Have you picked a peck of peppers?

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If you’ve ever picked a peck of peppers, you may be wondering if they can be frozen for later. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends most vegetables that are frozen be blanched first.
Blanching is scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a brief period of time. The vegetable must then be rapidly cooled in ice water to prevent it from cooking. This step is essential for top-quality frozen vegetables. This process activates the enzymes in the food that can cause color and flavor changes during freezing and also helps prevent loss of nutrients.
There are exceptions to every rule. Peppers are one of them. Peppers can be blanched before freezing if you plan to use them in cooking, but peppers may be safely frozen without blanching. Thawed, raw peppers still retain some crispness and can be used in cooked dishes or raw in uncooked dishes.
This applies to bell or sweet pepper of any color (red, green, yellow, orange or purple). Wash, cut out stems, cut in half and remove seeds. To save time, use a melon-baller or the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds and membranes. If desired, cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings.
To blanch (this method saves room in the freezer), place halves in boiling water for three minutes or rings for two minutes. Cool promptly, drain and package, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace. Seal and freeze.
To freeze unheated, you can cut into strips, dice or slice, depending upon how you want to use them. I like to leave some of the large peppers whole and freeze them for stuffing later, but this takes up a lot of room in the freezer.
Place the peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer for about an hour or longer until frozen. This method is often referred to as tray freezing. Transfer to a freezer bag once frozen, excluding as much air as possible from the bag.
From experience, I’ve learned it is a good idea to double-bag these peppers. This helps to prevent the odor and flavor of the unheated peppers from transferring to other food in the freezer.
The peppers will remain separated for ease of use in measuring out for recipes. Pour out the amount of frozen peppers needed, reseal the bag and then return to the freezer.
If freezing hot peppers, including jalapeno, wash and stem the peppers. Then package, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze. It is not necessary to cut or chop hot peppers before freezing.
A word of caution, though. The National Center for Home Food Preservation warns us to wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.
How long will these peppers keep? To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing and keep the temperature of the freezer at zero degrees or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about eight months for best quality. Those that were frozen raw may not keep as well as those that were blanched, so plan on using them first.
By the way, if you did have a peck of peppers, that’s a quarter of a bushel or about eight pounds of peppers. A bushel makes 17-21 quarts of canned or frozen peppers. You need about 1-1/3 pounds of peppers for each quart jar or container.
As Peter Piper said, “You can also pickle peppers.”
For more information on preserving peppers or other vegetables or making pickled peppers, contact the NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center in Bolivia at 253-2610. We have fact sheets we can mail or email to you on freezing, canning and pickling.
References: National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.uga.edu/nchfp); So Easy to Preserve, Cooperative Extension the University of Georgia; Alice Henneman, MS, RD from the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
Cheryle Jones Syracuseis a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.