I want to preserve my garden vegetables without the hassle (and my own fears) of canning. The instructions I've seen for freezing vegetables say to first blanch them first. What does that mean exactly and why is it important?

I want to preserve my garden vegetables without the hassle (and my own fears) of canning. The instructions I've seen for freezing vegetables say to first blanch them first. What does that mean exactly and why is it important?

— Julie C., Medford

Blanching means cooking something (usually vegetables) briefly in boiling water. After blanching, vegetables are plunged into a bowl of cold or ice water to stop the cooking.

Blanching is an important step in food preservation because it sets the color and texture of many foods and kills enzymes that make them decay. Some recipes for canning vegetables call for blanching first.

Exact blanching times vary depending on the vegetable and your end product. Find specifics in Oregon State University Extension publications available online. In general, blanching should take only a few minutes.

To blanch vegetables, start with a large pot so they are not crowded. Fill the pot with water and bring it to a full boil. Some sources recommend adding salt or sugar — about 1 tablespoon — to the water. This will season the vegetables slightly and set the color, they say.

Not all vegetables need to be blanched before freezing. Onions, bell peppers, corn and tomatoes do not. Simply chop, slice or cut them and put them directly in the freezer.

Blanching also easily removes peels from foods such as tomatoes, nectarines and peaches, most often for canning. To remove skins from tomatoes or peaches, score an X on the bottom. Blanch for 20 to 30 seconds (times can vary). Remove using a slotted spoon and plunge in ice water. Once cool enough to handle, the skins should easily slip off. Or use a paring knife to remove them.