With summer vegetable harvest in full swing, we have more vegetables right now than we have bellies to fill. Not a bad problem since it means we can put some of the surplus away for the winter.
In the next few postings, I'll cover some of the options you have to preserve your harvest and the equipment you need to do so.
In this first of the series on food preservation, I'll cover how to freeze vegetables and vacuum sealer machines.
We are fortunate enough to have a deep freezer in our garage. We originally purchased it because we buy meat in quantity and get a discount. However, we have extra space and this allows us to put away frozen vegetables as well.
Freezing is remarkably easy to do and is a great way to store carrots, peas, corn, squash and even eggplant. The procedure for freezing is simple.
The key is to blanche the vegetables first to stop enzymatic activity within the vegetable which would cause deterioration. Blanching is a cooking process where you first drop the vegetables in boiling water for a short period of time (generally 1-3 minute) and then transfer them to a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. You leave them in the ice water bath for the same amount of time that they are in the boiling water. The boiling and cooling time depends on the type and size of the vegetable. You can find blanching times for common vegetables at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
One the vegetables have been blanched and cooled, you can transfer into a plastic food storage bag.
- Freezer Bags: You can buy plastic bags from the grocery store as long as they are identified as "Freezer" bags, not just plastic bags. Vegetables stored in these bags will stay fresh for at least 3 weeks.
- Vacuum Seal Bags: For long-term storage, freezer bags will not due the trick. You'll need to use a food vacuum sealer machine and special vacuum sealer bags. The vacuum sealer machine removes air from the bag and increases the shelf life to 8-12 months for blanched vegetables.
Vacuum Sealer Machines
Chamber Vacuum Sealers: The best machines are commercial grade chamber vacuum sealers. These devices work by placing the bag into an internal chamber. They create the strongest vacuum and have the ability to seal liquid items like soup. Because they are designed to seal liquids, they are also better at sealing items like meat and fish which can give off alot of juice (blood) which can get sucked into the pump of other styles of vacuum sealers and foul them.
Unfortunately, these chamber style machines are also very expensive. The smallest and cheapest of these devices is about $1700. I looked in vain for months on eBay hoping to find a used model and finally gave up. If you are a hunter or fisherman freezing lots of meat each year, you may want to bite the bullet and buy one of these chamber vacuum sealers. Personally, this was way to expensive for me so I decided to buy a suction vacuum sealer.
Suction Vacuum Sealers: Unlike chamber vacuum sealers, the bag in suction-style vacuum sealers hangs outside the machine. You can find these machines at retail stores and on the internet and they generally cost between $150-$500 depending on the model.
The most common of these is FoodSaver brand. My internet research on this brand showed that consumers had mixed feelings about these machines. The older (and simpler) machines seemed to be favorably reviewed, but the newer models which automatically stop the vacuum and seal the bag, appear to be more spotty; I found lots of complaints that these machines only lasted a year or less before breaking.
In the end, I decided to purchase a brand called the VacUpack which cost $279. What sold me on this particular model was that it a totally manual (less stuff to break) and it has a drain built in so that if you accidentally such fluids into the machine, the fluids will be drained onto the counter rather than being sucked into the pump.
I've been using the VacUpack for several months and do like it, although it's too early to tell whether it will last longer than other brands of suction vacuum machines.
A Note On Vacuum Bags
The VacUpack comes with bag materials on rolls and also bags of predetermined size that are sealed on one end. The roll material offers the advantage of allowing you to create bags of whatever size you want and the material is cheaper to purchase. However, I did not find the quality of the rolls to be particularly good. They just didn't seal as well as the pre-formed pouches.
My recommendation is just to buy the pouches from VacuPack. The more you buy, the cheaper they are. In quantities of fifty, 6" x 10" Vac Strip pouches are $.34 each and 8" x 12" pouches are $.42 each.
If you have used a vacuum sealer or have experience freezing vegetables, please post a comment so that others can benefit from your knowledge.
A chamber style vacuum is shown below: