Preserving Summer’s Bounty: Freezing Spinach and Dehydrating Tomatoes

For all those who feel as lacking in time as I do these days, here are a few super simple ways that you can preserve some of summer's bounty!

Despite my complete and utter lack of attention, my garden continues to produce (it's so forgiving, isn't it?). The other day, I noticed that though my spinach had been doing really well, some of it was beginning to bolt due to the late summer heat (I planted my fall spinach crop earlier than I really should have, to get it in before baby arrived so I knew this was a possibility). Not wanting to miss out on it, but knowing that we realistically wouldn't get to eating it fresh, I decided to just harvest and freeze it all at once.

 

Here it is, roots and all. I used my kitchen scissors to cut all of the good leaves off and tossed them in the salad spinner. I did a couple of batches, and with each one I simply gave it a quick wash while in the spinner and then spun it dry. When it was all cut, washed and dry, I set to chopping it all into smaller pieces.

 

With my large bowlful of chopped spinach, I got out a measuring cup and filled up small ziploc freezer bags with 2 heaping cupfuls of spinach.

 

I pressed all of the air out of the bags, sealed them shut, labelled them, and voila. Done. Easy as pie!

Next on my list of garden and fruit preserving to-do's (which is pretty much endless, these days!) was another big bowlful of cherry tomatoes I had picked that afternoon.

 

(Yes, there are some greenies in there. My 2 year old hasn't quite grasped the concept of ripe and not-ripe yet, but he loves to be my little helper!)

Based upon how well my cherry tomatoes did last year, I knew that I would have literally hundreds upon hundreds of them this summer. Far more than we can just eat, since only my husband and I enjoy them. It's not practical to can them, since I only get bowlfuls at a time. I opted this year for the much quicker and easier task of dehydrating them. Each time I get a nice little amount (about every 2-4 days), I take a few minutes to deal with them and this has by far been the easiest of my summer preserving tasks!

 

After a rinse in the sink, I pull off the green stems, and then grab a steak knife (my knife of choice for cutting any type of tomatoes). All I do is slice them in half, any old direction.

I lay them all out on dehydrating trays, with the cut side up at first (to prevent tomato juice from leaking inside the dehydrator). Then I dehydrate them for about a day, at a temperature somewhere around 105-115 F (I'm not precise, I just turn it on quickly and walk away).

About 6-12 hours in, I will take a few minutes to pull out the trays and flip them all over to the other side, then I stick them back in to finish dehydrating. I consider them done when they are no longer squishy feeling, but still a bit pliable (sort of like a raisin). It's important to make sure that the moisture is really gone, to ensure a good shelf life.

 

My little beauties, sealed up in a ziploc bag. I could also just keep them in a canning jar, but for whatever reason, I used a bag. This is from my first batch, not including the nice big batch you see in the pictures (or the one that I'm about to go out and pick!). Throughout the winter, when I want to use these I will just let them soak in a bit of olive oil for several hours, or even quickly re-hydrate them in hot water in a pinch. They will be perfect to add on top of pizza or in pasta dishes. Yum!

This was my last preserving task of the evening, blanching a couple cups of chopped green beans. Check out this post for detailed directions on blanching vegetables.

I think it's worth mentioning how long it took me to do all of the work shown in this post: just under 1 hour. Honestly! I chopped the cherry tomatoes and put them on trays while sitting at the kitchen table, nursing my newborn on a nursing pillow. The spinach was probably the most work intensive, taking about 30 minutes to cut, wash, chop and bag 6 packed cups of spinach. The green beans were a piece of cake, and I did them while I cleaned up the kitchen before bed.

Preserving food doesn't have to be an all-day ordeal. If you're determined enough, you can fit it in to daily life, even when life is hectic! Anyone can do stuff like this, and I probably don't have to tell you just how nice it is to have these sorts of conveniece foods stocked away in the pantry and freezer for us to eat this winter!

What types of quick and easy preserving do you like to do? Is anyone else up to their eyeballs in ripe veggies and fruits needing to be put away for the winter?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. I make green smoothies a lot and I’ve only used fresh spinach in them — never frozen. Has anyone ever used frozen spinach when making a smoothie? I’m just wondering if you toss it in frozen (like you would frozen fruit) and whether it holds up ok. I often feel like I can’t use up the large clam shell of fresh spinach fast enough and it would be great to be able to freeze it and keep it longer.

  2. I am so jealous of all you tomato laden girls! In Alaska we pretty much need a greenhouse to grow them and while they ARE available at our farmer’s market right now, they are $5 a lb.! Our markets here hold few “bargains” other than the lovely freshness and taste of local produce.
    We are bringing in soil this year so next year we will have a garden (we are at a new house with no landscaping and little more than rocks and dust… again!)
    I do order organic produce through a local co-op but most of it is air-shipped, again very fresh but still spendy.
    I did can some pickled jalapenos, and made salmon jerky, and yesterday filled our freezer with a side of grass-fed beef. Also, I just ordered a new pressure canner and will be canning dry beans, chili, spaghetti sauce, etc… when it arrives.
    We will be smoking, jerkying, freezing and canning salmon later this month.
    Next month is blueberry and high-bush cranberry picking. Those usually just get frozen but this year I am going to dehydrate some in my new Excalibur (love it!). Then come currants, rose hips and lowbush cranberries.

  3. I didn’t realize you could freeze fresh spinach. Good to know! I have been dehydrating tomatoes like crazy this summer. We planted 7 tomato plants, thinking not all of them would make it ;) Well, they all have, and are absolutely thriving. Some days I’ve picked more than five big baskets full of tomatoes. So I’ve been canning sauces, freezing soups, and dehydrating like mad. We love the dehydrated tomatoes, soaked in olive oil; just a few of them cut in slivers, with a few sliced & sauteed mushrooms, on pasta, with Parmesan — it’s heavenly! Thanks for sharing; a fun post :)

  4. An easy way to slice cherry tomatoes in half is to place them on a lid (I use the lids from large tubs of yogurt) and top them with another lid. Press doen gently then run a knife between the lids and presto all of your tomatoes are cut in half and you have more time for folding laundry :).

  5. Jacqualine, I have an Excalibur dehydrator. They’re a bit more pricey, but they are so worth the extra if you can afford to do it. Mine has been running nonstop the past couple of months, and I am just in love with it. The trays are large and square, and they are all height adjustable. It’s awesome!

  6. I love half drying tomatoes…do what you do to dry them but only dry them for part of the time–maybe ten hours or so, depending on your dehydrator. Then pop them in sandwich sized ziplock bags in serving amounts and freeze them. I do this so if they stick together I’m not stuck using too many at once cuz they are frozen together. I like this method because it gives the ease of freezing, with the taste of drying. Dried tomatoes add such a delicious richness to sauces. But drying tomatoes can take 2 whole days which keeps the dehydrator busy for too long in peak season.Mmm, just thinking about them makes me dream of Italy!

  7. I was wondering what brand of dehydrator you use. I am looking to purchase one and can only find the round kind at our local stores. It seems as if yours is more rectangular and would fit more on it. The holes also look smaller than other ones I have seen.

  8. Alisa, I’ve heard that freezing tomatoes works well, so if I have extra (other than cherry toms) now that I’ve done all of my tomato canning, I’m going to give freezing them a try.

    Melissa and Theresa, yes, the spinach is soggy when thawed. You can’t use it as you would fresh spinach, or even for a wilted spinach salad or anything like that. I only use it in things like spinach lasagna. It works best when fully cooked and in dishes where it’s just part of it, rather than the main ingredient. Things like quiche also work well with it.

  9. Theresa~

    Frozen spinach is meant to be cooked. There’s no way I could eat them uncooked after thawing–they are incredibly soggy. I notice no difference in taste once they’re cooked up, though. My husband and I buy a package of organic spinach, eat as much as we can fresh, and freeze the rest. I always have some to add to our meals.

    Besides spinach, I learned about two other foods the hard way when I got married last Fall: Don’t freeze bananas in the peel (some people may say “duh”, but a website told me to do this) and be prepared to gag down any frozen dish that has potatoes in it. :-)

  10. when you freeze the spinach, will it not get soggy when it thaws or you just use them as an add-on ingredient instead of using in a salad? Im a newbie in all of this making food last longer stuff. Thanks!

  11. i WONDER IF THEY TASTE LIKE SUN-DRIED TOMATOES. i AM CURIOUS TO SEE HOW YOU COOK WITH THEM. THANKS FOR POSTING AND PARDON MY CAPS.

  12. Looks great! I have also gotten into doing more freezing and dehydrating rather than canning. We were just given about 40 pears so I plan on dehydrating some of them. Too much work to can, I have tons of other stuff I want to do! Tonight I plan on going to pick crab apples, and I have a ton of other things that I need to do/want to do too. I just got a bunch of peppers to freeze too.

    Interesting you did not blanch the spinach. I thought it was supposed to be blanched. I haven’t done it this year, we just ate ours all fresh and I never got to doing a fall crop. I wanted to…but realistically its so busy that I let that one go.

    Is that an excalibur dehydrator? It looks just like mine I was given. I seem to recall you wanted one and had a different one before.

    I am jealous of your cherry tomatoes, that is for sure!!! I really wish I could grow good tomatoes here.

  13. My spinach just gets mushy and gross when I thaw it to use it. :( Glad it works for you though!

  14. Nice post Stephanie!

    I love preserving too, but it doesn’t have to take all day. Last year when I was just pregnant I was feeling so sick. We had tomatoes but I was too tired to do anything with them. I just froze them whole!! When I made spaghetti or tomato soup I would just cook the whole tomatoes in a bit of water until they were soft then blend them up and continue making my sauce/soup. It actually worked great! This year I canned some and made salsa, but I still froze some whole when I was too busy to deal with them.

  15. Thanks for reminding me about dehydrating the cherry tomatoes! My brain totally forgot that this is an option. In years past, when I did this, I noticed that it really intensifies the flavor as well. Excellent on homemade pizza!

  16. I did some greens the way you did spinach. I bought way too many and knew I wouldn’t eat them all before they spoiled. I now have a big bag in the freezer and I take out a couple of tablespoonfuls at a time to stir into my eggs, or whatever else I’m making. Very convenient. I’m hoping to use some good bargains from the local market and freeze/dry some fruits and veggies for the winter. Your post is very inspiring!
    My baby isn’t due until mid-January so I have a bit of time left. Plan, plan, plan!
    Magda

  17. Great post! Thanks! I have not done spinach yet. I’ve been dehydrating roma tomatoes this year, but I’ll have to plant some cherry ones next year. I, too, am up to my eyeballs in produce! This is the first year that I’ve done a lot of preserving by dehydrating. I just have a simple Nesco from Walmart, although I did invest in the clean-a-screen inserts from Bed Bath & Beyond dotcom (the cheapest I could find them) and I highly recommend that. I’ve dehydrated cherries, summer squash, peaches…there is a lady on You Tube that has done an entire dehydrating how-to series that is extremely helpful.

    Some food preserving tips I’ve picked up through the years include: cutting corn off the cob with an electric knife (my husband put a long nail through a small cutting board to hold the ear and I set all that in a cookie sheet to catch the kernels); chopping my winter’s supply of onions outside at the picnic table to go easy on my eyes, freezing them, and then they are ready to go; cooking winter squash, spaghetti squash and pumpkins whole and uncut in crock pots or a turkey roaster oven (it’s like a HUGE crock pot).

    To do the squash, etc., just put a little water in the crock pot and it will slowly cook/steam completely. Check for doneness with a knife. This is FAR easier than trying to chop those hard skins. I have a 22 quart turkey roaster oven that I got at Sam’s Club for under $50 a couple of year ago and I can do a number of squash at once in it. I’ve used it to cook the tomatoes for canning tomato juice and tomato sauce…it holds about 1/2 bushel. It also does a wonderful job cooking a turkey, no heavy lifting in/out of the oven, and then your oven is free for everything else at the holidays.

    • Yvonne I have to ask this. I’m a big lover of spaghetti squash but it’s so expensive out of season…I read where you mentions about cooking it in a crock pot….awesome idea…do you know if you can preserve this?

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  1. [...] Excalibur Dehydrator myself and it is a favorite kitchen tool of mine. I use my dehydator for:"sun-dried" tomatoesdrying veggies like beans, zucchini, etc.fruit leathersdried fruits (plums, banana chips, apples, [...]

  2. [...] :: I did it exactly as I showed in this spinach freezing tutorial from last [...]