Summer Squash: How To Preserve The Bounty
Summer squash is a prime example of garden excess. Often bags of the vegetable are left on doorsteps unannounced with the homeowner returning to find that they have a large ‘gift' from an unknown neighbor. Many times the surplus is simply tossed away because there is already a refrigerator full of a similar vegetable already taking up valuable storage space.
So many people end up with such a glut of squash they begin to feel overwhelmed and simply start discarding it. Summer squash is such an easy vegetable to preserve that all cooks should learn how to do this. All you have to do is have a few recipes on hand to make a quick side dish whenever another vegetable is needed at the table.
The best way to preserve squash for the winter is to freeze it. Freezing is simple and there is no special equipment that you have to purchase. It is one of the cheapest ways to have a ready supply of vegetables for the supper table. As long as you follow a few safe food handling rules you can have a winter's supply of frozen squash in just a short amount of time.
Start with fresh squash. The quality of your frozen vegetables can only be as good as the produce that you begin with. The quicker that you freeze them the more flavor and nutrients that they will have. Wash in cool water and trim the ends of your squash. You will then need to slice the squash in evenly sized pieces. I generally quarter them and cut the tails off. The squash that I am using are Yellow Summer Crooknecks. They are an old Open Pollinated variety that has a great flavor and the seeds are commonly available from many sources. Many people plant the straight neck squashes because of the uniform shape and size but they do not even come close to the old crooknecks when it comes to flavor.
To properly freeze vegetables they need to be blanched in boiling water or steam. This stops the enzyme action that takes place to ripen or mature the produce. If you simply freeze your squash the enzyme action continues, causing degrading in color, flavor, and texture.
Prepare a large pot of water and bring it to a rolling boil. At this point, you can either lower a basket of squash pieces into the water, or carefully pour your squash directly into it. Different vegetables take varying amounts time to properly blanch but a good rule of thumb is five minutes. The water does not have to return to a rolling boil, but it needs to at least simmer well. Your squash pieces will change from pale yellow to a much brighter shade.
When your squash have blanched, simply take the basket and plunge it into a waiting ice water bath or pour the squash and water through a colander and then place the colander in the ice water. The ice water will stop the vegetable from cooking further and you can then freeze it in a semi-raw state. After cooling the squash quickly, they need to finish cooling completely before bagging up for the freezer. Your squash will be tastier if they are totally cool. This usually will take a couple of hours.
After the squash have cooled, you can then bag or box up your squash in serving portions that will best suit your family or a certain recipe. Place the squash pieces in the container and press out as much air as possible. Air is your enemy when freezing produce so take care when doing this.
Label your containers with contents, date and amount in the bag. This way you will always know exactly what is in each container. Place flat in the freezer in a single layer until they are frozen. Sometimes a cookie sheet will help with this task.
Squash are easy to preserve and you can process just a few pieces at a time if you wish. There is no need for an all day event that messes up the kitchen and consumes time and effort. You will be most grateful for the extra vegetables in the freezer this winter when you need another dish.
To use your frozen squash, simply thaw a bag in your refrigerator overnight and use it the next day. An uncomplicated recipe that is great for frozen squash is a basic Squash Casserole. This dish can be prepared with a number of extra ingredients, so use your imagination. This is the basic, no frills version that every cook should know how to make. Your family's personal preferences will dictate any other ingredients.
1 bag of thawed summer squash
Basic White Sauce...butter, flour, milk, salt and pepper, cooked and thickened
Grated cheese...your choice (grated Pepperjack is wonderful!)
Bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
Alternate ingredient suggestions
Onion, garlic, hamburger meat, sausage, bacon bits, sage, olives, sweet or hot peppers, seasoned, purchased stuffing mix (prepared)
If adding anything like this, be sure that the meat is browned and drained and the vegetables have been sautéed until they are slightly limp.
Layer the squash with the white sauce and cheese
Sprinkle the crumbs on top, and bake at 350 degrees till browned and bubbly. Usually 35-40 minutes
With the bounty of summer squash this time of year, it is a simple thing to put some by for the winter. Even if all you do is freeze enough to make a wonderful casserole for the Thanksgiving table, it will be sure to impress family and friends. Do not avoid neighbors bearing lumpy squash bags! Embrace the windfall and extend the season. You will be happy that you did this winter.