Gardeners have many choices for preserving their hard-earned harvest when the growing season is done, some requiring elaborate setups and more than a minimal understanding of food science. But in every kitchen, you'll find an appliance that offers a quick and foolproof way to capture the taste, texture, and nutrition that we all treasure in fresh-picked produce. We're talking, of course, about your freezer.
(On just a quarter-acre of land, you can produce fresh, organic food for a family of four—year-round. Rodale's The Backyard Homestead shows you how; get your copy today.)
Even after you pick your crops, enzymes continue to break down the nutrients, convert sugars to starches, and generally degrade flavor and texture. Blanching with steam or boiling water stops this action and preserves fresh-picked color. Tests have shown that, after nine months, vegetables that were blanched before freezing retain up to 1,300 percent more vitamin C and other nutrients than vegetables frozen without blanching.
Steam blanching does the best job of preserving color, flavor, nutrition, and texture, says H. William Schafer, Ph.D., an extension food technologist with the University of Minnesota.
Water blanching tends to leach out water-soluble vitamins. Soaking vegetables to clean them can also literally wash away nutrients; better to rinse and brush them quickly under cold running water. Water blanching is more effective at getting rid of yeasts, molds, and bacteria if they are present and for removing cabbageworms from cauliflower and broccoli.
With either method, timing is key. Under-blanching can actually encourage quality-zapping enzymes.