More on Frozen Foods
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In last week’s column I wrote about freezing food and discussed what foods don’t freeze well. I’m going to continue with the topic of freezing, but this week, it’s foods that do well when frozen.
The process of freezing does not sterilize food. The extreme cold simply retards growth of microorganisms and slows down changes that affect quality or cause spoilage in food. If not handled correctly, after food is taken out of the freezer, any pathogens that may have been on the food when it went into the freezer will still be on that food and can continue to develop. Food can last indefinitely in the freezer but there are quality changes over time.
Fruits are frequently frozen. There are several ways to pack fruits for freezing: in sugar or syrup, dry packed or unsweetened. Most fruits have a better texture and flavor if packed in sugar or syrup. However, the sugar is not necessary to safely preserve fruit. If you’re watching your sugar intake, it can be left out or an artificial sweetener can be substituted. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation the type of pack you use will depend how you want to use the final product. Fruits packed in syrup are generally best for eating uncooked as they tend to be firmer. Fruits packed in dry sugar or unsweetened are best for most cooking purposes, because there is less liquid in the product.
Peaches are a popular fruit to freeze this this time of year. Peaches are best quality of packed in sugar. When freeing peaches, select well-ripened fruit and handle carefully to avoid bruising. Sort, wash, peel and slice. To retard darkening, sprinkle ascorbic acid dissolved in water over the peaches before adding sugar. Use 1/4 teaspoon (750 mg) ascorbic acid in 3 tablespoons cold water to each quart of fruit. To each quart (about 1 and 1/3 pounds) of prepared fruit add 2/3 cup sugar and mix well. Stir gently until sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags, leave headspace, seal and freeze. If you plan to use these peaches in a recipe, mark the amount of fruit and sugar on the package so you can adjust sugar in your final product.
Most vegetables require an additional step of blanching before freezing. Blanching is the dipping the vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time, then cooling quickly and completely before freezing. This stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching also cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color and helps slow loss of vitamins. The amount of time the food is blanched varies with the type vegetable and size.
Corn is a popular vegetable to freeze. It can be cut off the cob or frozen-on-the-cob. To freeze corn-on-the-cob: water blanch 7-11 minutes (depends upon size) and cool in an ice bath. One of the keys to successful frozen corn-on-the-cob is to make sure you quickly cool the corn after blanching and make sure that the cob is completely cool, too. This will help prevent the corn from developing a “cobby” taste. Drain and package. Seal and freeze. One disadvantage of freezing corn this way is that it takes up a lot of freezer space. But it’s a real treat in the winter.
Bell or sweet peppers are foods that can be frozen heated (blanched or cooked) or raw. Select crisp, tender, green or bright red pods. Wash, cut out stems, cut in half and remove seeds. If desired, cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings. I sometimes clean them and freeze whole for stuffing later. This, too, takes up lots of freezer space.
Peppers that have been frozen unheated can be used uncooked or added to foods that will be cooked. When packaged raw, you don’t need to leave headspace. Be sure to use freezer containers or wrap and possibly double wrap or other items in the freezer may pick up the pepper odors.
For detailed instructions on how to freeze foods, check the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu. The Safe Plates Information Center at NCSU also has fact sheets on Food Preservation including Storing and Freezing Produce at Home.
Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610