Home Freezing of Fruits and Vegetables

The following information on freezing fruits and vegetables comes from Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. Five Acres and Independence is also available to purchase in print.

Of all the mechanical and power devices that have come to make life in the country more pleasant and profitable, none promises a happier change in the life of the entire farm family than the home food freezer. Gone are the days when the farmer’s wife must can and preserve enough vegetables and fruit during the growing season to last through the interminable winter months, or when butchering time brought a deluge of meat canning, smoking, and curing. No more must the winter diet be limited and monotonous and not too nutritious in spite of all such aids. Most of the old canning and preserving, besides involving hard, endless work, was likely to cause serious loss not only of the foods’ flavors and textures, but also of precious minerals and vitamins as well.

Today, with freezer units finding their way into more and more farm homes, the farm family can live the entire year like kings and epicures with a wide choice of every food the farm yields available every day of the year—as delicious, as colorful, and practically as high in nutritive values as the day it was fresh. Where formerly the family was forced to gorge itself on the cuts of meat not suited to smoking or canning before they should spoil; where often the family let many fine vegetables and fruits go to waste because of the difficulties and drawbacks of canning, only to suffer a famine of these same foods later, today one can freeze all these at their peak of perfection and eat them at leisure throughout the year.

The reader may well be saying, “What’s the catch?”

The catch is the same as that in every other farm operation: the operator needs to know his business thoroughly. This involves careful selection, placing, and care of equipment; planning for its most efficient use; skill and scientific technique in preparing foods for freezing and in final preparation for the table. It involves, too, cooperation of all the family, for when large quantities of food are ready at once, many hands are needed to make it ready for the freezer in the shortest possible time. No one has claimed that the home freezer eliminates work, but users agree that it does greatly reduce the work required in canning and preserving by other methods and that the results in better appearance, flavor, and nutrition are incomparably superior.

In preparing for this business of providing a better farm living, it is well first to take careful stock of the family’s needs. What foods do various members prefer? How many of each kind have been canned in the past? How many more would be used if the product were frozen? How much of each could be available for freezing? Is the family at present stable in size and appetite, or is the food need likely to be more or less than now in the coming years? Such a plan will make it possible to estimate how large a freezer should be purchased.

Square or oblong containers which use space most economically will allow storage of as many as 24 quarts per cubic foot. Round containers and odd shaped packages of vegetables and meat use considerably more space. Actually, 15-20 quarts or 30-40 pounds of frozen foods per cubic foot of freezer space are probably as good an average as can usually be accommodated. Cornell University figures suggest a storage allowance of only 30 pounds per cubic foot.* [*Masterman, Nancy K., Using the Home Freezer, Cornell Bulletin for Homemakers No. 658, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.]

Investigators have found that families purchasing lockers have tended to underestimate the size required. Research at Cornell University based on a study of 98 families using home freezers fixed a reasonable requirement for freezer space at 6 cubic feet per person (Masterman). This allows 178 pounds of frozen food per person to be stored in the farm freezer at one time. The estimate includes 120 lb. fruit and vegetables, and 58 lb. meat. Actually, each person might well consume at least 117 lb. of frozen meat per year, but this would probably be put in the locker at various times during the winter and not all at once as must often be done with fruits and vegetables.

The average amount of storage space actually possessed by these families was 3.8 cu. ft. per person. The average amount desired was 4.8 cu. ft. per person, and those conducting the study believe that even this is likely to be insufficient.

In selecting the freezer, each family must consider its special needs. Having estimated the size required, they must figure both the first cost and the operating cost, the space available, ease of access to all freezer space, temperatures that can be maintained, facilities for quick freezing, care required, and provisions for emergencies when the current goes off.

The two general types are side opening and top opening freezers. Because the side opener has a greater height compared to its base, it is more economical of floor space than the top opener. Many people feel that food stored on its several shelves is easier to find than in the other type and can be put in and taken out without so much bending. It can be defrosted more easily, usually without requiring the removal of much food.

On the other hand, the side opener requires a more expensive construction because of the need for large, completely insulated, air-tight door and heavy hinges. Consequently, the cost per cu. ft. of storage space is likely to be higher. Because the cold air flows out at the bottom whenever the door is opened and is replaced by warm, moisture-laden air from outside, it may be more expensive to run and may require much more frequent defrosting than the other type. If it is tightly packed with food, some packages may fall out when the door is opened.

The top opener uses more floor space and unless there are wire baskets or partitions to separate the contents, it may be difficult to get at those toward the bottom. Some of the first of this type of freezers were built so deep that it was difficult for a short person to bend over far enough to reach the bottom. This defect has been corrected in most of the newer and shallower models.

Because cold air sinks, little is lost when the lid is opened. This makes for economy of operation and for small accumulation of frost. Because the construction of the top lids is not as expensive as that of the side-opening door, one is likely to get more cubic contents for the same money.

Directions for defrosting are provided with each type of freezer. A two- or three-times-a-year defrosting of the top opener type is usually accomplished by removing and heavily blanketing contents and scraping ice from the plates with wooden edged or dull edged metal scraper such as putty knife or thin piece of sheet metal. The scraped off frost may be caught in a paper placed in the bottom of the freezer or may be taken up with a damp cloth.

A once-a-year cleaning is best accomplished when outside temperature is low or when there is little food left in the box. All the remaining food is removed and carefully insulated in an air-tight box with newspapers and blankets or other suitable means of keeping out heat. After the current has been turned off to allow box to warm, an alkaline solution of several tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart of water is used for a thorough washing. It is important never to use soap or a caustic solution under any circumstances. An electric fan may be used to speed drying with all lids and doors open. When the box is thoroughly dry, the power is again turned on.

Some freezers require periodic oiling and checking of the mechanism. Others, with hermetically sealed units, require no attention. Some have an alarm device—a bell, or a light which turns off—that signals when the temperature in the box rises 10º. Some have cold controls and thermometers showing from the outside the temperature inside. Some have special freezing compartments where the temperature is set lower for freezing than in the rest of the cabinet; some provide for freezing by direct contact with the shelves; and some, by a blast of moving air from an electric fan.

It is necessary to have some method of checking to know if for any reason the current is off for more than a few hours. Experiments have shown that there is little likelihood of damage to foods in a well-constructed cabinet under 72 hours of stoppage of current. However, if electric service is suspended for longer than that time, it is necessary to procure dry ice or take the freezer’s contents, well wrapped, to the nearest freezer locker plant.

It is important to remember that food scientists insist that a satisfactory freezer must maintain a constant storage temperature at least as low as 0º F. Higher temperatures are not satisfactory or safe for storing food over long periods. This is the chief objection to using ice cream cabinets as food freezers. Rarely can they maintain a low enough temperature to keep foods safely for more than a short time. Their shape, too, is usually not suited for packing foods economically.

Prices of freezers range from about $200 for small simple cabinets to over $1,000 for large built-to-order ones. A good freezer for the average farm family falls somewhere near the middle of these extremes. Cost of operating varies not only with the type of freezer, amount of food in it, and the place it is located, but also with the local electric rate and the amount of current used elsewhere on the farm. One side-opening freezer of 28 cu. ft. capacity and with 1/4 horsepower motor for which records were kept at Cornell University over a year’s time used an average of 115 1/3 kilowatt hours per month.

In choosing a place to locate the freezer, one should consider not only available space and convenience, but average temperature, for the lower the temperature outside, the less will be the cost of operation. Many farm families have found the cellar the best location.

Before starting to prepare food for freezing, it is most important to study carefully reliable directions for each type of food. Very few foods are frozen by exactly the same methods, and scientific accuracy is quite as important here as in canning. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, many colleges and makers of electrical equipment now issue free bulletins containing complete, easily followed directions. It is possible here to outline only a few general principles.

Some varieties of vegetables and fruits freeze more successfully than others. One should always make sure of the best varieties for freezing in time to have them available. Here, too, these bulletins give detailed information. Some vegetables commonly known as salad vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, celery, cabbage are not usually satisfactory for freezing.

The food—whether vegetable, fruit, dairy product, meat, or fish—should be made ready for freezing at its peak of perfection. This means that it should be just right for eating, neither overripe nor underripe, too young or too old. Fruit and vegetables should be rushed with the greatest possible speed from the place of harvest through the necessary preparation and into the freezer. This preserves not only flavor and color, but also the precious vitamins; and it prevents the ever present bacteria from starting spoilage. Meat should be frozen as soon as it is properly aged and, to conserve space, it should be boned as much as possible. It should be packed in sizes suitable for a family or company meal, for one should never thaw more meat than can be used at once.

If there is space in the freezer, such foods as baked beans, bread, pies (baked or unbaked), ice cream, eggs, butter, cream, and cheese can be stored with excellent results.

In general, fruits should be mixed either with dry sugar or a fairly heavy syrup in order to reduce oxidation which occurs when fruit comes in contact with air and is likely to be accelerated in freezing unless a covering of syrup protects the fruit. A few fruits, however, such as raspberries, can be picked directly into the waxed carton and frozen without sugar. Rhubarb also can be treated in this way.

All vegetables, with the possible exception of rhubarb, should be scalded in boiling water or steam before freezing. This is necessary in order to render inactive the enzymes that cause flavor changes and destroy vitamins. Scalding also brightens the color and makes the product easier to pack.

One should allow at least 1 gallon of water to each pound of vegetable and for leafy vegetables, 2 gallons. Not more than 2 pounds should ever be scalded at once. The water should be actively boiling when the vegetable is immersed and then brought again to boiling as quickly as possible. It is necessary to follow specific directions for scalding time of each vegetable. Too little scalding may produce an inferior product while too long a bath results in needless destruction of vitamins.

Steam scalding is very satisfactory with many vegetables, provided the steam keeps them at as high a temperature as boiling water. It preserves more of the water-soluble vitamins than does scalding in boiling water. Steam, however, should never be used for leafy vegetables such as spinach or chard because they mat down and cannot be penetrated in all parts by the heat. After scalding, vegetables should be chilled quickly either in running water at 50° or 60° F. or in water containing chunks of ice. After chilling to about 50° F., vegetables should be packed firmly in cartons, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the top for expansion in freezing.

The container selected should be sturdy and moisture-vapor proof, for any package which allows leakage of air or moisture does not protect the food from drying. Drying out of the product results in loss or change of flavor and nutritive values and shortens the storage life of the food. Shape and ease of packing are also important considerations. If packages with cellophane liners are used, the liners should be sealed completely tight, after pressing out all the air possible, with a warm but not too hot iron. All packages should be labeled and dated. With careful handling and rinsing in lukewarm water, some containers can often be used more than once.

Ordinary waxed paper is not sufficiently moisture-vapor proof as a wrapping for meat. Heat sealing cellophane, materials containing rubber or latex, foils, or laminated sheets in which the adhesive also acts as a barrier are used for wrapping meat. Cellophane requires an extra wrap of butcher’s paper or stockinette.

Glass jars can be used for fruits or fruit juices, though they are not economical of space and there is some danger of breakage. They are not recommended for vegetables, since most authorities feel that the best method of cooking frozen vegetables is to drop them, still frozen, into a small amount of actively boiling water. When packed in glass, they must be thawed before they can be removed from the jar.

General time for cooking frozen vegetables is about half to a third as long as that required for fresh ones. It is important not to overcook them and not to use much water in cooking. To get all of the vitamins and minerals, one should always use the water in which they are cooked.

The usual directions for serving frozen fruit are to thaw it in the unopened container and to serve it when there are still a few ice crystals in it. At this stage, it is almost like the fresh fruit, but after complete thawing, it softens and loses flavor quickly.

Meat may or may not be thawed before cooking. If cooked without thawing, a longer cooking time must be allowed since the meat will thaw in the oven.

Because foods must be frozen when strictly fresh, because both the freezing process and the short cooking time are kind to vitamins and minerals, well-prepared frozen foods have almost if not quite as many of these as the fresh product. Many scientists state that these nutrients in frozen foods are actually higher than in many so-called fresh ones bought at the stores out of season, or when they have been kept for some days. The freezing process keeps more nutritive value than any other method of food preservation. On the farm where foods can be rushed from the field to the freezer, the greatest possible number of nutrients are preserved.

There is, however, a gradual vitamin loss even in zero storage and for this reason, authorities do not recommend keeping frozen foods more than a year. The foods will be edible for some time after that, but they will have suffered a gradual loss both of flavor and of nutritive values. In the case of fats, fish, and pork products containing much fat, all of which tend to become rancid easily, a shorter storage time of not more than 6 months is often recommended.

In order to make the most efficient use of the freezer, it is well to make a chart showing the location of all foods as they go in. On the chart should be space for recording date of entry, kind and quantity of food, and date of removal. A map or diagram showing actual location of each food in the freezer is often the clearest explanation. With such a plan, no food becomes lost indefinitely in an obscure corner and an inventory of all food on hand is available at all times.

In all of its phases, successful freezing on the farm constitutes an efficient miniature business. At peaks in the freezing season it is not so miniature at that, except when compared with the old style of canning over a hot stove during the hottest summer weather. The farm wife is usually president and general manager of the corporation, but her husband is first vice-president and all members of the family are both job holders and stockholders.

Of all businesses on the farm, none pays better dividends than this in health, enjoyment, and satisfaction. These are oftenest mentioned by families owning freezers as worth more than dollar savings.

It is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the cost, because so many factors enter in. The first cost of course is considerable, and the cost for upkeep is certainly more than the expense of canning. On the other hand, we must remember the time saved over that required in canning and in frequent marketing trips, the food saved which might otherwise be wasted or not used to good advantage, and the better nutrition for all the family. Many of the common illnesses of winter can be traced in part to inadequate diets that are likely to be common when fresh food is scarce. If the family’s general health is improved by frozen foods and doctor bills are cut or eliminated, this goes a long way toward canceling the expense of a freezer.

The pleasure of having foods of all varieties and of highest quality available in all seasons as delicious as when fresh and ready to use at a moment’s notice and for every emergency can never be measured in money. The farm freezer truly eliminates time, weather, and distance from markets and makes the farm family’s menus through all the year equal to the best the world can offer.

Click here to purchase Five Acres and Independence in paperback

Home Freezing of Fruits and Vegetables

Return to Five Acres and Independence Table of Contents