In 1924, when Clarence Birdseye developed the quick-freeze method and brought it to the public, frozen foods had been banned in prisons as inhumane and avoided elsewhere. In those days, food was frozen slowly. It formed large ice crystals that ruptured cell membranes of food and resulted in mushy, tasteless food. Birdseye revolutionized the way we eat by freezing food instantly and thus vastly improving the texture, taste and nutrients.

These days, with the year-round availability of fresh food brought in from around the world, do we really need frozen food?

In Birdseye’s time frozen food was tastier than canned and served to fill in the gaps for those in winter climates. Our modern freezer serves to store food harvested at peak flavor, thereby lowering expense and food waste and creating a smaller carbon footprint. Additionally, your freezer offers convenience and can store meals you prepare, tailored to your needs. Health-oriented cooks are realizing that a thoughtfully stocked freezer paves the way to economical, speedy, nutrient-dense meals. Creative cooks appreciate how a freezer full of their favorite elements becomes a palette of color and flavor to draw on.

You don’t have to cook or freeze local produce to eat well though: there is a wholesome New World of frozen food out there. Companies like Amy’s, Artisan Bistro, Cascadian Farm, Cedar Lane, Kashi, Healthy Choice, EVOL, Luvo and Babeth’s Feast blast the old microwave plastic trays loaded with tasteless, preservative-filled turkey and mashed potatoes into oblivion. They offer wild-caught salmon with quinoa, black bean and mango pilaf, burritos, tamales, chicken marsala, ravioli, eggplant parmesan, organic berries, chicken tikka masala, beef bourguignon, rack of lamb with red wine sauce, osso buco, coq au vin, lobster risotto and quiche.

You can have high quality food at half the cost by preserving and freezing your produce at its peak. The nutrient content of peak-frozen fruits and vegetables is comparable to fresh. Excepting foods that don’t like freezing, like raw and hard boiled eggs and high-water-low-sugar produce like lettuce, raw apples, onions or potatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, radishes, citrus and dairy products (yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese and milk) that may separate, your imagination is the only limit.

With the waning summer you most likely wish to banish thoughts of below-zero temperatures and ice. If you avoid them you might miss out on an enormously helpful secret of creative, time strapped, frugal and environmentally sensitive cooks: the deep freezer can be your best friend.

Here are some tips to keep your frozen treasures at their best:

  • Keep the freezer set at 0 degrees F. Most foods will stay fresh six months. Freezer storage up to a year needs a constant temperature of −18 °C (0 °F) or lower so check your thermometer.
  • Blanch foods like green, wax, Roma and string beans, garlic, kale, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, peas and okra, for long-term freshness and texture (more than six weeks). Pathogens that cause food spoilage are killed by blanching. Pathogens do grow at freezing temperatures but not as rapidly.
  • Stock your freezer with homemade: prepare double or triple batches of meals like lasagna, chili, stew, tagine, pot pie or meatballs and meatloaf. Eat one and freeze the rest.
  • Freeze elements of meals like cooked legumes, quinoa, noodles or rice, sauces and salsas, roasted, shredded pork or chicken for tacos, roasted and puréed squash, sliced and roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, beef, vegetable or chicken stock, sautéed mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery and leeks) to start chicken soup or a stew, herb-compound butter, finely chopped herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme in water or oil, pie pastry and homemade bouillon cubes.
  • Fruit loves freezing: Wash and peel mango, peaches, kiwi, pineapple and bananas; wash and drain berries and freeze in one layer. Cook apples, plums, apricots or peaches into sauce and freeze.
  • Invest in good-quality freezer bags and containers to avoid freezer burn. Freezer burn happens when surfaces of food are exposed to air, imparting “off” flavors and a dry, fibrous texture. Double- or triple-wrap food, fill containers almost to the top (allow for expansion), and squeeze excess air out of zipper freezer baggies.
  • Freeze food in realistic, usuable portions.
  • Label and date everything. Keep a list of what and how much of each food is available on or near the freezer; check off what you’ve used.

BLANCHED VEGETABLES

Blanching sets color and stops enzymatic action that causes loss of flavor and texture. It cleans the surface of the produce and slows vitamin loss.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. (Each pound of produce needs one gallon water.) Stir in a tablespoon or two of salt. Set up a colander or strainer in a bowl nearby.

Drop produce into boiling water for allotted time. Immediately, with a strainer or slotted spoon, transfer produce into colander. Run under cold water or immerse in cold water until cooled. Bring water to a boil again and continue blanching remaining vegetables in batches.

Drain vegetables well and place in freezer zipper baggies. Flatten to remove air and freeze. Produce will last up to one year if frozen at low temperature.

Asparagus: 2 to 4 minutes depending on size.

Snap beans: 3 minutes

Broccoli: 3 minutes

Brussels sprouts: 3 to 5 minutes depending on size.

Carrots: 2 to 5 minutes depending on size

Cauliflower florets: 3 minutes

Shredded cabbage: 1-1/2 minutes

Celery: 3 minutes

Corn on cob: 7 to 11 minutes

Greens: Collards and kale 3 minutes, all others 2 minutes

Kohlrabi: whole 3 minutes, cubes 1 minute

Okra: 3 to 4 minutes

Peas: 1-1/2 to 2 minutes

Sweet peppers: sliced 2 to 3 minutes

Rutabaga: 3 minutes

Turnips or parsnips: cubed 2 minutes

Other vegetables like legumes, beets, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes should be cooked through.

ROASTED TOMATOES

Roasting tomatoes preserves their summer goodness and intensifies their flavor. Roast them plain or with garlic and herbs, chill and freeze in freezer baggies. For a fast winter meal with the heavenly taste of summer, pull out a bag and heat them to instant tomato sauce, as an addition to chili or stew or combined with chicken stock for soup.

Tomatoes, washed and cored

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Whole cloves garlic, peeled (optional)

Sprigs of fresh herbs: oregano, rosemary, thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice tomatoes into 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick rounds. (To roast cherry tomatoes, roll whole tomatoes in olive oil and roast in one layer.)

If you will use garlic or herbs: wash and dry them, peel garlic and strip herbs from stems. Sprinkle into oil and lay tomatoes on top.

Oil a large non-aluminum pan. Lay tomato slices into oil and flip to oil second side. Wedge slices into pan in one layer. Sprinkle tomatoes lightly with salt.

Roast tomatoes in the oven until brown around the edges, about 45 minutes.

  • To preserve roasted tomatoes in whole, round disks for bruschetta, start with thick, dense heirloom types sliced thickly. Roast and chill tomatoes in pan. Gently transfer them to a parchment, wax or freezer paper-covered pan; stack the tomato disks in layers with paper in between. Freeze until solid and transfer to zipper baggies. To thaw: pull out disks as you need them and thaw on a plate.

BRUSCHETTA

Heat an outdoor or stovetop grill. Brush slices of ciabatta bread with olive oil. Grill bread on both sides until golden and grill-marked. Rub bread with a cut clove of garlic and top with a roasted tomato. Garnish with Italian parsley or basil leaves.

Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for more than 25 years and has taught professional and recreational classes in California, New York City and Michigan. Her culinary textbook is called “Discovering Global Cuisines.”

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