Fresh-frozen fruits and veggies

the charlotte observerJuly 15, 2009 

  • Not everything is made for freezing. Here are some things that aren't good candidates.

    Cabbage, celery, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, parsley and radishes: They get limp and watery. (Cabbage and cucumbers can be frozen as marinated products, such as freezer slaw or pickles.)

    Baked or boiled potatoes: They get mealy and can turn dark.

    Meringue: It will be soft, tough and spongy when it thaws.

    Cream or custard fillings: They separate and get watery.

    Sour cream: It will separate or look curdled.

    Gelatin, in salads or desserts: It will "weep" or leak moisture.

  • Even freezing food sometimes starts with boiling water, which has two great uses in the preserving kitchen:

    1. Peeling tomatoes and peaches. Serrated-blade peelers are handy if you just need to peel one or two ripe fruits. But if you want to remove the peel from a bunch of fruit, boiling water is your buddy:

    Bring water to boil. Fill a sink or bowl with ice water.

    Cut a little cross in the bottom of the tomato or peach if you like (although it usually isn't necessary). Drop about half-dozen whole fruits at a time into the water. Boil 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on ripeness. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fruit from hot water and immediately drop in the ice water. Let stand about 3 minutes, then remove from the water. The peel should pull away easily.

    2. Blanching vegetables. Even frozen vegetables will continue ripening, turning their sugars to starch. You have to turn the process off, by placing vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes, then shocking them in ice water. That will set the color and also halt the enzymes that will make your frozen vegetables taste like cardboard in a couple of months. To do it, you drop the prepared vegetables into boiling water, time them according to this list, remove them with a slotted spoon and drop immediately into ice water. Remove from ice water as soon as they're thoroughly chilled and pack in freezer containers.

    Blanching times

    Asparagus: 2 minutes for thin stalks, 4 for thick.

    Beans, snap, green or wax: 3 minutes.

    Beans, lima, butter or pinto: 2 minutes for small, 4 for large.

    Broccoli florets: 3 minutes.

    Carrots: 2 minutes for diced or strips, 5 for whole small.

    Cauliflower florets: 3 minutes.

    Corn: 7 to 11 minutes for small to large ears, 4 minutes longer for whole kernels cut from blanched cobs.

    Greens: 3 minutes for collards, 2 for all other greens.

    Okra: 3 minutes for small pods, 4 for large.

    Peas, edible pod: 1-1/2 to 3 minutes.

    Peas, field: 2 minutes.

    Peas, green: 1-1/2 minutes.

    Summer squash and zucchini: 3 minutes.

    Sweet peppers: 2 minutes for strips or rings, 3 for cored halves.

It may sound cold to say this in the heat of summer, but it's time to get to work.

Whether you get your fruits and vegetables at a farmers market or a supermarket, the best food of the entire year is waiting for you. With a little effort, you can put it up so that it will last all year.

And we were kidding about that "work" stuff. Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables doesn't take that much work. The equipment is minimal -- a pot for boiling water, a bowl for ice water, a couple of metal sheet pans, and some freezer containers, either plastic boxes or freezer bags. Bags take less room and can be frozen flat, then stacked.

Don't forget labeling tape or a pen, such as a Sharpie, that will write on freezer bags. Dating and labeling the bags will save you a lot of "mystery meals" in December.

But beyond that, there isn't much to it. For some of us, the hardest part is just finding room in the freezer.

Freezing fruit

Summer berries and peaches are great for freezing. You'll enjoy smoothies, muffins, pancakes and pies all winter. Select fruit that is firm, not mushy. You also can choose between freezing them with sugar or syrup or without.

Peaches: Wash, cut out any bruised parts, then peel (see sidebar) and slice. Mix 2/3 cup sugar into 1 quart prepared peaches, stirring until dissolved. Mix 1 teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid, such as Fruit Fresh, with 1/2 cup water; add 1 tablespoon of solution to each pint of peaches. Package and freeze. Sugar-free: Wash, peel (see tip) and slice peaches. Pack into freezer containers. Cover fruit with solution of 1 tablespoon cyclamate-type artificial sweetener, such as Sweet'N Lo, and 1/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid dissolved in 1 cup water.

Strawberries: Wash, cut out the hull and leave whole or cut large berries into halves or quarters. Use tray pack method.

Blackberries, raspberries: Wash, then spread out on towels to dry thoroughly. Use tray pack method.

Blueberries: Pick over to remove woody stems, but don't rinse until thawing or cooking with them. (The hazy blue cast protects the berries.)

Tray pack method: To freeze without sugar, place any of the fruit above in a single layer on a metal sheet, such as a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, then place in the freezer. Freeze until fruit is hard, then transfer the fruit to a freezer bag and press out the air. This process will prevent the fruit from freezing into one big lump.

To freeze berries with sugar, prepare the berries and toss with sugar, then freeze. Or prepare fruit, place in a freezer container and cover with a simple syrup of 1/2 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup boiling water. Cool syrup before pouring over fruit.

Freezing vegetables

Vegetables take a little more preparation. Most vegetables need to be blanched and iced before freezing to preserve their flavor (see directions).

Tomatoes: They don't need to be cooked before freezing, although you can freeze any cooked tomatoes, such as tomato sauce. Wash and peel large tomatoes (see sidebar) and roughly chop. Small tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, can be frozen whole without peeling.

To freeze tomato juice, quarter tomatoes and simmer in a nonreactive saucepan for 10 minutes. Press through a sieve, discarding solids. Pack juice into containers and freeze. To freeze tomato pieces, peel tomatoes (see directions) and core. Quarter tomatoes and cook in a nonreactive saucepan for 10 minutes. Cool quickly by pouring into container set over ice. Package and freeze; use as you would canned tomatoes.

Whole plum tomatoes: Remove skins (see tip). Place in resealable plastic bag and squeeze out air; freeze up to 2 months.

Fast soup: For an easy freezer vegetable soup this winter, blanch a selection of vegetables and herbs in chicken stock, then freeze the whole thing. Don't use potatoes or pasta, which will get mushy. Add them and any meat you want to include when you thaw it next winter.

Raleigh writer Debbie Moose contributed to this story.

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