Jul 6, 2023
Squash is a versatile vegetable you can count on throughout the seasons. It’s also one of nature’s generous plants. Plan a seed, and it will give you close to ten vegetables to harvest. But the thing with squash is it’s heavy, big, and can take up a lot of space. Luckily, when you freeze-dry it, it weighs close to nothing and can be good to use for whatever meal or recipe you prefer. Here’s how you can freeze dry squash and store it in your pantry as an ingredient or a meal.
Select one that’s heavy for its size. It means the flesh is ripe and already has that sweet squash flavor. The stem should be intact, dry, and firm. If you can’t see the stem, it means the vegetable’s already past its prime.
Squash varieties have different colors, so it’s hard to be specific here. In general, you should select a squash that has a deep, rich, vibrant color. If there’s a pale spot at the bottom where the vegetable touches the ground, it’s okay. As long as it’s not green, gray, moldy, or severely discolored.
Streaks of green on yellow or golden colored squash, on the other hand, means your vegetable isn’t ripe yet. They don’t have that savory-sweet taste, so give it a couple more days to develop and ripen.
There are two types of squash when it comes to their peel. One is the type where you can leave the skin on. The other is the type where the skin is so thick and fibrous you must peel them.
In general, squash that you don’t need to peel are:
If you notice, these varieties are small compared to other ginormous squash varieties. This is why their skins are thin and so tender, they’re easy to chew. You can freeze-dry these with their skins on, and you won’t have a problem with flavor and texture.
On the other hand, here are the varieties with thick, tough skin that’s hard to eat. These are:
Prepping squash is simple and doesn’t require that much work. After thoroughly washing the skin, it’s up to you to peel the squash or not. What you need to do, though, is to cut the vegetable so you can remove the seeds from the center.
Others cut the squash lengthwise to reveal the seed core. For small squash, some prefer to cut the vegetable crosswise in segments that are 1/2 inch thick. This will give you rings that have a good presentation for future roasts.
Cubes are also good if you want to use freeze-dried squash for soups. You can slice them into thin chips for a tasty snack or a good ratatouille recipe.
You can freeze-dry the uncooked squash, and the texture will remain the same. However, blanching can enhance the flavor and preserve the texture of vegetables, so it’s an option. You just need to boil the squash for 2-5 minutes, depending thickness, then dunk them in an ice bath.
But then again, you can also cook your vegetable so you’ll have a ready meal in minutes. Your options are:
Some prefer to roast their squash before freeze-drying because it has a deeper flavor. Others roast and then puree the squash to make pumpkin soup for their freeze-dried supply. Anything goes with squash because of its well-rounded, sweet flavor that can go with any dish.
If you want the easy way, your InstantPot can come in handy. It pressure cooks your food to your desired tenderness so it’s soft and ready to be freeze-dried.
What’s good about cooking squash is that you don’t have to peel them. Once the flesh is cooked, scoop it out from the skin with a spoon. For vegetables that have thinner skins, a simple pinch can remove the protective layer.
Pre-freezing vegetables is an option, but it can help your process immensely. Indeed, you don’t need to do this because your freeze-dryer can freeze the food for you. However, freezing can take a while, some as long as 9 hours, depending on the food.
If you have something going in your freeze dryer, then use the waiting time to pre-freeze your food. About 48 hours in the deep freezer is optimal for any type of food. This can help save you time and electricity and lessen the wear and tear on your unit.
When you pre-freeze, make sure that your trays and chamber are also cold before loading the trays. If you have a thermometer, that will help greatly. It’s crucial that your chamber is colder than your food, which is usually around -8°F (-22 °C) or lower.
Don’t take out your food trays until the freeze-dryer chamber’s ready. It takes about 15-30 minutes for the chamber to reach the right temperature. If you remove the trays, the food will melt and condense, creating unnecessary liquid buildup in the freeze dryer. When the chamber’s ready, act fast when you load the trays.
Once your vegetable is prepped or cooked, it’s time to start freeze-drying.
Freeze-drying squash can take 34-48 hours, give or take. This will depend on how much food you have in the freeze-dryer and how thick the slices are.
A good freeze-dried squash should be light, airy, crispy, and crumbly. A wedge would hardly weigh anything and feel like a styrofoam piece. Snap a piece and taste-test random slices to check for dryness. If any of the pieces feel cold and soft, put the trays back for 2-4 hours of extra dry time.
Storing can be done using Mason jars and Mylar bags.
<Mason jars work well if you plan to use the freeze-dried squash within weeks or months. They’re easy to open and reseal and are perfectly usable. Just watch out for chips and nicks on the lip. A small crack can ruin a good batch of food, so be careful.
Mylar bags are great for long-term storage. If you plan to eat your vegetable 5-10 years later, these are your best options. They’re very lightweight, so you can bring your food with you on camping trips, hiking, and other traveling stints.
Before sealing, add in oxygen absorbers. These will help take out oxygen that causes stored food to go to waste. In addition, they’re good indicators if your container’s compromised because they change color when exposed to oxygen. About 1-2 of the 300cc packets are good for every gallon size of your container.
Stored properly, your freeze-dried squash can last for 25 years or more. Less if you didn’t take out the seeds during the process. To help prolong the shelf-stability of your food, store your containers in a cool, dry, dark place. The room should have a stable temperature of less than 72°F (22 °C), with a relative humidity of 15% or less.
Freeze-drying squash is simple. Prepared and cooked right, you have food you can count on when you’re too tired to cook or don’t have enough resources to cook a proper meal.
How would you prepare your squash for freeze-drying? Let us know in the comment section.