With an average of 135 lbs. of fresh local produce donated per week throughout the summer, Bethesda Cares receives more vegetables than can be immediately prepared and served. So the question arises, how can we preserve this produce so that it keeps its nutrients and flavor while also remaining easy to incorporate into meals?
Freezing fruits and vegetables serves to halt a lot of the cellular activity that normally causes spoiling. But certain enzymes continue to destroy plant cells, often leading to ‘off’ colors, textures and flavors in the produce and detracting from its stores of nutrients. “Produce that is simply frozen without preparation is still safe to eat but is less nutritious and certainly less appealing” explains Jenna Umbriac, a nutritionist at Manna Food Center, emphasizing the importance of this project for keeping the nutritional value of local produce. “These vegetables will be picked on Friday; frozen within two days, they will retain more nutrients than fresh produce that has traveled or been stored for a week before it is eaten.”
Each Saturday June through October, Farm to Freezer volunteers will pick up the contributions from local farmers and bring them to a commercial kitchen to be blanched and packed for freezing. Blanching is the process of partially cooking vegetables through boiling or steaming and then immediately plunging them into ice water. Heating the vegetables kills the unwanted enzymes, and cooling them quickly keeps the residual heat from cooking the vegetables through completely.
Our Farm to Freezer process includes washing, stemming, blanching, cutting up, packaging, and vacuum sealing the produce. Typically, the vegetables we anticipate freezing include tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, cucumbers, and more. Throughout the year they will be baked, made into sauces, or incorporated into other dishes. If this sounds like fun work that helps the hungry as well as local farmers, stay tuned for updates on how you can sign up to participate. We welcome adults and teens ages 16 and older and younger teens (ages 13-15) accompanied by an adult.
Farm to Freezer Intern