The next method of preserving summers fruits and veggies is the quick and easy method of freezing. True that you will need some freezer space to handle the amount you put in it for the summer, but most people feel that it is a good investment. Freezing is one of the easiest, most convenient, and least time consuming methods of preserving food. During freezing, the cold retards the growth of microorganism and slows down chemical changes that affect quality or cause food to spoil. The natural enzymes in fruits and vegetables are slowed down, but not destroyed during freezing.
Enzymes in vegetables are inactivated by the exposure to boiling water or steam for a brief period of time. This is referred to as blanching. Rapid cooling in ice water will stop the food from further cooking. The blanching process will help destroy the microorganisms on the surface of the vegetable. Follow recommendations for blanching to avoid loss of flavor, color and nutrients.
Enzymes in fruits can cause browning and loss of nutrients, also. Since most of our fruits are eaten uncooked, they are not blanched. Enzyme changes are controlled by the addition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Other more temporary measures include placing the fruit in citric acid, lemon juice solutions or in sugar syrup. The ascorbic acid will prevent browning better than any other method.
Frozen foods undergo a textural change which produces a softer product when it thaws. This change is most noticeable in fruits and vegetables with high water content. The cell walls form ice crystals which rupture and effect the texture of the food. It is recommended to serve frozen fruits before completely thawed so the effect is not as noticeable. Frozen vegetables that are cooked will not be as apparent because cooking softens the cell walls also. By turning down the freezer to the lowest setting, a quicker frozen product is possible and less damage may occur. Overloading the freezer with unfrozen products will result in a long, slow freeze and a poorer quality product. To maintain top quality frozen food, store food at 0 degrees F. If the temperature in the freezer fluctuates, the smaller cells of fruits and vegetables will form larger ice crystals and cause further damage with a mushier product.
Tips for Freezing Fruits and Vegetables
1. Select the best quality product at optimum maturity and freshness. Freezing does not improve quality.
2. Select foods that freeze well.
3. Work under sanitary conditions.
4. Choose fresh, young tender vegetables and fresh, firm-ripe fruit. Freeze before they lose their freshness.
5. If the fruits and vegetables cannot be frozen immediately, refrigerate them.
6. Wash and drain all vegetables and fruits before removing skins, caps, cores or shells. Wash in small lots with frequent changes of cold water. Lift from the water so dirt cannot get back on the food. Don’t let veggies or fruit soak in the water.
7. By preserving a few containers at a time, there will be less loss of quality and nutrients.
8. Packs foods tightly leaving as little air as possible in the package.
9. Label packages with a permanent marker or label with the item, date, added ingredients and other information you might need.
10. Leave a space between each package so air can circulate and place in the coldest part of the freezer. When frozen solid, store packages closer together.
11. Do not use galvanized, copper or iron equipment in preparing fruit. The acid in the fruit could react with the metals forming harmful compounds or off-flavors.
12. Prepare each fruit or vegetables following the recommendations from a researched source. Further information with individual instructions can be obtaining by contacting North Carolina Cooperative Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture or by contacting Yadkin Center, 336-679-2061, Marilyn_Wells@ncsu.edu .
When considering the purchase of a freezer to store your food, remember it is a 20-year investment so the size, shape, efficiency and defrosting features are important. A general rule is to allow six cubic ft. of freezer space per person to meet general needs. If you also can or dry garden foods, three cubic ft. may be adequate. On the other hand if you buy beef by the side, you will need more space per person. Keep in mind, that a full freezer is more efficient than a partially full one.