Keeping it fresh

Dorie Simpson of Duncansville and her sister put 15 dozen ears of corn in the freezer already this summer. That’s 180 cobs.

Freezing fresh corn can be a tedious process, but Simpson is willing to do it – including the “worst part” of shucking and removing silks. It isn’t necessarily cheaper than store-bought, but “it’s better,” she said, because she gets to control exactly what goes in it.

“I freeze applesauce and I don’t want it sweet,” Simpson said. “So, I don’t add sugar.”

Preserving food at home exploded on the scene in America in the 1860s due to the invention of a canning jar by John L. Mason. About 80 years later, home freezers were introduced, giving Americans still another option in preserving food.

Today, while most Americans prefer simply buying frozen foods from the grocery store, there are still plenty who grow or buy fresh and then freeze it themselves – and it’s usually easier than canning.

Of fresh produce coming in from the fields this time of year, corn, green beans, peaches and pears are the subject of most of the calls made to the Blair County Penn State Extension office regarding freezing techniques, said Sharon McDonald, nutrition, health and food safety educator.

“(Bell) peppers also are just as good for freezing as they are for canning,” she said. “I think a lot of it depends on personal preference. Personally, I don’t like frozen green beans – I like to can mine. But when it comes to corn, I prefer frozen.”

McDonald said some things don’t freeze very well, particularly fruits and vegetables with high water content, including celery, lettuce, cucumbers, watermelon, cantalopes and cabbage (although it’s OK to freeze sauerkraut).

“When you go to thaw out those with high water content, it’s not going to be something you want to eat,” she said.

Sometimes it depends on what you intend to use the food for.

“Freezing zucchini is fine if you’re just making zucchini bread or muffins,” McDonald said. “In that case, because it’s going to be baked and mixed in, it’s still a useable product. But if want to freeze it and thaw it out and saute it in a pan like fresh zucchini, that won’t be good.”

Simpson shreds her zucchini and then freezes it to make bread later.

Few vegetables can just be zipped up in a freezer bag and tossed in the Frigidaire. They have to be processed first through blanching. That is done by plunging the food in boiling water for a designated time period – for example, 7 to 9 minutes for corn on the cob, depending on size – and then removing it to ice water.

That process helps set the color and inactivates enzymes that can cause the color and flavor to change over time, according to McDonald.

(Go to extension.psu.edu/food/

preservation/publications for detailed instructions, including blanching times.)

She said the primary exceptions to that rule are bell peppers and onions, and some “super sweet corn” that could survive in the freezer without blanching for three to six months.

Fruits, on the other hand, should not be blanched, but usually should be treated with ascorbic acid, vitamin C or a commercial mixture such as Fruit Fresh to prevent them from browning over time, McDonald said.

She said a common question consumers ask is whether to add sugar or pack the fruit in a syrup.

Sugar or a syrup would help prevent browning, as well, but that might not be a healthy option for some, she said.

Berries, as well as some vegetables like green beans, peas, whole-kernel corn and sliced carrots could be individually frozen before packaged to keep them from clumping. After blanching, dry well and spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 24 hours and then package them.

Either way, “you want to get your foods frozen as quickly as possible,” McDonald said.

Don’t overload the freezer with too much food – that could raise the appliance’s temperature and slow the freezing process.

She and Kelly Baronner of Baronner’s Farm Market in Hollidaysburg said there are a lot of resources available to assist consumers.

“Call the Extension Service,” Baronner said. Also, “there are a lot of good books out there.”

Baronner said herbs, such as basil, are her favorite things to freeze. Place coarsely chopped herbs in an ice tray, add water – or even oil – and put in freezer for 24 hours. A day later, remove the cubes to a freezer bag and be ready to make soups and stews this winter.

“They will darken a little, but you can do that with any herb,” she said.

Baronner said this year has been a difficult growing season: First, a lot of rain in June made second plantings difficult; then cooler nights in recent weeks slowed the maturation process of some corn and tomatoes.

Still, she expects to have sweet corn available through Labor Day.

McDonald said the quality of fruits and vegetables starts deteriorating after a year in a freezer, so she recommends using them by then. If power is lost to the freezer unexpectedly, it is OK to re-freeze the food if ice crystals are present, she said.

Food educators will be available to answer consumer requests at Penn State Ag Progress Days today and Thursday at the Penn State research facility at 710 West Pine Grove Road, Pennsylvania Furnace. Or, for more information, call the Blair County Penn State Extension Office at 814-940-5989.

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.