Food & Nutrition Column

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Extension Educator Health Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

The warmth of the season has made for productive gardens. When gardens are producing there is often more than what a family can eat fresh and many of you then share; also the food preservation begins. I cannot stress enough that making the time to properly preserve food is important when it comes to the quality of the food for later eating and food safety.

When it comes to food preservation, the easiest and fastest ways to preserve is freezing. When freezing vegetables, they need to be blanched before they are stored in the freezer. Blanching stops, or inactivates, the enzymes and preserves the vitamin and mineral content. The problem when vegetables are not blanched, is that they lose their food value, they change to an unattractive color, become tough and are just not eye appealing or tasty.

I recommend using the microwave to blanch vegetables as well as to steam or cook them when preparing. If you are a gardener or buy vegetables, plan to use young, tender vegetables as they reach their peak of flavor rather than trying to preserve the whole crop at one time. For those of you who go to the u-pick markets, farmers markets or purchase large quantities to freeze, to me the microwave is still the answer when blanching.

If you have several batches to blanch, microwave the first while you clean and trim the second. Your kitchen will still be cool and the small batches will be more uniform and easier to handle than a steamy kettle full of hot water. Start by cleaning the vegetables thoroughly. Let the vegetables soak in cold water for a few minutes. Plan to add some table salt to the water so you can get the critters that may be hiding in the vegetables to crawl out and surface. Please plan to use salt and not any of the other products I have heard people use. Cut vegetables into small pieces. If possible, slice in one-inch lengths, cut, or break into flowerets. Place pieces in a glass dish with water and cover. You will want to microwave following the times in the remainder of my column until vegetables are vibrant green or pliable but crisp.

Next, plunge vegetables immediately into ice cold water to cool completely. This stops further cooking; then drain thoroughly. This is a great place to use clean kitchen towels to absorb all the moisture. For large quantities, you might want to choose the loose-pack method. For this, spread the pieces on a container with sides and freeze. Once the pieces are frozen solid, pack in bags or boxes and seal.

Pack small amounts tightly into freezer bags, boxes or pouches, leaving half-inch airspace at top of package; seal. Remember to label with name of vegetable and date. Frozen blanched vegetables will keep best for 9 to 12 months at zero degrees.

For yellow or green beans, work with one-half pound, which is two cups. Cut or break into 1-1/2 inch pieces, put in a 3-quart covered casserole with one cup of water. Microwave 5 to 6 minutes, stirring twice during the cooking process.

For broccoli or cauliflower, cut into pieces or flowerets, use 4 cups in a 3 quart covered casserole with 1/2 cup water and stir twice during the 4 to 5-1/2 minutes. Use 2 to 2-1/2 cups of whole Brussels sprouts in a 2 quart covered casserole with 1/2 cup water stirring once during the 4 to 5 minutes. For an information sheet on how to blanch in the microwave click here to download.