September 9th, 2011 - By Therese Madden
When most people think of preserving fruits and vegetables they tend to think of canning, but freezing can be a less risky and simpler alternative. Editor and writer Audra Wolfe, demonstrates what to do with the season's legion of green beans.
Summer, it happens so fast. Just when I'm starting to get used to seeing the tomatoes at the market. Boom! Summer's over. But really, summer is not officially over until September 22nd, and there's plenty of good looking produce around to prove it. To preserve some of this bounty you can can or freeze. I went to see a Audra Wolfe she's a writer and editor living in Philadelphia. She also preserves a lot of food at home, "canning isn't necessarily the best solution for all kinds of foods, especially what they call low acid foods, those are the ones that have the reputation, when people are worried about botulism."
In case you forget, botulism is a kind of food poisoning. So, when canning low acid foods you have to be careful. Audra Wolfe continues, "especially green beans, green beans are the poster child for botulism." With this in mind, we are freezing green beans today. After picking off the stems, Audra boils a pot of water.
While the beans are in the hot water, about 3 minutes, Audra prepares a bowl of ice water. She drains the beans and puts them into the bowl of ice water for 3 minutes, the same amount of time they sat in the boiling water. Wolfe explains why the cold bath is important, "it's to help the texture and to keep them from over cooking and we want them cold so they don't heat up the other things in the freezer. The quicker they freeze the less likely you are to get ice crystals, and ice crystals are one of the things that really takes away from the quality. It breaks down the cell structure, and that's part of what makes frozen food taste mushy or not very good. It's often because of either oxidation, from having too much air, or it's from ice crystals from freezing to slowly."
After the dip in the ice bath, the beans get drained once again. You remove as much water as possible, again the goal is less water, which means less ice crystals in the future, which should lead to crispier, better tasting bean when you pull them out of the freezer months down the road. Audra places the beans in plastic freezer bags, 8 ounces to a bag, which is about 2 cups of beans. "I've just figured how much I generally need whenever I'm making a stew or something and I've found 8 ounces is about right. So, if you do that before you freeze them, that way you've thawed just as much as you need and you don't have any waste."
She then creates her homemade version of a vacuum seal, sucking the air out of the bag with a straw, “and that's it, they go in the freezer." The whole process should take no more than 15 minutes, and according to Audra the vegetables will stay good in the freezer for months. "There's nothing better than raiding your freezer in January, or February and pulling out some wonderful snap peas, it's such a great feeling to know that these are the peas that came from your Farmer's Market or that you grew yourself even though maybe it's snowing outside."