Canning has long been the favored choice of home preservers, primarily because refrigeration is not required for long-term food storage. While it remains at the top of the preservation food chain, there are alternatives that can save time and still result in long-lasting products. Freezing, for instance, is a simple process that reduces input but also keeps foods closest to their fresh form when done correctly, and as a bonus, freezing foods at home allows you to tailor ingredients and preparation to your specific tastes or needs.
As with all preservation techniques, freezing comes at a cost. According to the Colorado State University Extension, these costs include “initial cost of freezer, divided over 20 years if new (nine years if used); lost interest on cash outlay for freezer; maintenance and repair; electricity needed to reach and maintain 0 degrees F; packaging materials; water and fuel to prepare food for freezing; and added ingredients, such as sugar or anti-darkening agents.”
While purchase prices will vary by size, model and age, the CSU Extension recommends accounting for a repair price of 2 percent of the purchase price per year on your unit and details the projected costs of operating a freezer in its fact sheet, “Cost of Preserving and Storing Food.”
A full freezer uses less electricity than a partially filled one, so the National Center for Home Food Preservation insists that refilling it several times per year is the most cost-efficient method: “If the freezer is filled and emptied only once each year, the energy cost per package is very high. You can lower the cost for each pound of stored food by filling and emptying your freezer two, three or even more times per year.”
Choosing & Using Your Freezer
There are two types of freezers on the market for you to choose from: manual defrost and frost-free, the latter of which comes with a higher price tag. According to the NCHFP, the former requires defrosting at least once a year or when 1/4-inch frost is present on a large area of the freezer surface.
While a frost-free machine doesn’t need to be defrosted, both appliances should be cleaned at least once per year, if not more. In both instances, unplug the machine’s power supply before proceeding. Empty the freezer, placing frozen packages into insulated ice chests or cardboard cartons, and wipe it down with a solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda per 1 quart of water, then sponge it clean and towel it dry. Reconnect the power, and let the freezer cool for at least 30 minutes before refilling. If odors are a problem even after cleaning, place activated charcoal in pans or on paper in the freezer for several days to help eliminate odors without the need to remove your frozen goods.
Regardless of the make and model you choose, all freezer manufacturers provide guidelines in their manuals for the maximum number of cubic feet of unfrozen product that can be frozen at one time. The University of Minnesota Extension averages this number at 2 to 3 pounds of product per cubic foot of freezer space per 24 hours, so a 10-cubic-foot freezer could freeze up to 30 pounds in a 24-hour period. The extension warns against overloading your freezer, which could lead to longer freeze times and reduce the quality of your frozen food. To help speed the freezing process, set the temperature control at -10 degrees or lower about 24 hours before you plan to freeze and to leave space around the packages for air to circulate until the food is fully frozen.
In order to have a successful freezer stocking, you need to have the proper equipment. In the case of freezing, the containers you select will spell success—or failure. Regardless of the packaging materials, you should use freezer-grade packaging in order to ensure the highest quality of your frozen items. Evelyn Crayton, extension foods and nutrition specialist at Alabama Cooperative Extension System, recommends four main types of freezer-grade packaging:
- rigid containers: reusable glass or plastic containers with airtight lids; suitable to most foods that aren’t oddly shaped
- flexible bags: single-use, sealable, moisture-vapor-resistant polyethylene; best for dried or liquid food
- collapsible cover boxes: reusable boxes for freezer bags to protect from puncture and help with stacking
- freezer wrap: paper, cellophane and aluminum foil that are made specifically for use in freezers; useful for wrapping meats and other large, irregular-shaped objects (Don’t use standard butcher papers, foils or cellophane, as they are too porous.)
An airtight seal is paramount for preventing freezer burn and absorption of odors. Choose rigid containers with tight-fitting lids. For wraps or containers that have lost their seal, consider sealing with freezer tape, which has an adhesive formulated to hold at 0 degrees F or lower.
Freezing The Harvest
With all your appliances prepped and your containers at the ready, you can now start putting back all those tasty, farm-fresh products. For the best results, store foods at 0 degrees or lower. The Cornell Cooperative Extension recommends using home-frozen foods within eight to 12 months; food stored at 0 degrees or lower is still safe to eat beyond a year, but the quality and nutritional value will be impacted.
Freezer burn is one of the biggest culprits of discoloration, off-flavors and tough foods. These burns appear as fuzzy, grayish-white spots on your food surface but don’t pose a health hazard. (However, if your food has become slimy or developed a foul odor, this could be an indication of spoilage.) Properly preparing and storing your foods will prevent most instances of freezer burn.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension suggests washing produce in cool running water or dipping in several changes of water, but do not soak the food. Sort items by size and ripeness before packaging, and pretreat vegetables by blanching them, and add ascorbic acid to easily oxidized fruits.
Whether you freeze fresh fruit for snacking, jams for no-pressure stores, or meat and produce for future meals, this preservation method serves as a quick and easy reserve when canning and drying don’t suite your needs and availability. Done correctly, your cache will add a chill vibe to your annual preserving mayhem.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Hobby Farms.