QUESTION: I’m harvesting a lot of cabbage. How do you store cabbage long term? Can I freeze it? -Ted S.
ANSWER: Cold and moist storage is preferable for long term cabbage storage. Cabbage needs a cold, moist environment that is between 32 to 40 degrees F and 95 percent relative humidity, which can be a challenging environment to create. Refrigerators will provide the cold temperature, but they also dry the air, so it’s best to store cabbage in a root cellar or in the garden in a mound or pit.
To store cabbage in the refrigerator, strip away the loose leaves and clip the cabbage so that a short stem remains. Next, wrap the head in a moist paper towel and put it into a perforated plastic bag. Then, place the bag in the vegetable crisper section of your refrigerator. You can make your own perforated bags by punching 20 holes in a plastic bag using a hole punch or any sharp object. Cabbage stored in the refrigerator will store for three to four weeks. As the cabbage breathes, it tends to emit a strong and pungent odor, so don’t fret if you start to notice a strong smell over time. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the cabbage has turned.
For optimal cold and moist storage that will keep your cabbage fresh for three to four months, store your cabbage in a root cellar, storing plant roots, head, and all. Place heads in rows either on shelves spaced several inches apart, or hung heads down by a string from the ceiling. Or, store them on the floor wrapped in several layers of newspaper.
Another optimal cold and moist storage option is in a garden pit or mound. To create a cabbage storage pit in the garden, dig a two or two and a half foot deep hole and line it with a thick layer of straw for insulation. Place cabbages in the hole with their roots facing up and heads facing down, and cover them with another layer of straw and either a tarp or a burlap sack at the top so that you can get in the pit once the snow covers it up or after the soil has frozen. When you need a head of cabbage during the winter, open the storage, take what you need out and then repack with straw and recover.
For cold and moist storage techniques, do not wash your cabbage or remove outer leaves before storing. They will keep better as solid heads with their outside wrapping still intact. Handle heads with care while moving into storage to avoid bruising them. Cabbage will keep in long term cold and moist storage for three to four months. However, you should check your stored cabbages often and discard any heads that start to yellow or begin to emit a rotting smell.
For extended storage, freezing cabbage will allow you to store it for use for up to 18 months. Freezing cabbage is an easy process that allows you to have access to cabbage long after the growing season passes. When selecting cabbages for freezing, select dense, solid cabbage heads that feel heavy for their size. You want to pick the freshest heads possible, with good color, never dingy or yellow looking cabbage heads.
First, wash the heads. Then, give them a soak in salt water to encourage cabbage loopers, aphids, earwigs, beetles, or any other caterpillars to leave before you freeze it for storage. Use one to three tablespoons of salt for every gallon of water used and soak the cabbage heads for thirty minutes each. Or, soak your heads in plain water for a few hours instead of a shorter salt bath.
Next, rinse off heads and remove any outer leaves that are yellow as opposed to pale green. Then, using a stainless steel knife, cut your heads into quarters, or wedges, or separate leaves. Using stainless steel is important because the carbon of other metals reacts with the phytonutrients in cabbage and can damage the skin of the plant, sometimes even turning it black on contact. Choose how to cut your heads based on how you plan to use them in recipes. Keep the core inside wedges, as it helps hold leaves together during blanching.
Skipping the blanching step before freezing is possible with cabbage, but only if you plan to use it all within four to eight weeks. For the longest lasting frozen cabbage which will store for up to 18 months, blanch the pieces for 90 seconds before freezing. To blanch your cabbage pieces, toss them into boiling water for 90 seconds, and then give them an ice water bath for an additional 90 seconds. After removing the pieces from an ice water bath, use a colander drain and dry the pieces before freezing. Once your pieces are mostly dry, place them into freezer bags in serving sizes and place them into the freezer.