Monday, January 23, 2012

Freezing Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage

We've been eating fresh veggies from the garden for a while now, but a person gets a little burned out on broccoli after a while. It's also getting to be time to clear out winter plants and make room for the spring garden.

So yesterday, I worked on freezing some of our broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

First up, a quick note on the cauliflower. It's gone "ricey". I can't accurately describe what ricey means, so I just took a few (rather poor, sorry 'bout that) pictures to show you
Here's a regular head of cauliflower and a ricey one
Closer up, you can see how it looks like it's opening up.

We also started seeing some pinkish spot in the cauliflower:
This color change and the heads going ricey happens when the cauliflower matures during weather that is too warm. We've had some days in the upper 70's, so it's not too surprising this has happened. The result is produce that's not exactly the highest quality, but it's still edible, so I still saved it.

There are some vegetables that are super easy to freeze. Onions and peppers are great (which is why we grow a lot)...you just chop them up and freeze them. Some things need to be blanched first though. When we first started gardening, we didn't know that. We froze broccoli without blanching it first and it was the nastiest thing ever when we tried to eat it. Blanching is a process of briefly cooking food in boiling water or steam and it de-activates enzymes that can wreak havoc on your food.

Blanching can be a little bit tricky. If you under-blanch, it can speed up the enzymes and be worse than not blanching at all. If you over blanch, you get gross, limp vegetables with more vitamins than necessary drained out of them.

Blanching 101:
Fill a large pot with water and set it on the stove over high heat. Fill another pot or a large bowl with cold water (I add ice cubes several times to keep it cold)
Wash and chop your cauliflower or broccoli into about 1 inch chunks

Put the veggies into a basket that you can easily submerge into the water. You want to work with fairly small batches. I did about one pound at a time.
Once your water is at a rolling boil, you put the basket into the boiling water. Keep the heat high and it should come back to a full rolling boil pretty quickly. When the water is boiling again, you start your timer. Different vegetables need to be blanched for different amounts of time. For broccoli and cauliflower, the blanching time is 3 minutes.

At the end of the blanching time, lift the whole basket and put it in the cold water. Your water should be cold enough and your batches small enough that the veggies are completely cool within the amount of time it took them to blanch. So for our broccoli and cauliflower that blanch 3 minutes, they should be cooled off in 3 minutes or less. If it's taking longer than that, you need to add some ice to the water and/or work with smaller batches. This cooling step is what stops the cooking process, so it's important to get it right.

You want to drain the veggies as well as possible so they aren't encrusted in ice when you freeze them. I do this by spread several flour sack cloth towels on the table and spreading the vegetables on them while I work on subsequent batches. I've found this works a lot better than just letting them drip dry in a strainer.
After the veggies drain for a while, I also gently pat them with another towel to get as much water off as possible. Then I spread them on a foil lined cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for an hour or two before I bag them up so that they don't all stick together and it's easier for me to use half a bag if I want to.

Once my broccoli and cauliflower was taken care of, I headed back out to the garden and realized I had several heads of cabbage that also needed to be harvested

They've also had trouble forming correctly because of the warm weather and I felt like leaving them out for another week of warm weather was asking for trouble. I harvested one head and made coleslaw. I wasn't quite sure how to save the others, but I checked in with the National Center for Home Food Preservation and it turns out you can blanch and freeze cabbage as well. I followed the exact same steps with that except that it only needs to blanch for 1.5 minutes. I'm not sure how it will hold up after freezing, but I plan to use it to make fried cabbage, so I figure that should work out okay.

Check in on my fall garden wrap up post to see how well and not so well the rest of the plants did!

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