How to Preserve Summer Squash (canning, dehydrating, freezing, and freeze drying)

How to preserve summer squash

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This time of year, I get pleading questions from readers asking how to preserve the glut of zucchini and other summer squash their garden is producing. And yes! Summer squash is highly productive... But that's actually a good thing, because summer squash is also easy to preserve in a number of ways, including through canning, dehydrating, freezing, and freeze drying.

Let's Talk Size

We've all done it. One day, we go out into the garden and peek through the squash leaves, thinking: "That zucchini will be just the perfect size tomorrow." Then tomorrow comes, we go out into the garden, and the zucchini is - no exaggeration - the size of a baseball bat! Therefore, I urge you not to believe the myth that the summer squash can wait for harvesting until tomorrow. It's a lie, I tell you, a lie! Pick it today...because smaller squash makes better eating.

Larger summer squashes are filled with large seeds. These seeds are not only difficult to fully dry out when dehydrating or freeze drying, but they create unpleasant chunks in your fresh or canned food. Therefore, if you do end up with oversized summer squash, I suggest feeding it to your livestock (save the seeds first, if you're growing an open-pollinated variety that is at least 800 feet away from any other summer squash). Or shred larger squashes and use them immediately in baked goods, or freeze the shreds for baking later in the year. (More on that in a moment.)

How to Dehydrate Summer Squash

Zucchini and all other types of summer squash can be dried in an electric or solar dehydrator several different ways. (Here's the modern version of the electric dehydrator I've been using for well over a decade.)

My favorite way to dry summer squash is by first turning it into zoodles. ("Zoodles" are a trendy name for zucchini or other summer squashes used as a substitute for flour-based noodles.) Zoodles typically resemble spaghetti noodles and are usually made with a vegetable spiralizer (an inexpensive tool available at most stores that carry kitchen gadgets; this is the one I use). You can also make zoodles look more like lasagna noodles by cutting them with a mandolin or vegetable peeler. (My spiralizer also cuts squash lasagna-style.) Either way, zoodles dehydrate beautifully.

Making zoodles from yellow summer squash.

Forming zoodle "nests" from spiralized zucchini.

Dried spaghetti-style zoodles can be prone to breaking into a gazillion pieces. To prevent this, I recommend dehydrating them in small "nests." To make these nests, lay a large mouth canning jar ring on the tray of your dehydrator and fill it with zoodles. Carefully remove the ring before dehydrating. 

Dehydrated zuchhini zoodles.   
Dried zoodles store perfectly in wide mouth canning jars.

If you're drying lasagna-style zoodles, just lay them flat on the trays of your dehydrator, making sure they don't touch each other. If your method of cutting these noodles creates one long zoodle, simply tear the zoodle every so often to get the size you desire, then place these pieces on the trays of your dehydrator.

Turning patty pan squash into lasagna-style noodles.

Set the dehydrator to 135 degrees F. and dry until the zoodles are entirely crisp. To test for doneness, break a zoodle. No moisture should come from the break. You can read more about making and storing zoodles in this post.

Another way to dehydrate summer squash is as "chips." Slice the squash into rounds, season as desired, and dehydrate at 135 degrees F. (Very thin slices may tend to stick to your dehydrator's trays, and too-thick slices will take a long time to dry.) These chips make yummy, healthy snacks. If you think you'll eat them pretty quickly, I recommend tossing them in a little olive oil before dehydrating. (Adding oil may cause quicker spoilage if you plan to store the chips long term.) Salt well (this helps with crispness) and, if you like, sprinkle seasonings such as paprika and chipotle powder or ranch seasoning before dehydrating.

Zucchini "chips."

Of course, you can simply dehydrate summer squash chunks, too. These are great for adding to soups and stews. Just make sure they are cut no thicker than 1/4 inch, or they may be difficult to get fully dry.

You can also dehydrate shredded summer squash if you use a fruit roll tray cover or parchment paper over your machine's trays. Place only a somewhat thin layer of squash shreds on the prepared trays so the squash will dry quickly and thoroughly. You can throw these dried shreds directly into soups and stews or you can rehydrate them and use them in baking.

If you live in a moist or humid area, you may find dried summer squash is prone to rehydrating while in storage. I therefore suggest adding a desiccant pack to each jar. Storing your finished product in glass canning jars with canning jar lids (not plastic lids) can also help with this. (Plastic lids don't give an airtight seal.)

If you don't have an electric or solar dehydrator, you may dry summer squash in your oven. To do so, place the prepared squash on a wire cooling rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Use your oven's lowest temperature, and prop open the door, if possible. (Getting your oven as close to the ideal temperature of 135 degrees F. will result in a higher quality finished product.) If your oven has a warming drawer, drying the squash there is an even better option. 

How to Freeze Summer Squash

When I freeze summer squash, it's usually for use in zucchini bread. I simply shred the squash (any type of summer squash works for "zucchini bread"!) with a cheese grater or food processor, measure it out (according to the called-for amount in my zucchini bread recipe - which you can find here), pop it in a freezer bag, and put it in the freezer. When I want to make zucchini bread, I thaw the bag, then drain the squash well. (You may also press the squash with a clean cloth or paper towels to remove excess moisture before baking.)

Frozen summer squash is the basis of my zucchini bread.

Summer squash also freezes well in 1/2 inch rounds that are perfect for casseroles or soups. Blanching the squash first is considered best, since this helps retain nutrients and makes the food last longer in the freezer: Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add the sliced squash. When the water begins to boil again (which should be less than a minute; if it takes longer, you've put too many veggies in the water), start timing 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, immediately remove the squash and dunk it in an ice bath. Once the squash is well-drained and dry, pack it into freezer bags. 

Short on time? You may also simply cut up summer squash and throw it into freezer bags without blanching it first. In this situation, I recommend using the squash within 2 months.

In addition to shreds and chunks, you may freeze lasagna-type zoodles. Blanch for 3 minutes, then dump in an ice bath. When completely cool, allow the squash to drain. To prevent the slices from sticking together in the freezer, pre-freeze them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. When the slices are hard, you may transfer them to a freezer bag.

It's also possible to freeze spaghetti-style zoodles, but they will end up too mushy to use as a satisfactory pasta substitute. They are a good addition to soup, however. Blanching will turn them mushier, so if you chose to freeze spaghetti-style zoodles, I recommend skipping the blanching and using the squash within 2 months.

How to Can Summer Squash

The general rule of thumb is that summer squash should not be canned. That's because this low acid vegetable isn't tested safe to can all by itself...and also because pieces of summer squash, when pressure canned, turn to mush. That said, there are several tested safe recipes for canning summer squash, including Zucchini Pineapple, Tomatoes with Zucchini, and mixed vegetables. In addition, zucchini can be used as a substitute for cucumbers in any tested safe cucumber pickle recipe. Finally, there are several recipes specifically for using summer squash in relish or pickles. Below are the three I used this year. (The addition of high acid vinegar or fruit is what makes these recipes safe for water bath canning.)

Canning zucchini relish.
Zucchini Relish Recipe

from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

12 cups finely chopped zucchini

4 cups chopped onion

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/3 cup pickling salt

2 1/2 cups granulated cane sugar

2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)

1 tablespoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

4 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 chili pepper (mild or hot), chopped (with seeds, if you like things hot; without seeds if you don't)


1. In a stainless steel or glass bowl, stir together the zucchini, onions, bell peppers, and salt. Cover and allow to stand in a cool place overnight.

2. Drain the contents of the bowl and rinse the mixture with cool, running water. Drain well. Use your hands to squeeze out any excess moisture.

3. Pour the zucchini mixture, sugar, vinegar, nutmeg, turmeric, horseradish, and chili pepper into a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and gently boil, stirring often, for about 45 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced. The mixture should have the consistency of a thin store-bought relish.

4. Ladle hot relish into hot pint or 8-oz. jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Makes about 5 pint jars.


Squash Pickle Medley Recipe

Canning summer squash pickles.

from The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving 


 2 lbs. small to medium zucchini (no big seeds)

1 lb. small to medium summer squash (no big seeds)

1 small onion, cut into thin slices

1/3 cup pickling salt

2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)

2 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric


1. Wash squash and trim off the stem and blossom ends. Cut into 1/4 inch rounds.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the prepared squash and the salt. Cover with a thick layer of ice cubes and let sit at room temperature for 3 hours.

3. Drain the squash, but don't rinse. Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric in a medium stainless steel pot and bring to a boil.

4. Tightly pack squash/onion mixture into hot pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Pour hot brine over the squash, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

5. Process jars for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude. Makes about 5 pint jars.

Summer Squash Pickles Recipe

I used zucchini and patty pan squash for these pickles.

from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving 


4 cups cubed, seeded, peeled summer squash

1 1/3 cups onion

2 cups water

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)

1 teaspoon pickling salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger


1. In a large bowl, combine squash and onion.

2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine water, sugar, vinegar, salt, mustard, turmeric, and ginger and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.

3. Add the squash and onions to the pan and return to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, or until squash is slightly tender.

4. Pack hot vegetables into hot 8 oz. jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Pour additional brine over the veggies, as needed, retaining 1/2 inch headspace.

5. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner, adjusting for altitude. Makes 4-5 8 oz. jars.


Freeze Drying Summer Squash

Summer squash freeze drys well - just be sure to not use squash with large seeds (because they are difficult to get thoroughly dry). Either slice or cube the squash, then blanch it by dipping it into boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain immediately and plunge into ice until cool. Drain until the squash is well dried, then pop onto the trays of the freeze dryer. I recommend a single layer for chunked summer squash, but slices can be placed on trays in layers. If you want to make "chips," cut and season as described for dehydrated chips. (Do know that freeze dried summer squash chips will be foam-like and not as crispy as dehydrated chips.)

Run the squash through the freeze dryer until there are no cold spots on the vegetables, then package in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Packaged this way, the squash will stay shelf stable for at least 10 years. Learn more about freeze drying in this post. Purchase the freeze dryer I use here.

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And don't forget my vegetable cookbook!

*Cover image courtesy of Jay & Melissa Malouin.

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