers’ markets. Items are generally picked within a day or even a few hours of sale/distribution.

Wash, cut, peel and prep as needed. (The smaller the pieces the more tightly you can pack your produce.) Nearly all produce items – other than a few like melon and herbs – will need to be blanched before freezing. (A few like sweet potatoes and pumpkin should be thoroughly cooked before freezing.) The quick shot in boiling water or steam will halt the enzyme action responsible for natural decomposition. Too little, and you run the risk of not shutting down the enzyme activity (maybe even accelerating it). Too much, and you might be sacrificing nutrients as well as texture and taste. (A brief “shock” in ice water immediately after blanching will keep the items from cooking further.) The timing on blanching, however, is a delicate dance. Check out these resources for specific blanching times tailored to specific fruits and vegetables. If you choose to “steam blanch,” the times are generally 1.5 times the given minutes for traditional blanching.

A few other notes to keep in mind… You won’t need a lot of complicated equipment – just some large pots, bowls, tongs, towels and wire baskets. Although microwave blanching may work for small batches that will be eaten in a short period of time, many experts recommend against it for long-term freezing. There’s doubt that it halts all enzyme activity. Certain fruits like apples, peaches, avocado, and pears should be stored with ascorbic acid to prevent discoloration. You might also consider it for vegetables like artichokes and sweet potato to maintain peak color.

Package Well and Freeze Fast

Once the vegetables and fruits are appropriately prepped, cooked and cooled, allow them to thoroughly drain and dry. Dish or paper towels can speed up the process especially for certain intact items like green beans or whole berries. Most vegetables and many fruits can be packed without any juice. After draining, they can be tightly packed in freezer bags or wrap and frozen in their bulk packaging. Another choice is to allow individual pieces of drained vegetables and fruit to freeze on a tray first and then immediately pack them in bags or wrap. Cooked purees can be stored in large containers or in smaller portions/cubes that may be more useful for recipes or baby food. Some fruits like apples and nectarines tend to freeze better with juice. (Sugar or syrup packing is often recommended, but a small amount of juice and ascorbic acid can work just as well.)

Once you have your packages loaded and ready for storage, stack up already frozen items and move them to one side of your freezer. Spread the new packages across the open areas to encourage speedier freezing, which will discourage freezer burn and help preserve taste.

Have your own tips for freezing summer’s best? Favorite uses for your frozen stores? As always, thanks for your questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great tips! I bought a chest freezer a few years ago for meat and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made! Highly recommended for anyone who has the room. I have a 7 cu ft model which is affordable and stores plenty.

    Vin - NaturalBias wrote on June 29th, 2009
  2. We’ve had a chest freezer for years, and it has definitely paid for itself many times over. We’ve stored venison harvested from the field. It has been used to store our share of a beef cow that we split with my parents as well. I’ve done some storage of fresh produce – green beans mainly, by blanching, but I could definitely do more in this area.

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on June 29th, 2009
  3. We don’t have a freezer chest, but we do have a full sized freezer (next to the refrigerator) and keep lots of freshly frozen veggies and meats in there. Another one I do year round is freeze berries and add them to smoothies with the Responsibly Slim Vanilla for a quick meal on the go. Yum yum…

    Holly wrote on June 29th, 2009
    • Full sized freezers use more energy, and often (but not always) don’t get as cold. However they are overall just as good. Just keep those limitations in mind.

      Henry Miller wrote on June 30th, 2009
  4. I’m stuck with the little one above the fridge for right now, but I’ve been stuffing it full of blueberries over the past few weeks. Buying blueberries in the summer is like buying gold for the price of copper.

    David L wrote on June 29th, 2009
  5. Good tips, my deep freeze is already half full from fresh veggies and fruits that have been frozen this year. Yes, you can all be jealous.

    George wrote on June 29th, 2009
  6. I have gotten “scratch & dent”,tree-ripend peaches which are perfect for freezing. All I did was peel & slice them, then store in freezer bags. Spinach & chard freeze well after a quick blanching. If I have too many onions & green peppers, I dice them up & freeze them raw. Then they are ready whenever I need. They need to be double wrapped so everything doesn’t taste like onions & green peppers.

    Peggy wrote on June 29th, 2009
  7. Mark,
    Great site, & such important information for health & vitality.. I do have a fitness question for you.. How would you suggest “gaining weight” & adding lean muscle on a Paleolithic Diet? I understand you’re not interested in putting on mass, but hypothetically, How would you personally go about add 10 pounds of muscle if wanted to?
    Thanks Man.. Looking forward to your reply..

    Brian Fitness wrote on June 29th, 2009
    • Thanks for the question, Brian Fitness. It’s a common question. One I’ve touched on in the past, but I may address this again in a post soon, so check back. Thanks again.

      Mark Sisson wrote on June 29th, 2009
  8. A heavily insulated cooler and some dry ice would also be useful. Alton Brown’s show, Good Eats on the Food Network, in the episode ‘Strawberry Sky’ had a nice piece on how to freeze strawberries using a cooler and dry ice. Dry ice causes things to freeze faster so they are less damaged in the freezing process than with a normal electric freezer. I assume the technique he described would work well for meat as well. I’d also assume this sort of method is described in many places on the interwebs.

    Also, FYI, Coleman makes a line of “Xtreme” coolers that are advertised to keep ice cold for 5 days in 90 degree weather. (Igloo makes such models too.) They should be great for freezing with dry ice. I saw them at a Coleman outlet store while on vacation. They looked very nice, but I don’t own one, so no idea if they actually *are* nice. That said, I do plan on getting one soon.

    Ben P wrote on June 29th, 2009
  9. Great post. I’m nibbling on some frozen blueberries as I’m reading this. They actually taste like candy. So much better for you than those silly little ice cream drops dipped in chocolate.

    Patricia Biesen wrote on June 29th, 2009
  10. For years I’ve had NON FROST-FREE freezers – both chest and upright. I’ve found that if there is no frost thawing cycle the frozen food stays frozen better. Sure, you have to thaw it once a year. but that’s quick if you use a hair dryer.

    I like to freeze my meat first and then use a vacuum sealing machine. This combination does an absolutely great job of keeping meat frozen perfectly with no freezer burn for extended periods of time.

    Steve wrote on June 29th, 2009
  11. Don’t forget pickles! Fermenting with some sea salt and a jar is pretty easy and most veggies will pickle easily in 3-4 days or so. You have to keep them in the fridge so you will need space.

    warren wrote on June 29th, 2009
    • yummmmmmm… I was just eating my spicy pickled blend & dilled brussel sprouts last night!

      Peggy wrote on June 30th, 2009
  12. When i freeze meat, i always place a few pieces of meat inbetween freezer paper, it keeps the meat separate and prevents it from sticking together.
    Then i place it in a Seal A Meal Bag and Vacuum pack it. I find that this way works best for freezing.

    Donna wrote on June 30th, 2009
  13. Peppers and berries don’t need to be blanched before freezing. There are lots of tables of specific foods and what you need to do to freeze them (internet search will find these). Any freezer will include a booklet with these tables. I’ve been freezing my garden produce for 30 years. I like to take my tomatoes and cook them down to a sauce, toss in some fresh basil and I’ve got the best tomato sauce ever for very quick meals in the winter. They take less room than bags of tomatoes.

    Vacuum sealing the foods preserves it the best but I like to put a layer of waxed paper (freezer paper is good too) so it isn’t touching plastic to prevent the plastic compounds leaching into the food. My preference is to freeze in meal size amounts so it is easy on the using end.

    I wash berries (blackberries and blueberries, mostly) by submerging in water to get bugs and dirt to float to the top, drain, then lay out in trays to dry the water. When the berries are dry, put them in bags to freeze. That way, a little massage of the bag frees the individual berries and I can use them in easy amounts (or snack on them) instead of having a frozen mass. This is easier than drying the berries on trays then packaging. I never have that much space in the freezer.

    I can no longer find freezer tape but the blue masking tape seems to stay sticky in the freezer.

    Mary wrote on June 30th, 2009
  14. Any recommendations on particular chest freezer brands?

    Rob wrote on June 30th, 2009
    • I have an old Tappan that is 17 and still going strong. Check Consumer’s Reports for current ratings.

      Mary wrote on June 30th, 2009
  15. Our freezer is the best investment we’ve ever made. It by far allows us to get the best deal on 100% grassfed, organic beef and poultry that we can buy for less in bulk. It’s also great for storing the summer produce bounty, of course! I also use mine to store homemade bone broth. You can also easily double a recipe and store half in the freezer for another time, for convenience! I also love to ferment veggies to preserve them, which adds beneficial microorganisms, enzymes, and increased nutrient content.

    I LOVE your blog!

    Organic & Thrifty wrote on June 30th, 2009
  16. What about the thawing end of this? Specificly, will veggies be soggy when thawed if blanched? I haven’t frozen veggies like this, so I’d like to make sure that they come out right when I do. Nothing worse than trying to choke down soggy broccoli. I’m used to canning & pickling in jars.
    Great Site & great information, Thanks Mark!

    Rose wrote on July 5th, 2009
  17. Organic and Thrifty – where do you buy your grass fed meat? We’ve been ordering from a company called Slanker’s out of Texas, though we’re in NC. We started buying at Whole Foods as well, which is good but expensive. Any tips?

    Mell wrote on July 6th, 2009
  18. Go to eatwild.com and use the farm locator to find local NC products

    Steve wrote on July 6th, 2009
  19. Can anyone advice me if it is possible to use C02 fire extinguisher to fast freeze vegetables?

    Bright wrote on November 16th, 2011

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