The end of summer can mean an abundance of produce. At home we have apples, pears and green peppers needing my attention. I've found that freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve them for enjoying during the winter months.
Apples can be made into applesauce for freezer storage. Or, they can be "tray frozen" as individual slices to be used later in the exact amount needed for a recipe. Freezing will change the texture somewhat, so they're best used in cooked apple dishes such as applesauce, crisps or pies.
To prepare them, slice, leaving the skin on if you prefer. To prevent browning, treat with a "produce protector" such as Fruit-Fresh ®, following package directions. Freeze slices in a single layer on a metal baking sheet for a couple of hours. Then transfer frozen slices to a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible. The apples will remain separated for ease of use in measuring out for recipes. It is generally recommended that frozen fruits and vegetables be eaten within eight months for best quality.
To freeze pears, select ones that are crisp and firm, not mealy in texture. Wash, peel and core. Slice medium pears into twelfths, large ones into sixteenths.
A 40 percent syrup pack of 2 3/4 cups sugar and four cups water is recommended. This is a heavy syrup, so if you're watching sugar intake, experiment with a lighter syrup. Very light syrup is 1/2 cup sugar to four cups water. Personally, I prefer a lighter syrup to bring out the flavor of the fruit rather than too much sweet taste. Most fruits have a better texture and flavor if packed in sugar or syrup. However, the sugar is not necessary to safely preserve the fruit. Sweeteners can also be used.
Heat pear slices in boiling syrup for one to two minutes. Drain and cool. Pack pears and cover with cold syrup. For a better product, add 3/4 teaspoon produce protector to a quart of cold syrup. Leave sufficient headspace -- 1/2 inch for wide top pints or one inch for wide top quarts. Narrow top containers need 3/4 inch for pints and 1 1/2 inches for quarts.
Peppers are one of those foods that can be frozen raw without blanching first. They are good for using in cooked dishes -- diced for casseroles and soups, strips for stir-frying, or whole or halved for stuffed peppers. To prepare them, wash, cut out stems and remove seeds and membrane. Cut into desired size, "tray freeze" as described above.
Once frozen, transfer to a freezer container to use as needed.
Hot peppers only need to be washed and stemmed before packaging. It is not necessary to cut or chop before freezing. Remember to wear gloves and do not touch your face while handling hot peppers.
Using the right kind of containers is important for frozen food to retain its freshness and quality. Proper packaging materials protect the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value from the dry climate of the freezer. It's not a good idea to freeze in containers with a capacity over one-half gallon, because larger containers freeze too slowly.
Rigid glass or plastic containers are a suitable choice. Cottage cheese, ice cream and milk cartons are not sufficiently moisture-vapor resistant to be used for long-term freezer storage, unless they are lined with a freezer bag or wrap.
Regular glass jars break easily at freezer temperatures. Choose wide-mouth jars for freezing, as partially thawed food can easily be removed. If standard canning jars are used, allow extra headspace to prevent the jars breaking at the neck.
Plastic freezer bags come in a variety of sizes. Sandwich, storage, and freezer bags are each designed for different uses. Freezer bags protect foods best as they are thicker and less likely to be damaged during storage. For best quality remove as much air as possible before closing.
The resource I use for information on canning and freezing is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia. The website is http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/. A free self-study online course in food preservation is also available at that site for anyone interested in learning more about freezing and canning.
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Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.