Preserving Fresh Fruits and Veggies
Now is the time to take advantage of the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables in the PNW. Whether you are growing your own or visiting the farmer’s markets, there are plenty of choices to enjoy local whole foods. Have you thought about saving some of these in-season treats for later? Did you grow or buy more than you can currently consume?
There are several options for preserving food for later, but the easiest, most convenient and least time-consuming method is freezing. The extreme cold stops growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that cause spoilage and affect quality in food.
When preparing foods, fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed in cold water and sorted. Seperate those that are not yet ripe or of poor quality. When sorting vegetables, sort them according to size for blanching and packing. Blanching is briefly immersing vegetables in boiling water to ensure highest frozen food flavor and nutrient quality, as well as shelf life. Blanching and freezing slows enzyme activity which can deteriorate food quality. It is important to reference blanching times for specific vegetables and their size. Visit this link for a Blanching Time Table.
The major problems associated with enzymes in fruits is the development of brown colors and loss of vitamin C. Because fruits are usually served raw, they're not blanched like vegetables. Instead, enzymes in frozen fruit are controlled by using chemical compounds which interfere with chemical reactions that would cause deterioration. Peaches, apples, pears and apricots can darken quickly when exposed to air and during the thawing process. The most common substance used with fruit preservation is ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C. Sugar is often used to preserve fruit as well but is not necessary. Berries and smaller fruits that are naturally sweeter can be packed alone, sealed and frozen.
Packaging materials should include the following characteristics-
Moisture vapor resistant
Durable and leakproof
Not become brittle and crack at low temperatures
Resistant to oil, grease or water
Protect foods from absorption of off flavors or odors
Easy to seal
Easy to mark
For short-term freezing, airtight zipper-lock bags can be used. Try smoothie packs- portion small amounts of fruit/greens into wax paper bags, then store all the wax paper bags into a large zipper-lock bag. If you are looking to extend freezer storage time, there are some inexpensive vacuum sealer options available. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure to press as much air out as possible before closing.
Containers made of plastic or glass are suitable for all packs, and work especially well for liquid packs. Regular glass jars break easily at freezer temperatures. If using glass jars, choose wide mouth dual purpose jars made for freezing and canning. These jars have been tempered to withstand extreme temperatures. The wide mouth allows easy removal of partially thawed foods. If standard canning jars (those with narrow mouths) are used for freezing, leave extra headspace to allow for expansion of food during freezing. Expansion of the liquid could cause the jars to break at the neck. Some foods will need to be thawed completely before removal from the jar.
Properly label your items with name and date. Most fruits and vegetables will remain high in quality for 8-12 months. Because freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are for quality only. When the time comes to start packing into the freezer, make sure there is space between packages for the cool air to flow. Quick freezing is best for frozen food quality. After the packages have fully frozen, they can be stacked.
When you are ready to use an item from the freezer, thaw the item in the refrigerator at 40°F or less, in cold running water less than 70°F, or in the microwave if you'll be cooking or serving it immediately. If you are eating frozen fruit, it is more enjoyable when there are still a few ice crystals in the fruit. This helps compensate for the mushy texture frozen fruits have when thawed.
When it’s mid-January and you’re craving those tasty berries or gold nuggets of corn, you’ll be thanking yourself.