If you are now inundated with ripe tomatoes, juicy green beans, berries and herbs, don’t leave them to go stringy or mouldy because the freezer can go a long way to making your crops last well into winter.
Blanching newly picked vegetables before freezing them is a great way to avoid waste. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavour, colour and texture. Blanching cleans the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the colour and helps retain vitamins.
Just plunge vegetables in boiling water for a minute or two and then drain in a colander and transfer them into ice cold water to stop the cooking process, then let them cool and dry them off, place them in freezer bags and store in your freezer until you need them.
You can do this with a range of vegetables, from runner and French beans to sweetcorn, broccoli, carrots and peas, although blanching times may vary.
Of course, we all know the texture of tomatoes changes as soon as you freeze them, but they will still be good for pasta sauces and stews in the months to come.
Strawberries, too, change their character when they’ve been frozen, but you can make some delicious desserts, jams and sauces using frozen berries. Blackberries, which cost a fortune in the shops but grow wildly among hedgerows in the countryside, can be picked and frozen. Instead of squishing the newly-picked fruit in a freezer bag, place the berries flat on a tray and put them in the freezer, then once they’re frozen they can be transferred intact to bags and placed back in the freezer.
Herbs, too, can be preserved to add to soups, casseroles and sauces long after you’ve harvested them. Just place a small amount of the herbs into ice cube trays and cover them with water. Then, when you want them you can just take out one or two cubes to add to your dish.
Some herbs, such as parsley, can be frozen as whole bunches and kept in bags in the freezer. When you want them, just take a handful from the bunch and crumble them into your dish.
If you like flavoured oil to go with your balsamic vinegar, use sprigs of rosemary, or whole chillis and other robust herbs to add to your bottle of olive oil, leaving it for the flavour to infuse.
End-of-season tomatoes can be ‘sun-dried’ in the oven, putting them on a tray at the very lowest setting and leaving them for a couple of hours with the oven door just ajar.
If you’re running out of freezer space and have enough jam and chutney to keep you going until the next millennium, you may just have to find inventive ways to use up your produce. Juicing fruit and veg is a good way of using surplus, although juices will have to be drunk immediately before they oxidise, start changing colour, lose nutrients and look much less appetising.
Really efficient gardeners only grow what they know they’re going to eat - so perhaps, as you look at your gluts of courgettes, peppers, radishes and tomatoes, you need to rethink your vegetable plot next year to avoid any of your produce ending up on the compost heap.
And remember, only freeze the best of what you grow. If your green beans have gone stringy, they are still going to be stringy when you get them out of the freezer in a month’s time.