July Quick Takes: Fresh Picks for Summer
Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. And it's so easy to put these nutritious foods on your plate in the summertime. Choice is huge, flavor is at its peak and price is often at the lowest.
It's hard to dispute the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables:
- They add vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant chemicals to your diet.
- They help reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
- Nearly all fruits and veggies are low in calories and provide fiber, which helps with healthy weight management.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend a daily target of 2½ cups vegetables and 2 cups fruit per day for adults at the 2,000-calorie level.
This month's article explains how to freeze summer's fruit and vegetable bounty to enjoy the rest of the year:
Whether piled high at a local farm stand or pouring in from your garden, fresh produce is plentiful, ripe and ready to eat. But what if your family won't (or can't) eat an entire bushel of beans at one sitting? You can't let them (the beans) go to waste.
Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables keeps flavor and nutrients intact. It's cheaper and easier than canning too. Yet you still need to know a thing or two about the effect of very cold temperatures on the summer harvest.
The first rule is “Don't freeze vegetables that are usually eaten raw.” For instance, green beans freeze well while lettuce or cucumbers collapse into green slime.
Keep in mind fresh-picked vegetables are not inert; they have active enzymes working in them. The enzymes are busy turning natural sugars into starch. Over time, this process transforms that just-picked sweet flavor to the flat flavor of cardboard. Blanching will neutralize these enzymes. Blanching involves cooking vegetables briefly in boiling water so they stay crisp and slightly underdone. For most vegetables, it's good practice to blanch before freezing.
Fruit does not need to be blanched, although blanching will make it easier to remove peach skins. Spread whole berries or pitted, sliced fruits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags.
Easy-to-freeze summer vegetables:
- Collard, mustard and other sturdy greens
- Green and wax beans
- Lima beans, butter beans and edamame
- Peas (English, snow peas and sugar snaps)
- Zucchini and yellow squash – small, firm squash are best
* Dunk tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove skins. Freeze whole or chopped.
Here's your step-by-step guide to blanching and freezing your summer vegetable harvest:
Step 1: Select slightly under-ripe vegetables for freezing. If you're harvesting straight from the garden, pick veggies in the morning, before they warm up in the sun. If you're picking at a U-pick farm, don't let your harvest sit for hours in a hot car.
Step 2: In the kitchen, line up everything you need: a large pot for the blanching, a slotted spoon or skimmer to remove veggies from the pot, plastic bags or other freezer-safe containers, a Sharpie marker for dating the bags, a sink full of ice cold water and a vacuum sealer if you have one.
Step 3: Wash, peel (if necessary) and trim veggies. Cut into even size pieces if needed.
Step 4: Plunge prepped veggies into boiling water. Cook for 1 minute once the water returns to a boil. Skim veggies from the pot. Plunge them into cold water to cool quickly. Remove and pat dry.
Step 5: Pack into containers. Compress bags or use a vacuum sealer to remove as much air as possible. Date and label contents. Freeze. Frozen vegetables retain their flavor and texture for several months.
Recipe of the Month:
Sources: National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. "Preserving Food: Freezing Vegetables," undated.
USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service. "Freezing and Food Safety," 2013.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," 8th Edition, 2015.
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