This is the first in my new series on how we preserve our harvests here at Happy Acres. I thought I would start with summer squash, since ours is coming on now and gardeners often have an excess of it in summer. Freezing is my favorite way to preserve summer squash and zucchini, and that’s what I will concentrate on here.
For reference, now as in years past, I am using the Ball Blue Book for reference. I have used my well-worn 1982 edition for years now, and I recently got the latest edition too. Not much has changed when it comes to freezing squash – or other vegetables for that matter.
It’s best to use squash with a tender skin for freezing, much like you would want them to be for fresh use. I slice in about 1/4 inch thick slices. It can also be grated, though that calls for a little different blanching process. I’ll talk about how to freeze grated squash a bit later.
And speak of blanching, it used to be a hot topic when I first started freezing vegetables. Lots of friends (and family) told me they ‘never blanched xxx before freezing.’ Be that as it may, food experts still recommend blanching the squash before freezing. Blanching stops the enzyme actions that cause loss of flavor, color and texture. It’s not a food safety issue, it’s a quality issue. And if I am going to all the trouble to grow my own squash, why should I compromise on quality? These days I know you can find Youtube videos and dissertations from countless social media influencers that loudly tell you blanching is not necessary. My advice: ignore them and concentrate on expert sources – like a state or county extension service (something with a .edu on the URL). Or do like I did and consult a good reference book like the Ball Blue Book.
The squash should be blanched in boiling water for three minutes. It’s not necessary for the water to come back to a full boil after adding the slices. After the time is up, I dump the squash into a strainer to drain then put in cold water for a few minutes to cool down. Then I drain it again. After drying I spread the squash out on a cloth towel to absorb some of the excess moisture. At that point it can be put in freezer bags or containers and frozen.
I like to freeze the squash slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet or round pizza pan. Then the individual slices can be bagged and frozen. That way I can get out exactly the amount I want to use in soup, stews or even fruit smoothies. Covering the pan with freezer paper will aid with removing the squash after it’s frozen.
Grated squash requires steam blanching for one to two minutes until squash is translucent, then transferring to an ice water bath to cool. Then it can be drained and put in freezer bags or containers and frozen. I think it is better to use a medium to coarse grater since the squash will shrink down a bit during blanching and freezing.
As I mentioned earlier, we most often use the frozen squash in soups or stews. If added early in the cooking process, the squash will soften and sometimes fall apart. If added close to the end of cooking, the squash tends to keep its shape and form a bit better. It’s also good when added to pasta dishes, or to baked goods like zucchini bread or muffins. After freezing, the squash keeps its quality for up to a year. After that the quality may decline, but it is still safe to use even if a bit older.
Summer squash can also be dehydrated, but I don’t have a lot of experience with that. I have dehydrated it one or twice, but I found the frozen squash to be more useful. If you have a dehydrator, you might give it a try, and if you already dehydrate squash I’d love to hear about your experience with it.
I’ll be sharing more of how we preserve our harvests in the weeks to come!