Freeze fresh food now for the winter months
How often in December have you dreamed of July's blueberry crisp or August's corn on the cob or September's butternut-squash soup? Right now is a good time for many fruits and vegetables. Fall harvests of garden-fresh produce provide the best color, texture, flavor and peak nutrient content.
You can have the best of summer's bounty year round - easily and economically - by freezing fruits and vegetables at home. Home freezing also lets you control the salt, sugar and fat content of frozen food, and package it in sizes that make sense for your family.
You will have great success freezing most fruits and vegetables that are served cooked. Salad greens and vegetables served raw should not be frozen since they lose crispness when thawed. Choose the freshest and the ripest produce available and freeze it as soon as possible.
Several common freezing methods can be used, depending on your needs:
● Raw vegetables need to be blanched (briefly submerged in boiling water) before freezing. This kills the enzymes that cause spoilage and helps retain nutrients and color. After blanching, place vegetables immediately in ice water until they are cool in the center. Then, drain and arrange on a cookie sheet so the pieces freeze separately. You can then transfer them to airtight containers for long-term storage, and remove and use them as needed without thawing the entire container.
● Vegetables which are used primarily as seasonings, such as onions and green peppers, can be frozen raw.
● One way to freeze naturally juicy fruits, like peaches, is to cover them in an airtight container with apple juice. This works best for fruit that will be cooked.
● All fruits can be frozen without adding any liquid. Since the texture will be soft when thawed, this fruit is best used for cooking.
● Cooked vegetables and very ripe or soft-textured fruits can be puréed before freezing, then later used for baby food, desserts, beverages and breads.
Here are some tips for optimum freezing:
● Keep your freezer set at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.
● Wash all fruits and vegetables before freezing.
● Allow room for expansion when freezing foods with liquids.
● Use plastic containers - glass will break.
● Make food packages airtight by removing as much air as possible.
● To prevent discoloration of fruit, before freezing, treat with a small amount of crystalline ascorbic acid (vitamin C), available at supermarkets.
● Date all packages and expect a shelf-life of eight to 10 months for vegetables and six to 12 months for fruits (only six month for citrus) for the highest quality.
It is equally important to thaw and cook frozen foods correctly. To maintain the fresh flavor of frozen fruits, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. To defrost more quickly, immerse the sealed freezer bag in cold water, changing the water frequently until the food is thawed. With your frozen vegetables, it's best to cook them by steaming them, unthawed, in as little water as possible to preserve nutrients.
Frozen vegetables cook in one-third to one-half the time of fresh. Broccoli and greens have more flavor if partially thawed before cooking, and corn-on-the-cob tastes fresher if completely thawed before cooking.
With a little preparation, you can serve up nutritious and flavorful fruits and vegetables the whole year through.
Gayle Baingo, R.D., is a registered dietitian in FMC's Nutrition Services Department. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.